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February 04. 2013 5:30PM

Kathy Sullivan: In NH, some politicians are acting like knuckleheads

We are having a rash of people in politics doing dumb things. Scott Brown's tweeting "bqhatevwr" late at night for example, or Chuck Hagel walking into a confirmation hearing sounding unprepared for the questions he should have expected. We also have had a couple of recent New Hampshire examples.

In the spirit of bipartisanship, I will start with a Democrat, Rep. Tim Horrigan of Durham. I do not know Rep. Horrigan well, but from what I do know he seems to have his heart in the right place in wanting to be of use to the people of his district. He also seems to take being a state legislator very seriously. However, he has a penchant for getting in trouble when using the Internet.

In August, 2010, he participated in a Facebook discussion about the impact Sarah Palin's death might have. After the controversy went national, he resigned, but then unsuccessfully tried to withdraw the resignation. Despite the incident, the voters of Durham reelected him, and then reelected him again in 2012.

The Palin comment controversy should have ended public pronouncements by Horrigan about the deaths of prominent figures, but whoops - he did it again. Last week, Horrigan forwarded a tweet from someone else that apparently was supposed to be a joke about Dick Cheney shooting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He quickly realized it was a mistake, and deleted it. However, he should not have retweeted it in the first place. Joking about someone getting shot is bad enough, but when it is a state representative joking about a member of our highest court getting shot, it is just inexplicable and inexcusable.

Horrigan now has deprived his constituents of effective representation, as the controversy will be a distraction from his duties as a representative. Despite his subsequent and sincere apology, he has embarrassed the General Court, which has suffered way too many embarrassing moments from inappropriate conduct and statements over the last couple of years. Additionally, but of much lesser importance, he has handed the Republicans a club with which to hit the Democratic House majority. Rep. Horrigan has said he will not resign again, but if I were him, I would consider it - and also give up my Twitter account.

Then there was Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who had his own "what were you thinking?" moment. A former member of the Salem Budget Committee was convicted of obstructing government operations after he tried to stop EMTs from taking his wife to the hospital after she called 911. Charges for felony witness tampering are still pending. He asked Sununu to write him a character letter.

Sununu, who says he writes character letters "all the time," hand-delivered the letter to the court, where it ended up on the desk of the presiding judge in the case. That is a possible violation of RSA 640: 3(b). That law makes it a crime for any person to privately address a public servant who has judicial or administrative discretion with the purpose of influencing that decision. The Salem police have asked the Attorney General to investigate the matter.

Sununu's direct delivery of the letter may have been an unintentional act, although one would hope that an elected official who writes character letters all the time would know that he is not supposed to contact the court directly. But his next action, which has not received much attention, is what was really remarkable.

He personally approached Michael Delaney, the New Hampshire Attorney General, the state's top prosecutor and the man whose office would handle an investigation, and discussed the matter with him. Perhaps Sununu was unaware at that point that the Salem police had requested an investigation, but he at the least knew that the judge in the case had called Sununu's actions highly unusual and untoward.

In any event, in speaking with Delaney, Sununu may have violated the same law for a second time: privately addressing a public servant who has discretion with the purpose of influencing that decision. Delaney's term is up in a few months; if Delaney is reappointed, Sununu will be voting on his confirmation. Sununu's internal ethical alarm clock should have told him that going to Delaney directly like this was inappropriate.

Just a few days later, when speaking at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee meeting, Sununu referred to Democrats as "knuckleheads." All you can do is shake your head that someone who may have violated the same statute twice in three days, and who did not realize that speaking to the state's top prosecutor about the matter might be questionable (especially when he may be voting on that person's reappointment in a matter of weeks), is calling anyone else a "knucklehead."

Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.


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