By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
After the news broke in September that former Republican state Rep. Troy Merner was living out of district during the entire last House session, Rep. Kat McGhee, D-Hollis, said he told her that “everyone knew” he had moved away from Lancaster but House “leadership” told him to continue serving.
McGhee said she thought it was because the Republican leadership needed Merner’s vote in the closely divided House between the number of Republicans and Democrats.
“(Merner) admitted to me that everyone knew,” he had moved out of district, McGhee said. She didn’t press him for names during the call after he resigned.
“He did say he wanted to step down sooner and was asked not to. He said he had brought up the idea earlier in the year and was asked not to do so,” McGhee said.
Republican Deputy House Speaker Steve Smith said: “I’d be shocked if that is true.” He also said it is common to get allegations against House members that they can’t verify.
McGhee became friendly with Merner as they both served on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee and she called him after he resigned.
Merner resigned Sept. 19, the day after the Attorney General’s Office notified Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard that Merner was in violation of the state Constitution and under investigation for illegal voting and accepting mileage to and from the State House. The criminal investigation is ongoing.
“He also told me that the leadership was upset with his response to the attorney general and he said he was not going to lie,” McGhee said.
The state Constitution is clear that House members must live in the district they represent.
McGhee said she hadn’t heard any rumors about Merner’s domicile before he resigned.
Now she, too, wants to know who in leadership knew Merner violated the state Constitution by moving out of district and continuing to serve, and continued to vote in Lancaster town and state elections after moving to the town of Carroll, while listing his domicile as Lancaster.
According to the letter the Attorney General’s Office sent to Speaker Packard Sept. 18, the investigation into Merner’s domicile began on March 22 when a Lancaster election worker reported that Merner was no longer living in Lancaster.
The Attorney General’s Office investigation showed Merner had moved out of district to Carroll in August of 2022, before the election, according to the letter.
McGhee said Merner told her he was upset that the poll worker in Lancaster whom he considered a friend had turned him in.
Merner didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Packard also didn’t return a call Sunday, but Deputy House Speaker Steve Smith said he’d be shocked if what McGhee said Merner told her is true.
“We shoot ourselves in the foot to follow the rules all the time. This allegation is shocking and unrealistic. It’s highly unlikely and certainly not in the leadership,” Smith said.
Smith said he didn’t know what Merner told the attorney general.
“This is third hand,” Smith said. “You don’t know. I don’t know. We both don’t know. That’s how the telephone game works in Concord,” Smith said referring to how gossip is spread.
“I have no idea if anybody in leadership heard a rumor about this,” Smith said. “We get these allegations all the time.
“We don’t send a goon squad out for 24 hours to wait for there to be specific evidence…,” Smith said.
He said if he ran to the attorney general every time he heard a complaint about a House member it would take three of him to follow up.
“What we don’t have is people go out and surveille and follow their cars,” Smith said.
Smith said he hasn’t been interviewed by the Attorney General’s Office about the Merner case and hadn’t heard the rumors before the letter to Packard.
Former Democratic state Sen. Peter Hoe Burling of Cornish has been twice denied information about who knew what and when about Merner’s domicile and is planning to file a public records lawsuit against Attorney General John Formella to find out.
Formella’s office has denied releasing further information claiming it is exempt from the state right-to-know law because of the ongoing investigation against Merner and the potential for invading the privacy of people who speak to investigators about the allegations.
Burling said: “We want to know how they can explain the gap between March 22 when they received a complaint and Sept. 18 when they gave notice to the Speaker’s office.
“The more we look at it, the less comprehensible it is unless it is just a barefaced coverup,” Burling said.
Former Republican state Sen. Mark Hounsell of Conway joined with Burling to get more information on who knew what and when they knew it.
An editorial in Sunday’s New Hampshire Union Leader took Formella to task under the headline: “Formella flub: AG looks out to lunch.”
“New Hampshire’s Attorney General ought to tell his bosses (they would be the citizens of the state) just what the dickens his office was doing for months in the case of a now-resigned state representative who seems to have voted repeatedly even though he wasn’t (and isn’t) residing in the Lancaster area district that elected him.
“AG John Formella is reported to have received a complaint about Rep. Troy Merner’s residency last March. But it wasn’t until mid-September that Formella’s office alerted the House Speaker, who then secured Merner’s resignation. For all that time, and perhaps longer, Merner was voting when he had no right to do so. And in a House that is nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, that’s no small matter.
“Why the delay by the AG? Formella’s office won’t say, other than to use the shop-worn and wholly inadequate excuse that it cannot provide any information because of an ongoing criminal investigation. That is rubbish,” the editorial said.
Rep. McGhee said, “My understanding is there is definitely more that went on behind the scenes.”
McGhee said she feels sorry for Merner.
“I think Troy must be feeling very lonely but was not the only person in on the decision. I really do feel bad for him,” McGhee said.
McGhee said Merner told her he knew the woman who turned him in and said he was “shocked that she did that to him. He really didn’t understand and was still trying to make other people at fault.
“It was interesting he didn’t feel responsible for his actions and it was wrong for someone to out him,” McGhee said.
She found it upsetting that people who knew also are not accepting responsibility.
“My concern is more whether other people were influencing him to keep up the ruse to keep up their majority,” McGhee said.
“It’s like rules for thee and not for me. These rules are well know so for some reason he felt they didn’t apply to him.”
She said Merner was well-liked in the House.
“Everybody likes Troy. He’s a nice guy, a friendly guy, but on this kind of thing you don’t get a pass,” McGhee said.