Statehouse Disorientation: New Legislators Learn the Ropes in Concord
Freshman legislators Linda Lauer of Bath, center right, and George Sykes of Lebanon, center left, are given a tour of the New Hampshire State House by John Graham after a day of orientation in Concord.(Valley News - James M.Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
State Rep. Linda Lauer, of Bath, listens to a presentation on the legislative email system in the Legislative Office Building in Concord yesterday. Lauer, 62, retired after 26 years with Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Fla., and moved to Bath in 2006. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
State Rep. Sue Ford, of Easton, left, talks with Linda Lauer before the two Grafton County Democrats attended a seminar on committee responsibilities and processes in the Legislative Office Building in Concord yesterday. “I call myself a Democrat because I had to pick a party,” said Lauer. “Hopefully it doesn’t matter what party. You work for the constituency." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Sue Ford of Easton, left, talks with Linda Lauer of Bath, before the two Grafton County Democrats split into groups for a seminar on committee responsibilities and processes in the Legislative Office Building in Concord Wednesday, November 28, 2012. "I call myself a Democrat because I had to pick a party," said Lauer. "Hopefully it doesn't matter what party. You work for the constituancy."
Valley News - James M. Patterson
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Concord — As debate intensified yesterday over repealing a licensing fee for the retail sale of lobster and crab meat in a committee room of the New Hampshire House, Bath Democrat Linda Lauer took notes, before quietly voting “yes” to repeal the fee.
Just one thing — the vote, and the hearing, were just for practice.
Lauer was just one of 136 future lawmakers who have never previously held office and who crowded the halls of the Statehouse in Concord to learn the basics of being a legislator. They spent time learning the mundane logistics of keeping a schedule to the complexities of drafting legislation.
“There’s an awful lot of information coming very fast,” said Lauer, who was recently elected to Grafton District 15, which includes the towns of Haverhill, Orford, and Piermont, among others.
Sitting down for a complimentary lunch of wraps and sandwiches in the Statehouse cafeteria, Lauer took a moment to reflect on the past several weeks. She said she is looking forward to getting started, but she figured the whole experience probably won’t sink in until she is sworn in on Dec. 5.
“I think that’s the day it’s probably going to hit me,” said Lauer, who described the days since her election as a “blur of juggling the calendar and driving to Concord.”
In the general election, Lauer ousted veteran state Rep. Paul Ingbretson, R-Haverhill, who served four terms and was chairman of the Redress of Grievances Committee, by just 73 votes.
Asked why she decided to run for office, Lauer responded with a laugh.
“I’m still asking that question myself,” she said.
But Lauer’s lunchmate — Easton Democrat Sue Ford, who chairs the Northern Grafton County Democrats and was recently elected to represent Grafton 3 — was quick to interject, shouting enthusiastically on her friend’s behalf.
“Because she was well qualified, a good candidate, and we thought she could win,” said Ford, one of 63 “returnees” at yesterday’s orientation. Returnees are lawmakers who have had held office before, but not in the last two years.
Vocal and outgoing, Ford resembled a sort of ying to Lauer’s more reserved and attentive yang, but the two north Grafton County Democrats say they are comfortable around each other.
“I always feel safe when I’m following Sue,” said Lauer as they descended a stairwell together earlier in the afternoon.
Having served one term from 2008 to 2010, Ford said the most important bill she voted on was the marriage equality act, which granted same-sex couples the right to marry.
Since New Hampshire state representatives earn only $100 a year, Ford said, she wasn’t worried about being thrown out of office for voting in favor of the bill.
“It’s not like a job,” she said. “You can vote for what you think is the right thing to do, as opposed to what’s going to keep you in office, and I got thrown out.”
“But,” Ford added, “I’m back.”
In the Nov. 6 election, the Tea Party-led wave of 2010 was effectively turned back, and Democrats swept into office in record numbers to retake the House. Lauer said that she’s looking forward to working with a more moderate group of Republicans this year.
“I think there are a lot of moderate Republicans that got outshouted (in the last session),” she said, “A lot of good people.”
Ford agreed, adding that moderate Republicans enhance the quality of the legislation that passes the House.
“Those are the people we need,” she said.
In the next two years, Ford said she envisioned a lot of tough choices and budgetary shuffling as Democrats seek ways to bring more revenue to the state.
It was a grim reality that Lauer seemed resigned to as well.
“It’s going to be tough,” she said.
A Navy veteran and member of a local farmer’s group, Lauer said that she hopes to serve on the Envrionment and Agriculture Committee or the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Before their mock hearing, the 23 new legislators who were told to report to the Ways and Means committee room went through the intricacies of legislative committees protocol.
Linda Tanner — the Sunapee Democrat who was elected to represent Sullivan District 9, which includes the towns of Plainfield, Grantham, Croydon, Cornish, Unity, Springfield, and Sunapee — also sat in on the mock Ways and Means hearing.
“I’m a little bit glazed over and in the headlights right now,” said Tanner, “But I’m glad I came.”
Tanner said the day, for her, amounted to meeting people and getting comfortable.
“As an outside citizen, you really don’t understand all the little things that goes on in these committees,” she said. “It’s really interesting.”
Another newly minted Upper Valley legislator at the meeting — George Sykes, one of four Democrats elected to represent Lebanon — said he too was glad he had the time to attend the orientation. Sykes, a former Lebanon city councilor, said that he doesn’t envision his time as a state representative being much different than his time as a councilor.
“The arguments are different, they’re different questions, but the feeling that you have a point of view that’s important and that you need to be heard is universal,” Sykes said.
“It’s democracy at work,” he added. “You’ve got to love that.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213