Column: First-year senators get a lesson in partisan doublespeak

  • The New Hampshire State House in Concord on Oct. 4, 2018 Concord Monitor — Sarah Pearson

Published: 7/15/2021 10:10:01 PM
Modified: 7/15/2021 10:10:06 PM

With our first year as freshmen senators under our belts, we’ve had a chance to reflect on this past session of the New Hampshire Legislature. It’s hard to know what to expect when you get sworn in. It is a little daunting, a lot of hard work, and most of all, an incredible honor.

There were things, however, that we were not prepared for.

When we embarked on this year, we thought the voices of constituents were what most legislators based their decisions on. We thought they meant something and would inform how our colleagues voted. Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case. The hypocrisy, doublespeak and polarizing partisan politics from our Republican colleagues all proved to be an eye-opening education.

In their own party platform, New Hampshire Republicans claim to support freedom of speech and local control at all education levels. But this session, they turned their back on both of these tenets when they inserted what amounts to an anti-American gag order in the state budget.

Despite its “Freedom from Discrimination” title, which is nothing but rhetorical window dressing, we believe this measure will have the effect of censoring school districts and was designed to ensure that conversations around uncomfortable subjects like systemic racism and sexism will be silenced as schools and teachers who address these vitally important topics will now face the threat of “disciplinary sanction by the state board of education” and “civil action ... in superior court for legal or equitable relief.”

Under the guise of being anti-discrimination, Republicans used political double-speak to pass an ambiguous law that creates even more division in our state and muzzles free speech. What subject will they seek to silence next?

In the face of the global pandemic that affected nearly 100,000 Granite Staters, Republicans spoke passionately against mask requirements and life-saving vaccines, angrily arguing about the importance of bodily autonomy and safeguarding individuals’ right to make their own choices about their health without government intrusion. That commitment to individual rights crumbled, however, when Republicans inserted an extreme and unnecessary abortion ban into the budget — the first one ever enacted in New Hampshire’s history.

Republicans argue that their policy isn’t extreme, but when compared with other states’ abortion policies, it is inarguably draconian, with no exceptions included for rape, incest or fetal health; an arbitrary requirement for intrusive and unnecessary ultrasounds; and an incredibly narrow exception for the health of the mother.

Under their policy, a woman whose fetus is incompatible with life after 24 weeks gestation will be forced to carry that fetus to term, and a physician seeking to provide her with care could face $100,000 in fines and seven years in prison. If that is not extreme, we’re not sure what is.

As we worked to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, both Republicans and Democrats committed to helping hardworking New Hampshire families get back on their feet. Republicans did this by giving large tax breaks to the wealthiest 2% of Granite Staters and large, out-of-state corporations. They passed unsustainable policies that will lead to cutting essential services for our communities while simultaneously rejecting our efforts to remove barriers for working families to participate in the labor force — efforts that would have supported upward mobility and fueled economic growth in our state. Lucky for Republicans, the chilling consequences of their irresponsible policies will not be evident before the next Election Day.

Republicans say they want to protect New Hampshire elections, which are widely recognized as the most well-run, secure elections in the country. It should be a point of pride for all of us that voter participation in the 2020 elections was record-breaking in New Hampshire, largely because absentee voting was temporarily expanded due to COVID-19 and any qualified voter was allowed to vote by absentee.

Despite this tremendous success, and with absolutely no evidence of voter fraud, Republicans doubled down on their baseless claims that people voted illegally. They blocked legislation that would have modestly expanded eligibility for absentee voting and instead adopted policies that place even more arbitrary requirements on voters wishing to cast a ballot.

With redistricting taking place this year, efforts made by Democratic legislators to ensure the process was transparent and publicly accessible were dismissed, ensuring backroom bargaining by party operatives could take place away from public view. In fact, the Republican State Committee chair boasted proudly that Republicans will gerrymander the state in order to guarantee a Republican win for New Hampshire’s congressional delegation in 2022. While district lines are legally supposed to reflect our shifting population, Republican leaders signaled that gerrymandering will dictate redistricting. It seems strange to admit this, much less brag about it.

The people hurt most by Republicans’ actions this session are the citizens of the Granite State — the folks we all swore to represent. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter much what their constituents want. Republicans have their own out-of-touch agenda, fueled by national politics, and forgot about the very folks who sent them to Concord in the first place.

Despite all this, we are looking forward to next year. These partisan antics have only deepened our resolve to make real, positive change for the state we love so much. We remain committed to listening to the actual experiences and struggles of our constituents and will continue to work hard every day to improve the lives of all Granite Staters.

Sen. Suzanne Prentiss, of Lebanon, represents District 5 in the New Hampshire Senate. Sen. Becky Whitley, of Hopkinton, represents District 15.

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