Not how it’s done

Wednesday, Sept. 16 was the last day of the 2019-2020 New Hampshire House session as we met to consider the Governor’s vetoes at UNH’s Whittemore Center. We have been meeting there instead of the State House in order to maintain social distancing.

I was disappointed that we were unable to overturn the Governor’s vetoes, especially on good bills that had strong bipartisan support. Some GOP members switched their votes at the last minute after pressure from their leadership. So much for voting with conviction.

More disturbing however was the revelation that some of these same “representatives” were found to be drinking beer during our session. Although the House is meeting in a sports arena to accommodate social distancing, it nonetheless is Representative Hall while we deliberate there. Arena staff reported to the Speaker that a trash can which had previously been empty and sanitized was now filled with beer cans. While individual members could not be identified, the Speaker strongly admonished members sitting in the “no-mask” section for their inappropriate and disrespectful behavior.

It should be noted that UNH has a strict mask compliance policy but “freedom-loving” House members were given a special exemption so long as they sat together in their designated section.

Most upsetting of all was the tumult caused when Rep. Wendy Thomas, a Democrat from Merrimack, rose to defend herself against a member’s social media post which questioned her patriotism and support for veterans. Rep. Thomas asserted, “I take a knee during the national anthem; I do it to support Black Lives Matter, to highlight the racial injustice in America today.” Her remarks were jeered by a number of GOP members. When a procedural move failed to deny her to speak, most GOP members walked out of the arena. Rep. Thomas continued her remarks, recounting the military service of family members.

Her grandfather was awarded the Purple Heart during World War I after sustaining a mustard gas attack which landed him in the hospital for several months. There he met a French nurse who later became his wife. She spoke of her father, a Marine who returned from war with severe PTSD. At one point he attempted to kill himself and the family by driving off the road. “When that didn’t work,” she said, “he then threatened to kill us with his gun. If he couldn’t be happy, he didn’t want us to be happy.” She told of her son’s harrowing experience during a parachute jump. He witnessed the soldier who went right before him get tangled in the ropes. “She jumped out but her arm stayed in the plane.” Her son later sustained his own combat injuries and is now permanently disabled.

Rep. Thomas sent a photo to her son showing her kneeling during the national anthem. She asked him if he was ashamed of her or felt any disrespect.

“Mom,” he said, “I was in the Army in order to protect your rights including freedom of speech and peaceful protest. I’m not upset with you, he told me. In fact I’m proud of you.”

I wish those GOP members stayed to hear Rep. Thomas’ speech. Clearly her respect for veterans cannot be questioned.

Sadly, this is how we ended our last day of the 2019-2020 session. It’s OK to disagree and have vigorous debate, but petty politics and rowdy behavior is not how we advance solutions to serious problems.