By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
New Hampshire is a battleground for cultural wars over COVID-19 and abortion rights and last week may have been one of those key moments shaping the future.
The events of the week were in many ways defining moments for the two main political parties in the state.
The events foreshadow the 2022 state election and the battle for the hearts and minds of New Hampshire voters.
The old adage is “elections have consequences” and this has been clear for three years.
The 2018 election put Democrats at the helm of state government with one exception, the governor, who thwarted what they sought to accomplish with record vetoes.
The 2020 election put Republicans at the helm of state government without exception, and they achieved many long-standing goals that had eluded them for years.
The booty goes to the winner.
But the popularity of some of these achievements is the subject of the next election.
The notable events date back to the September 7 special election to fill the vacant Bedford seat with the death of Representative David Danielson.
The hotly contested race in Bedford, where Republicans far outnumber Democrats, was won by Democrat Catherine Rombeau, who defeated Republican Linda Rea Camarota by 37 votes, and whose victory was reaffirmed in a recount.
At the end of this week, President Biden announced a mandate for vaccination or frequent testing for all federal employees, businesses doing business with the federal government, and any business with more than 100 employees, including a number in the New Hampshire.
The reaction from Republican House and Senate leaders was swift and opposing, and they announced a press conference on Tuesday to attack the presidential decree on the term.
On Monday, a group of progressive organizations held a rally at the Millyard in Manchester to tout the need to pass John Lewis’s Voting Rights Act and House Resolution 1, to limit money in politics, put an end to gerrymandering and various other initiatives. The press conference did not attract many people and there were no clashes.
The Republican House press conference on the vaccine mandate on Tuesday was picked up by a good-sized crowd opposed to the vaccination and mask mandates, and shouted out Speaker of the House Sherman Packard, who tabled a draft law prohibiting local and state enforcement of the mandate, and others saying Republicans were not doing enough to protect them from the mandates of Biden and Governor Chris Sununu. “Where’s Sununu?” Was one of the chants heard as the crowd soon took to the podium with their own loudspeakers setting the crowd on fire.
The press conference was the last straw for Rep. William Marsh of Brookfield, who is also a doctor, and he changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat on Tuesday.
Marsh was deputy chairman of the House health and social services committee, but was removed from his post after successfully leading the fight to defeat an amendment to a bill that would have made it difficult for officials to state health to control the spread of COVID-19 in New Hampshire.
“I have realized that a majority of Republicans, both locally and in New Hampshire House, hold values that no longer reflect traditional Republican values,” Marsh said in a statement he posted on his change of party. “And so I recognize the reality that the Republican Party today is no longer the party I first joined in my campaign for President Reagan many years ago.
“Also, I think the local Carroll County Republicans and the Winnipesaukee Republicans have been taken over by extremists who see no place for moderates like me in the Republican Party.”
He said he intended to quietly finish his term and then step down from the House, but the events of the day made him change his mind.
“I cannot stand idly by while extremists reject the reasonable precautions of vaccinations and masks that allowed this to happen,” Marsh wrote.
The Republican-dominated Executive Council on Wednesday rejected family planning contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and two other organizations that also provide abortion services, citing the recently passed budget provision requiring an audit to determine whether the organizations separated funding for abortions from their family planning. services.
The vote came despite the objection of Health and Social Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, who said not approving the contracts would lead to disruption of health care for largely poor women in rural areas. She told the board that her agency determined that the organizations were not using the money in any way to support abortion services, but the four Republican advisers rejected her argument.
Democrats quickly jumped into action, saying GOP board members were playing politics with essential women’s health care.
Sununu, who in the past voted to fund Planned Parenthood and then toppled when he was a board member, said he was disappointed with the board’s action, but admitted he didn’t. had sought to convince any of the four Republicans to vote for the contracts. say it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Additionally, the board, on a 3-2 vote, turned down $ 27 million in federal stimulus funds to hire additional staff and award supplier contracts to expand the state’s immunization program for COVID vaccinations. -10, as the state lags behind the rest of the Northeast and many other states in the percentage of fully immunized citizens.
Republicans on the Joint Legislative Tax Committee also filed the request on Friday, questioning the vaccine’s effectiveness, while citing the federal government’s privacy rights and overbreadth.
Shibinette and the committee chair, Rep. Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, exchanged words on the matter with the commissioner, saying Weyler was spreading misleading information that makes people more reluctant to get vaccinated.
The action of the tax council and committee has led Senate Minority Deputy Leader Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, to accuse Republicans of playing politics with a serious public health problem.
“There was no reason to reject this federal funding beyond political staging,” she said. “Particularly after (the) reckless anti-vaccination rally organized by President Packard, it is clearer than ever that Republicans in New Hampshire are not interested in protecting the Granite Staters, but only in protecting dangerous right-wing extremism. “Rosenwald said.
And also last week, the 14 Republican state senators sent a letter to the four members of the all-Democratic delegation to Congress, asking them to block the Biden administration’s efforts to impose warrants.
They said the warrant was an attempt to distract attention from the Biden administration’s crisis on the southern border and the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“As representatives of New Hampshire in Washington, we urge you to stand up for Granite State and oppose this massive mandate over New Hampshire businesses and employees,” the senators wrote. “Use the authority of Congress to demand oversight and accountability from an administration that is out of control and abusing its power. “
This prompted a response from several Democratic state senators, including doctor Tom Sherman of Rye.
“New Hampshire prides itself on our sense of individual responsibility. We take responsibility for our actions, and for the safety and well-being of our families, neighbors, communities, and our state – this has always been New Hampshire’s way, ”Sherman said. “This extreme Republican effort to shirk individual responsibility by discouraging taking the vaccine, our most powerful weapon against COVID, is dangerous, disheartening, irresponsible, and certainly not New Hampshire style. “
Sununu also said he intends to fight the federal mandate with other Republican governors.
The scene is set and the lines are clearly drawn in the sand.
The Republican Party believes it has problems getting its base to the polls by attacking abortion and emphasizing individual rights, while Democrats believe abortion rights and ultimately , women’s health care, as well as the GOP’s reluctance to make public health over individual decisions a priority, they have enough to get their constituents to vote.
This week solidified the different philosophies in dealing with two major issues facing the country and the state.
Basically both parties are trying to make it a national election at the local level.
However, the people of New Hampshire are the pawns in this political game and it could be deadly for many before the next election in 14 months.
Garry Rayno can be contacted at [email protected]
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on State House and state events for InDepthNH.org. During his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for Union leader New Hampshire and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage has spanned the spectrum of news, from local planning, schools and boards of directors, to national issues such as deregulation of the electrical industry and presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.