Thursday, May 25, 2017

Boys Will Be Boys

The NH legislature was in session on May 4. State Representative Debra Altschiller from Stratham was one of many women in the House who were deeply disturbed to learn that a colleague had started the misogynistic Red Pill forum. Rep. Altschiller asked to read a short statement during the session. Before she did, a number of the Republican men walked out of the room. They weren’t willing to listen to what she had to say about decency, respect, and honorable behavior.

When they left, some of them went to a bar with Robert “Red Pill” Fisher. One of them, Rep. James Spillane of Northwood posted photos of himself cavorting with Fisher on his Instagram page and tweeted some of them out. All the while, he was wearing a giant House name badge, and a bunch of other trinkets on his lapels. Later, when he was arrested for DWI, the oversized name badge and the other pins were right there in his mug shot. Spillane had been arrested once before in an event that included drinking, driving, and spousal abuse. The original arrest took place before he was in the legislature. Given that he’s a Republican in NH, those charges were not an impediment – heck, charges like that help build name recognition.

Two weeks ago, in my last column, Rep. Robert “RedPill” Fisher was about to testify at a hearing of the House Legislative Committee. Well – he did. In fact, he added a little theater to the proceedings by swearing he was about to tell the whole truth and nothing but the. It was a nice little pageant that allowed the Republican members some cover. After all – he took an oath! We have to believe him!

Not one of Robert’s friends or colleagues spoke on his behalf. Some of them submitted written testimony, which only the committee would see – and meant they didn’t have to openly support ole Radioactive Robert. His alleged girlfriend didn’t testify. His MOM didn’t testify. The committee responded by asking him softball questions and accepting his answers without question. If the Oathtaker said he stopped participating in his misogynistic forum before he became a legislator, that was good enough for them.

Once again, the Republicans were perfectly willing to keep this utter creep, because of the R next to his name. That he refused a committee assignment, showed up less than half the time for votes, and was a fan of rape – well…. nobody’s perfect, boys will be boys, and even presidents engage in locker room sexual assault talk.

A week later the committee met again to determine whether to censure, expel, or do nothing about Robert Fisher. On the committee is Representative Tim Smith, who works in IT. He spent many hours going through the site and discovered that Robert Fisher did a poor job of covering his tracks, and that it was a safe bet that Fisher was still moderating the forum. He sent the committee all of this information. Chair Dick Hinch admitted he didn’t look at it because he was “afraid of viruses.” If one considers unwanted information a virus, one can see how he might reach that conclusion.

Faced with this evidence, the majority party members of the committee still voted to do nothing about Fisher. Women in the hearing room stood and loudly chanted, “Shame, Shame, Shame” at the members of the committee. The Democratic Minority Leader brought up the possibility of referring the matter to the AG for a perjury investigation. Fisher resigned 30 minutes later.

The House voted on May 19 to keep Rep. Debra Altschiller’s remarks (delivered May 4) out of the permanent journal. The vote was 165-143, and came down along party lines. In Carroll County, Representatives Avellani, Chandler, Cordelli, Comeau, McCarthy, Nelson, Schmidt, and Umberger all voted to keep Altschiller’s remarks out of the journal. In the GOP, the lads all band together to defend rape culture, and the women enable them.

Just this week, at a Belknap County budget meeting, mention was made of a deputy sheriff who had been charged with raping a prisoner he was transporting. GOP State Rep. Michael Sylvia commented, “"You know what that tells me, that tells me he had time on his hands."  Apparently he thinks guys get all rapey when they don’t have enough to do. Rep. Sylvia serves on the House Judiciary Committee. In 2014, Rep. Sylvia was one of three votes against the bill making domestic violence a stand-alone crime in NH. The other two were JR Hoell and Frank Sapareto.

The boys have brought their talk out of the locker room and into our state and local government. 

Representative Altschiller’s short speech can be read here.

 This was published as an op-ed in the May 26 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Women Armed with Mouths Frighten Men Armed with Guns

Statement to the NH House of Representatives 
May, 4, 2017
Representative Debra Altschiller, Rockingham 19, Stratham 
Thank you Mr. Speaker and Honorable colleagues.
I rise today with a heavy heart to begin an uncomfortable conversation.
But I know uncomfortable conversations create change. 
Our distinguished body has been negatively cast in the national spotlight. Our colleague, the member from Laconia representing Belknap County - District 9 has been revealed as a founder of the online Reditt community “The Red Pill”. 
Under the cover of multiple screen names, our colleague promoted this community, nurtured and cultivated it like a garden of poisonous weeds that grew to 200,000 subscribers who celebrated female oppression, and rape apologists. 
He has not denied his active leadership in the community but instead offered self-serving justifications.
I believe, our colleague displayed a lack of maturity and ethics necessary to hold the position of Honorable Representative. 
And now, the uncomfortable part. I am going to use a term that makes people very uncomfortable, rape culture. The genesis of The Red Pill did not happen in a vacuum.
Rape culture is “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse”. As Dr. Christine Bowman wrote for the American Psychological Association, “rape culture has many ingredients, and like any successful recipe, once you blend them together, it’s harder to taste the individual flavors. Rape culture is so entrenched in our society, and its components so ubiquitous, we may sense something doesn’t taste right, but be at a loss to pinpoint the problem.”
Turning this culture around is on all of us. We the members of this august institution have been chosen as leaders from our communities to move New Hampshire forward with positive growth. 
It is not positive growth when members joke in committee about hiring prostitutes.
It is not positive growth when members, in the House Calendar, minimize human trafficking by writing that someone who pays for sex with a minor should not be held responsible if they didn’t know that minor was underage.
It is not positive growth when members perform verbal gymnastics to justify another member’s misogynistic rantings and musings on who may or may not enjoy rape. 
Let me clear that one up for you, rape is bad for everyone, all of the time. 
Last week the Centers for Disease Control reported that NH has some of the highest sexual assault rates in the nation. We have to ask the uncomfortable question of why? Have we created an environment that has normalized sexual assault? 
Do we laugh or stay silent when we hear crude sexual remarks? 
Do we stay silent when a colleague engages in crude, cruel behavior? 
Do we honor the courage of the people who come forward to disclose their experiences of sexual violence or are we dismissive?
Changing rape culture is hard work and requires us to be uncomfortable sometimes. It demands vigilance. I ask you to join me today to create an environment that is more respectful, more sensitive to victims of sexual violence and more aware of how what we say and what we don’t say influences the people we represent.

                            *              *            * 

Rep. Altschiller read this statement to the House on May 4. A number of her male, Republican colleagues got up and left when she spoke. They'd planned this in advance. 

We now know where some of them went:

They went out drinking with Robert Fisher (in the middle), the creator of the Red Pill sub-reddit, and noted rape apologist. ***

They couldn't be bothered to show Rep. Altschiller even a modicum of respect and courtesy, so eager were they to engage in a show of solidarity with their fellow frat boy. 

On May 18, the House Republican majority voted against putting Rep. Altschiller's remarks in the House record. This is how much they hate and fear women. This is how entitled these men think they are to behave the way they do. 

*Published with the permission of Representative Debra Altschiller

** These are MY conclusions, not hers
*** What happened after the dudebros went to the bar: Take Off Your NH House Name Badge Before You Go Drinkin'

Background stories:Down the Rabbit Hole - The Daily Beast

All Feminists Want to be Raped - Daily Beast

Five Things to Know about GOP Rep. Robert Fisher

Red Pill Founder Resigns Amid Calls for Perjury Investigation

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Take Off Your NH House Name Badge Before You Go Drinkin'

This is NH State Representative James Spillane. He represents the towns of Deerfield, Candia, and Nottingham. He uses this photo on the NH General Court website. Note the giant badge affixed to his chest - you'll be seeing it again. 

He had a spot of legal trouble in 2010, when he was chair of the Deerfield Town Budget Committee. 

On March 12, 2010, Deerfield police received a call from a resident reporting a driver who drove away after “swerving all over the road” and crashing into his mailbox. As investigators followed tire tracks from the scene of the accident to a house on Swamp Road, a second 911 call came in from a woman at the same address who said her husband had just tried to kill her.


Police officers arrested Spillane on the scene and confiscated 20 guns from the house under a provision of state law that authorizes seizure if officers have probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence has occurred. Spillane’s wife declined the officers’ offer to seek a protective order.

 Read the whole story at Miscellany Blue 

This being NH, and Spillane being a Republican, this did not end his political career. He ran for the NH House in 2014, and is currently serving his third term. 

This is Representative Spillane on May 4, wearing that same giant state rep. badge he's wearing in the photo at the top of the page. This time, though - the photo is a mug shot. 

Spillane was arrested on May 4 for DUI and having an open container. 

NH1 story.
Concord Monitor Story.

A teeensy little no photo story in the NH GOP propaganda arm, known as the Union Leader. It's almost as if they didn't want you to even notice. From the front page of the website:


The House was in session on May 4, so obviously Spillane went out drinking at some point during the day, while wearing his giant state rep. badge. (Maybe all that metal pinned on his jacket weighed him down so much he failed the field sobriety test?) 

He posted photos of the after session frivolity on instagram and twitter. Since the story broke, and people started spreading those photos around, he's made his twitter feed private, and made his instagram account inaccessible. Too late. 

Here he is - (before the mugshot)  next to Rape-resentative Robert  Fisher of Red Pill fame. Five Things to Know About GOP Rep. Robert Fisher- Miscellany Blue 

Fisher appears to have been smart enough to remove his House badge. Then again, under the circumstances, he probably didn't want anyone to know who he was, given that he's about as popular as chlamydia right now. 

Pro-tip: Next time, don't go out boozing while wearing your dinner plate sized name tag. 

At least he won't be driving for a while. Oh, and there's this, from the NH Legislative Handbook: 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

No Honor Among Sleaze

Merriam Webster’s definition of the term honorable:

1. Deserving of respect or high regard
2. Entitled to honor or respect – used as a title for various government officials.

Now - an example of its use: The Honorable Robert Fisher wrote, “I’m going to say it—Rape isn’t an absolute bad, because the rapist I think probably likes it a lot.” So much honor!

By now you’ve heard about Representative Robert Fisher of Laconia, the young man who created a forum for pickup artists and men’s rights activists to share their disdain for women and discuss tactics for getting them into bed.

The governor, the speaker of the House, and the chair of the NH GOP have all asked him to resign. He has refused.  

There was a hearing of the House Legislative Administration Committee earlier this week, to hear testimony from Fisher and members of the public. The committee may opt to expel him from the House, censure him, or do nothing. My money is on nothing. Even though the House Republicans have a big scandal every year with some badly behaved individual, they show no sign of cleaning up the increasing mess their party has become. Their only interest is in ideology, and if they need to use perverts to get enough votes, then perverts they will find and run as candidates.

At the same the committee was timidly questioning Fisher, former Rep. Kyle Tasker (last year’s big scandal) was being sentenced in court for trying to lure a 14 year old to meet him for a sexual encounter.

Thanks to all this, some women who serve in the legislature have been speaking out about the way they are treated by the men in the majority party. It’s no surprise, really. Here’s a look at some men who are currently serving: Rep. Brian Stone of Northwood was arrested for violating a restraining order against his former girlfriend. Rep. James Spillane of Deerfield was arrested for assaulting his former wife.  Rep. Frank Sapareto from Derry assaulted his former girlfriend’s children in 2012. In 2017, he’s the Vice Chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Rep. Michael Brewster lost custody of his children, and harassed one of the state workers in the Child Support Unit so much that a restraining order was taken out against him. He violated it and was arrested. Senator Kevin Avard was arrested for violating a restraining order against his former wife.

Not only are these men elected, they are given leadership positions. And the House Republican women remain silent. Not a one of them has spoken out against Fisher. These women send a strong message through their silence. They’re saying that they don’t mind serving with mean who hate and fear women so much that they assault them. Fisher bemoaned the fact that because of statutory rape laws, “perfectly viable women under the age of 18” were not available to him. Kyle Tasker was on his way to rape a 14-year old girl. From their silence, one can only infer that the Republican women in the House are on board with this behavior. Silence = complicity.  

Republicans elected a president who boasted of grabbing women by their genitalia. It should come as no surprise that this has emboldened the Republican men of the NH legislature. They are so comfortable in their loathing for women and their certainty that they won’t be held accountable that they are fearless. There are no behaviors they won’t defend. There’s no honor among sleaze.

These are men fought hard to keep a law on the books that allows adult men to marry 13-year-old girls. These are men who fought hard to keep a law on the books that allows men to use the “I didn’t know she was underage” defense when caught trying to purchase sex from a minor. These same men are desperate to legislate women’s lives; from making their personal medical decisions to how their divorces are handled. In  2014 a bill was passed making domestic violence a crime. Three men voted against it: Representatives JR Hoell, Michael Sylvia, and Frank Sapareto. Why? Because abusers might lose their guns.

I’m not letting Democrats off the hook either. Robert Fisher handed them plutonium on a platter, and House leadership has failed to take advantage of it. If the parties were reversed in this situation, the Republican howls would be heard on Mars. No such howling has been heard in the hallways of the NH House coming from Democratic leadership.

In an effort to deflect attention from Fisher, Republican Rep. Victoria Sullivan launched a false equivalency witch-hunt against Democratic Rep. Sherry Frost. Minority leadership seems more inclined to sacrifice Frost than to rock the boat by defending her. It’s curious, really. Are they afraid the Republicans won’t like them?

Here’s the thing- they don’t like you already. You might as well fight back (for a change) and earn some respect from voters desperate for an opposition party.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rinse, Lather, Repeat

A recent editorial in the Valley News quoted a state rep as describing the current state of affairs at the NH legislature in this way, “We address problems that do not exist, we misunderstand problems that do exist, and then we do the wrong thing for ideological reasons.” That pretty much sums it up.

The very first bill passed by our legislature this year – their urgent priority - was not legislation aimed at fixing our infrastructure, solving our infrastructure problems, doing something about our affordable housing problem, or the opioid crisis. The very first order of business was passing a bill to ensure that gun owners were no longer required to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

There have been many attempts to solve non-existent problems. A bill to solve the problem of poor people eating was retained by the House Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. Senate bill 7 would have changed the eligibility requirements for food stamps, potentially kicking 17,000 families with children off the program. This was not going to save any money – in fact it was going to cost the state to do it. It did nothing to prevent fraud. All it was going to do was ensure that the working poor would have a harder time feeding their kids. Truly a victory for our well-to-do state senators. Only it wasn’t, because the House HHS committee had an outbreak of decency and decided to retain the bill. They’ll have to act on it, of course, but by the end of the year they may decide to quietly kill it.  

Our Governor’s first big appointment was Frank Edelblut, the Commissioner of Education who has no background in education, homeschooled his 7 children and had never been inside a NH public school. His confirmation was along party lines, despite all those constituent calls to Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who does the wrong thing for ideological reasons at every opportunity. Sununu chose to drop his nominee to head the Dept. of Environmental Services, when most of the Executive Councilors thought businessman Frank Kujawski’s past as a Boy Scout wasn’t enough of a qualification for the position. Joe Kenney, however, was quoted in the press as saying he would have voted for him. He voted for one unqualified guy – why stop now?

Frank “I’ll be an implementer” Edelblut has decided to go for a big power grab. He got Senator Reagan to add an amendment to a bill that had already had a public hearing in the House, giving Edelblut unchecked power to reconfigure the Dept. of Education, an undefined plan he apparently developed without speaking to any of his alleged colleagues. There was something of an uproar over that bit of jiggery-pokery, so a public hearing was held, in a room that was too small for it, with Senator Reagan allowing all the lobbyists to speak before constituents, then berating those who questioned Edelblut’s fitness for the job. Nothing says, “I’m a duly elected representative of the people” like lecturing them for expressing their concerns. Even the Union Leader (the official state mouthpiece for the NH GOP) thought Frank’s power grab was a bad idea. Despite the best efforts of Senator Reagan, the Senate Education Committee voted thumbs down on the amendment. It still has to go before the full Senate. 

To his credit, Edelblut has been out visiting, so at least now he knows what the inside of a NH public school looks like. He asked the state board of education to reconsider the standards for teaching science, something they’d just spent two years doing. Edelblut’s criticisms of the science standards were based on a report by conservative education think tank, the Fordham Institute. Fordham uses cutting edge 1950’s science teaching as their criteria for evaluation.

The bill to solve the non-existent problem of voter fraud, SB3, is still languishing in committee. Meanwhile, HB 238, a bill to create yet another study committee to study the actual problem of broadband access to the internet is likely to pass. I predict the study will reveal we need better access, especially in the northern part of the state, and that nothing will come of it. I hope I’m not the only one amused by Senator Bradley’s attempts to cloak his opposition to legalizing marijuana in the objections of the police chiefs – the same police chiefs he blithely ignored when it came to concealed carry.

At the NH House, the bickering between the self-styled Freedom Caucus and the leadership continues, after their failure to pass their own budget.

None of this will be helped by the recent revelation that GOP State Representative Robert Fisher from Laconia seems to have had some reprehensible things to say about women in a number of online forums, including one he created. He used a variety of personas to put forth his views, including the astounding statement that rape isn’t all bad, because the rapist enjoys it. Fisher is refusing to resign.

Problems, misunderstanding, and ideology. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Obstruction is Easy

In the process of crafting a budget for our state, first the Governor gives the legislature his or her budget. This year it was written by our new governor and his  budget advisor  Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a far right wing think tank. The House Finance Committee then uses the governor’s budget as both a model and a jumping off point for creating their own version. At crossover, the budget goes to the Senate where they tinker with it, and then send it back. The differences are hammered out in a committee of conference where everyone works hard to ensure that there isn’t enough money to run the state as if it mattered, and then it’s done.

Not this year. This year, a cabal of obstructionists calling themselves the Freedom Caucus decided they didn’t like the budget. It spent too much money, they said. This cabal is comprised of legislators who are still angry that their leader, Bill O’Brien was defeated in his second bid to become Speaker, after what was widely acknowledged as a disastrous first term in that position. Even though O’Brien is no longer part of the legislature, he’s driving this bozo bus. This is the same O’Brien who, in 2013, gave a floor speech congratulating the House on the passage of what he called, “An O’Brien budget.” Minutes before, he’d actually voted against it.  

The Freedumb caucus is comprised of the same guys who want to make changes to the SNAP program that will cost the state more to administer, while saving no money, so you know they have the best interests of taxpayers at heart. These are the same guys who have been obstructing and delaying  at every opportunity since 2013.They’re libertarians, Free Staters, and Tea Partiers,  puffed up with manly pride that they’ve made a stand against Big Gummint Spending!

They refused to vote for the budget. The Democrats refused to vote for it, too, but not for the same reasons. The Democrats had some very modest (timid) additions they wanted to see added in. They offered to work out a compromise with Speaker Shawn Jasper, who rebuffed them half a dozen times.  Apparently he was unable to make a deal with the Freedumb caucus, even after he brought the governor in to yell at them, and so, for the first time ever, the House failed to send a budget to the Senate. This means that when the Senate comes up with a budget, the House will have no bargaining chips in the Committee of Conference. The one thing we can be sure of is that there won’t be enough money in this budget to run this state like a business, which is often presented as a goal.  The GOP should be incredibly embarrassed by this failure, yet none are brave enough to speak against the hostage taking actions by the O’Brienistas.

Obstruction is easy. The GOP has been specializing in it since 2009 when Obama took office. On the local level, we’ve had a Democrat in the corner office since one-term Republican Governor Craig Benson. As long as a Democrat held the executive power, the libertea branch of the GOP was free to obstruct anything and everything – and they certainly did, often just for the sake of doing it. With a Republican majority, there’s no one left for them to obstruct except each other.

Obstruction is easy. Governing is hard.

Passing ideological legislation is not governing. It’s easy when you have the majority. What is increasingly beyond the ability of the Republican Party is compromise, as this group illustrates so perfectly. Unless they get their way, they’re going to stomp their big boy feet and no one will get to use the playground swings.

As I’ve said before, this is what you get when you elect people who hate government to be the government.  

I’m often asked, “How do these people keep getting reelected?” Stories about what they do, how they behave, and how they vote are few and far between. This is a group of about 30 and most of them are men. Locally, this group includes Ed Comeau, Lino Avellani, and Glenn Cordelli. Ask yourselves why you keep electing them.

Then ask your other Republican representatives why they are silent. Ask them why you should keep voting for them, when party loyalty means more to them than their role as an elected representative of the people. Finally, ask them if they are a little ashamed that their party has been taken over by tantrum throwing toddlers.

Obstruction is easy. Governing is hard. 

From the NH Legislative Handbook:

 Members should at all times conduct themselves in a way that exhibits the utmost respect for their elected office, their constituents and the people of the State of New Hampshire.

published as an op-ed in the April 14 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper