By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
Anyone who follows politics in New Hampshire had to be disturbed by what happened at the Executive Council meeting last week at Saint Anselm College.
To have the workings of government halted by a small group of aggressive and vocal mobsters is new for New Hampshire and a sad day for state government.
The meeting was halted after Department of Health and Human Services employees felt threatened and left the building under State Police escort, not something that has happened in New Hampshire before.
The state has long been known as fiscally conservative, but socially moderate or tolerant. That has changed in recent years, largely over abortion or reproductive rights for women.
But what happened last week is far more than the erosion of the state’s moderate views on social issues and that is also apparent in this year’s legislative session, when bills passed that never would have in the past.
New Hampshire’s political discourse can be heated and passionate, but it has always been essentially civil.
A new group of activists is creating foundational change to the political playing field.
The anarchistic outburst that halted the Executive Council meeting, was not the first and it surely will not be the last.
Traditional political philosophy is not the driving force for Free Staters, Libertarians, Rebuild NH or Liberty 603, individual freedom at all costs is and the consequences are monumental.
The goal of the uproar was ostensibly to prevent the Executive Council from approving $27 million in contracts to expand the state’s lagging COVID-19 vaccination programs to protect more people from the virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic and government actions to stop its spread have been the target of the groups, some that even propose the state secede from the union.
This movement does not follow the usual political processes to achieve its goal, but instead uses intimidation, threats and other tactics best described as bullying.
What they want to achieve is minority rule, because the vast majority of the state’s citizens do not agree with them.
The insurrectionists have had help along the way, as they have been allowed to drive the “Republican agenda” in the legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu, who was one of their main targets at the council meeting, tried to placate the near anarchists and signed a budget largely dictated by the Free Staters and Libertarians.
What happened at the Executive Council meeting was a significant victory for a couple hundred protesters who achieved far more than stopping the approval of a couple of contracts.
And that is the real problem New Hampshire faces going forward.
With about 50 law enforcement officers at the meeting, a number of particularly vocal, abrasive and threatening activists were allowed to “do their thing” to shut down the meeting and not one was arrested.
The next time there is no reason to stop going a little further and a little further.
Many of the same people picketed Sununu’s Newfields home after he instigated a mask mandate, the last one in New England and the first to be rescinded.
Protests at the State House or where a governor is making an appearance are acceptable behavior, but a governor’s or senator’s or official’s home has always been off limits, but not any more.
The anti-maskers planned to disrupt Sununu’s outdoor inauguration ceremony in January, but Sununu cancelled the event.
Instead he was sworn in with few present at the State House and gave his inauguration speech remotely.
Several weeks ago, a public hearing on proposed rules for the state’s vaccination registry had to be cancelled when the same groups turned out protestors and overflowed a hearing room in Concord.
And last month, they shouted down Republican legislative leaders at a press conference called to criticize President Biden’s vaccine mandates. The protesters told GOP leaders they and the governor had not done enough to protect them.
At a press conference after the council meeting Sununu downplayed the council protest and said it was a few unruly aggressive actors who crossed the line and that there was passion on both sides.
That sounded similar to President Trump saying there are good people on both sides after white supremacists’ violent protest in Charlottesville that claimed one life and injured many more.
And while Sununu, the Executive Council and state employees had a couple of dozen police to protect them, many school boards and selectmen do not and face the same aggressive behavior and unruly people objecting to whatever the boards decide.
People need to understand what the protesters and some politicians want. They want to stop the state from spending federal money on programs to increase vaccinations to stop the spread of COVID-19.
They do not want to be vaccinated, which is short-sighted in itself as they are willing to infect others for their “personal freedom,” and they are trying to stop anyone else from being vaccinated.
It is not enough for them not to be vaccinated, they don’t want you to be either and they don’t want you to wear a mask.
That is not freedom, that is tyranny. And it is just as tyrannical as they claim Biden’s mandates are.
While the state has fallen behind others in the percentage of citizens fully vaccinated, still almost 60 percent of the state’s residents are showing at least that many people do not agree with the anti-vaccers and maskers.
What is happening with disruptions like the one at the Executive Council meeting and at school boards around the state is tribalism and not democracy. It is mob rule by intimidation and threats. How civilized is that?
The real target here is not masks and mandates, it is government and their hate for it or anyone they perceive to be telling them what to do.
The behavior is reminiscent of the Tea Party and the disruptions they caused for elected officials, particularly Democratic members of Congress two decades ago.
People came to learn later the Tea Party movement was fueled by Koch brothers’ money and the same kind of dark money is flowing into the organizations behind the current disruptions as they hold sessions to teach sympathizers how to be “respected and feared.”
And this time the target is not just one party as the House GOP leadership learned last month.
Viewing what is happening in New Hampshire and the country, it is clear democracy as we once knew it, is broken.
It is no wonder New Hampshire is garnering national attention being called “Florida with foliage” or “the Texas of New England.”
The battle is no longer over ideals or ideas, it is a battle for power and the ends justify whatever means are employed.
The only question is if our state and country are fixable.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.