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Column: Partisan leadership in New Hampshire hurts all of us

  • Julia Griffin



For the Valley News
Sunday, July 14, 2019

Hanover

In recent weeks, I have been deeply troubled by the tone our governor has taken in his efforts to beat back legislation that many have worked hard to move through the New Hampshire Legislature.

These pieces of legislation move forward because our legislators are acting on behalf of their constituents, who have urged them to support these actions. While some, including Gov. Chris Sununu, may not agree that the bills in question are in the best interest of New Hampshire, many others — including the majority of our legislators who voted for these pieces of legislation — believe these efforts make sense.

And yet our governor has insulted the work of many in the process of shoving the bills aside via his veto.

Recently, he dismissed these legislative efforts as “just politics,” while he is here to manage the state. What a way to insult the hard work of so many, arrogantly implying that he knows all while others who have a different approach are simply a sideshow.

Take, for example, the governor’s recent veto of HB 365, otherwise known as the net metering bill. This bill would enable siting of electric grid-connected solar installations larger than 1 megawatt, which is the current limit in place in New Hampshire. Large-scale, grid-connected community solar of more than 1 MW cannot currently be constructed in New Hampshire, while in most other states, the net metering limit far exceeds 1 MW. Whether or not you agree that climate change is occurring, I would hope we can all agree that renewable energy, generated by solar, wind, small hydro or geothermal, is far preferable to fossil fuel-burning, environmentally damaging electricity generation. There are communities and solar developers with customers ready to move forward with large-scale community solar projects — customers who are committed to greening up our New England electric grid — so why does Sununu continue to veto this effort?

Last year, a majority of the Legislature voted in favor of raising the net metering limit from 1 MW to 5 MW and Sununu vetoed the bill. At that point, there were insufficient votes in the Legislature to override his veto and so the bill died. During the 2019 legislative session, a veto-proof majority of Republicans and Democrats once again approved HB 365 to raise the net metering cap to 5 MW. Many private citizens and community representatives testified in favor of the bill, and we took heart in seeing the impressive level of bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, Sununu argued that raising the net metering cap would result in increased electric rates, which is why he vetoed the bill in 2018, even though the evidence provided by New Hampshire’s electric utilities that this would be the case is anything but clear.

In reality, the word from several Republican lawmakers is that Sununu appeared before a Republican caucus meeting before the Legislature’s final vote earlier this session and told legislators, “HB 365 is not about your constituents and it is not about your communities. ... It is about me. Do not vote in favor of this bill.”

Is that truly what the governor thinks? That all the hard work that has gone into this legislation — because many of us feel so strongly about renewable energy and New Hampshire’s green energy future — amounts to nothing in the face of his political career or his reputation?

Smarting after the Legislature overrode his death penalty veto, I can only assume he did not want to face another override, or lose the financial support of New Hampshire’s electric utilities.

Sadly, this is what politics has become in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a line of severe thunderstorms and inundating rain pummeled the midsection of the state, leading to flash flooding and significant infrastructure damage stretching from Lyme all the way to Plymouth. I would submit that this type of destructive, 100-year storm is now an every-year occurrence somewhere in our state. I would also argue these unusually severe microbursts are a symptom of climate change. New Hampshire cannot afford to hitch its future survival to the career needs of one self-absorbed governor. This state needs to work now to reduce our carbon footprint, and large-scale community solar is one way to do just that.

And then there is the governor’s recent stunt relative to SB 1, the family and medical leave act.

On May 9, the governor vetoed the bill, arguing that it was another form of income tax. SB 1 would implement a .5% payroll tax on employers, the proceeds from which would fund up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at up to 60% of a worker’s salary. Many New Hampshire legislators worked tirelessly on this bill throughout the session. They did so not because it was in their own self-interest, but because they have heard from their constituents who are struggling to balance work and family that insufficient paid leave makes it very difficult to care for their families when circumstances force them to take time away from work to tend to the home front.

While Sununu may not have agreed that this form of paid leave was a priority, or that this form of funding was acceptable, to insult the work of legislators by gleefully auctioning off a copy of his signed veto of the bill at a Republican fundraising event sends a demeaning message. As a long-time working mother who knows all too well the challenges of caring for a family while working out of the home, the governor’s stunt sent the following message to me: “Working mothers of New Hampshire, get on home and take care of your families. You don’t need to be members of the workforce. Why should we help you to try to work and parent?”

Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but when a politician engages in “in your face” behavior, our standard reaction tends to be equally over the top. Hyperbole breeds hyperbole.

I would urge the governor, and every other elected official in New Hampshire, to please stop insulting the work of legislators with whom you do not agree, lest we think you are all graduates of the Donald Trump School of Leadership.

And please take note: None of what you do on our behalf is about protecting your political futures. It is about ensuring that New Hampshire takes the best care possible of all of its citizens.

We have much to do, in some cases very little time, and none of us deserve to be insulted because we differ in opinions or proposed solutions. This is about serious work together and not about partisan politics. Gov. Sununu, this is about managing the state of New Hampshire.

Julia N. Griffin is Hanover’s town manager.