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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: A brief history of NH lawmaker resignations

March 05. 2016 8:41PM
Nottingham state Rep. Kyle Tasker appeared in a video arraignment in circuit court in Candia March 2, 2016. (Jason Schreiber/Union Leader Correspondent)

REP. KYLE TASKER, R-Nottingham, could be expelled by the House this week, although many hope any attempt to oust him comes after the House acts on the more than 500 bills on this week's calendar.

Tasker faces four felony drug and morals charges that all but preclude his participation in any House activity for the rest of the session.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, wants Tasker to resign immediately and has removed him from the Children and Family Law Committee.

If the House at some point decides to expel him, Tasker would be the first representative in more than 100 years to be voted out of the House.

The last representative to be ejected by his peers was 29-year-old Clifford Snow, chairman of Progressive Party's legislative block, who was removed for selling his votes in 1913.

Snow of Manchester was voted out of the House on a 177-119 roll call following public hearings that found him guilty of selling his vote to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Woodbury, GOP gubernatorial candidate Franklin Worcester and GOP Executive Council candidate Elmer Tilton, none of whom won election.

Snow was the first person expelled by his peers, and if Tasker is likewise ousted, he would be the second.

While Tasker faces serious charges that could send him to jail for years, other lawmakers have resigned in recent years often for comments they made.

Rep. Stella Tremblay, R-Auburn, resigned in 2013 after several comments indicating she believed the Boston Marathon bombing was a government conspiracy to take away civil liberties.

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, resigned in 2012 after admitting he fabricated internship reports that he needed to graduate from the University of New Hampshire Law School.

In 2011, Rep. Marty Hardy, R-Barrington, resigned after saying he supported eugenics to get rid of defective people.

Also that year, Rep. Gary Wheaton, R-Seabrook, resigned after he was charged with speeding and driving with a suspended license.

Bedford Rep. John Kerns, a Republican, resigned in 2004 before he faced an expulsion vote alleging he abused his office. The 23-year-old used his title to obtain a parking spot reserved for school officials and then threatened them when he was told he could no longer use the space.

He was also found guilty of writing bad checks — one with the State of New Hampshire written on it.

In 2001, GOP Nashua Rep. Tom Alciere resigned over allegations he advocated killing police.

Democrats were not immune to behavior that resulted in resignation.

Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, resigned in 2010 after he joked about the death of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who is still very much alive and has endorsed Donald Trump for President.

The Senate also had a resignation for bad behavior. Sen. Bill Denley, R-Wakefield, resigned two months after taking office in 2009 when he was charged with his third drunken-driving offense.

Former House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, stepped down from the House's top post after an ethics committee investigation into his fundraising practices.

He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for failing to disclose cash gifts from lobbyists and others through his Friends of Gene Chandler Political Action Committee. Chandler held annual corn roasts to raise money for his personal expenses.

Chandler withdrew from the speaker's race in 2004. The Legislative Ethics Committee later recommended he be expelled from the House, but the members instead reprimanded him.

Then House Majority Leader Vincent Palumbo, R-Kingston, resigned in 1989 after he lied about his education and business relationships in published reports.

He was convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion the next year and sentenced to a year in federal prison. He was also charged with tax evasion in 2007 when he failed to pay taxes on income over $2 million he earned over a period of years.

Tasker could submit his resignation, but to date has not indicated he would do so.

Election numbers

The number of state voters jumped substantially after the presidential primary, according to figures published by the Secretary of State's Office, as both parties added to their ranks.

And the data show that undeclared or independent voters accounted for more than one-third of those casting ballots in the two primaries, about 35 percent for Republicans and 38.6 percent for Democrats.

Before the primary there were 882,959 registered voters. The rolls now show 946,502, although that number is expected to drop some once local election officials revise the checklists.

The number of undeclared voters shrunk from 389,472 before the primary to 360,640.

Both the Republicans and Democrats gained more than 40,000 new members. The Republicans went from 262,111 before the primary to 304,654, and Democrats grew from 231,376 to 281,208.

The number of undeclared voters taking party ballots was nearly equal for Republicans and Democrats.

Of the 389,472 undeclared voters last month, 100,666 took Republican ballots, while 98,342 took Democratic ballots.

The undeclared voters who decided to return to that category numbered 140,849, which means 58,158 remained either with the Republican or Democratic parties.

A record 542,459 ballots were cast Feb. 9, including a record number of Republican ballots at 287,683. Democrats cast 254,776 ballots, well below their record of 288,672 in 2008.

Another record was broken regarding same-day registration.

Last month, 64,458 people registered to vote at the polls, shattering the old record of about 61,000.

What does it all mean going into the general election? Well, it's hard to say whether Republicans or Democrats have an edge.

The last few presidential election years have been better for Democrats than Republicans and the Secretary of State's data do not indicate the trend will change.

However, this presidential race has been like no other in recent memory.

Death penalty

The Senate's attempt to repeal the state's death penalty received most of the attention last week, but a bill in the House would have expanded its reach, making it one of the broadest in the country.

But a House committee decided House Bill 1552 had too many problems and voted 11-4 to recommend the bill be killed when it comes to a vote later this month.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee tried to limit the bill's scope but eventually decided it could not be done. The bill would have expanded capital punishment to include terrorists and those murdered exercising their civil liberties such as voting and free speech.

Sponsored by Rep. Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, a likely candidate for the GOP nomination for the 2nd Congressional District seat, supporters tried to narrow the focus through an amendment backed by House leadership that would have more clearly defined who is a terrorist.

Leadership showed up at the committee room Wednesday to try to convince Republicans on the committee to back the amendment but were not convincing.

The amendment went down on a 9-6 vote before the committee voted to kill the bill.

“We are very pleased with the strong rejection of HB 1552. This bill is totally unnecessary as federal law already covers acts of terrorism,” said Barbara Keshen, a former prosecutor for the Attorney General's Office and chair of the NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Expect a floor fight on the bill this week, but it lacks the support necessary to invest any political capital at this point in the session.

Medicaid expansion

Perhaps the biggest issue before lawmakers this session — extending Medicaid expansion two more years — is likely to be decided Wednesday when the House takes up the 514 bills it has to act on by the end of the day Thursday.

House Finance made some changes in the bill the House has already passed once, but nothing that would stop the forward progress.

The big fight will be on an amendment to restore the severability clause to the bill. The bill contains a work requirement, something the Center for Medicaid Services has not approved for any other state.

If a severability clause is in the bill, the rest of the program would go forward if the state fails to convince federal regulators to accept the work requirement provision.

Without a severability clause, the whole program goes down if regulators reject it.

This will be the key vote. The House could pass the bill without the clause and let the Senate put it back in and then acquiesce during the conference commitment.

But then again it could become messy and what looked like a sure thing a month ago, may not be.

We'll see.

But the pressure is on Republicans to reject the two-year extension of the program that provides health insurance to about 50,000 low-income adults.

Americans For Prosperity NH and the Conservative Business League have a news conference Monday at 1 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building opposing the extension.

They are not likely to be the only groups weighing in before Wednesday's vote.

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