NH legislator leaves panel leadership over outlandish COVID claims

New Hampshire Bulletin
Published: 10/6/2021 9:28:59 PM
Modified: 10/6/2021 9:28:59 PM

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

CONCORD — Rep. Ken Weyler resigned as the chairman of the House Finance Committee and the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee Wednesday, two days after sending his committee a conspiracy-laden document claiming tentacled creatures are infiltrating people who receive COVID-19 vaccines.

In a statement, House Speaker Sherman Packard said he had “reluctantly” accepted Weyler’s resignation.

“Rep. Weyler and I spoke about my deep concerns of the content in his emails and comments during committee meetings. He realizes his error in judgment and recognizes it has compromised his ability to lead the House Finance Committee and Joint Fiscal Committee both now and moving forward,” Packard said in a statement Wednesday.

“We came to a mutual decision that the best thing for him to do was to step aside as chair of the House Finance Committee. Since his chairmanship of the Fiscal Committee was statutorily dependent on his chairmanship of the Finance Committee, he will no longer be chair of the Fiscal Committee.”

Weyler, a Kingston Republican, will no longer even be a member of the Fiscal Committee, said House spokeswoman Jennifer Tramp on Wednesday, but he has not resigned his seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Packard and House leadership are still making decisions over his membership on the House Finance Committee.

Rep. Karen Umberger, a Kearsarge Republican and long-standing member of the House Finance Committee, will assume the role of chairwoman of the House Finance and Joint Legislative Fiscal committees.

Weyler’s departure from one of the most powerful posts in the Legislature caps off days of outrage over the contents of the document, and calls to resign from Democrats and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Weyler’s exit came after House Democrats made public a 52-page report he had shared that was packed with misinformation and conspiracies about the COVID-19 vaccine. The report included falsehoods that “millions of people have died” from vaccine effects, and claimed the vaccines feature octopus-like creatures and that vaccinated parents had babies with “pitch black” eyes and premature aging.

In a resignation letter, Weyler apologized for sending the report, arguing he had not sufficiently examined it before emailing it.

“Considering the recent controversy surrounding an email that I sent, and the side circus this has created, I wish to remove myself as chairman so as not to further distract from the true issue at hand,” Weyler wrote in a resignation letter, which was distributed by House leadership Wednesday afternoon.

“I wanted to share the first dozen or so pages containing the data about COVID reporting methodology and did not read the rest, which contained conspiracy material and sections that are offensive to groups of people. I apologize for not vetting this document more thoroughly, and to those who were offended. Hopefully, my resignation will focus the conversation less on me and more on a critical issue facing our state.”

The decision marks an abrupt end to a long career in House Finance leadership. As the House Finance chairman in 2011 and 2012 under the tenure of New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, Weyler carved out a reputation as a fiscal hawk, helping to craft a budget that cut spending by 17.6% and slashed programs from educational adequacy aid to the state’s Division for Children, Youth, and Families.

Weyler and O’Brien argued the cuts were made to respond to the state’s dire financial position after the Great Recession in 2009; critics characterized them as draconian.

In 2020, with the return to a Republican House majority, then-Speaker Dick Hinch chose to restore Weyler to the Finance Committee chairmanship, a decision carried forward by Packard after Hinch’s death in December from COVID-19.

Weyler helped lead the passage of the fiscal year 2022 to 2023 budget this spring, which gained nearly unanimous support from Republicans in the House and Senate.

But it was during the committee’s treatment of federal COVID-19 assistance funds that Weyler began to draw the bigger spotlight. In an exchange with Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette in September, Weyler falsely claimed that the majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are vaccinated, and dismissed attempts by Shibinette to correct the record.

Those comments came as the Fiscal Committee voted to table two contracts carrying $27 million in funding meant to help boost COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Weyler chose to cancel a subsequent meeting Oct. 1 that was meant to approve the contracts, arguing the department had not given enough information.

On Monday, Weyler’s endorsement of COVID-19 misinformation took a new turn. The revelation that he had emailed the document, titled the “Vaccine Death Report,” to fellow members prompted a flood of negative headlines for the Legislature, as well as sharp public condemnation from Sununu on Monday.

Even as he resigned Wednesday, Weyler argued that the $27 million contracts designed to increase vaccination efforts should be scrutinized and potentially stopped.

“I am sure my Republican colleagues will continue this endeavor on my behalf, and as a representative, I will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of the constituents I serve,” he wrote.

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