NASHUA — Stacie Laughton, the state's first openly transgender legislator who was elected to the House of Representatives but ultimately withdrew her candidacy before being sworn into office, says she is planning to return to politics.
Her political journey, however, may be short-lived as City Clerk Paul Bergeron says he will again dispute her eligibility to run for public office.
On Tuesday, Laughton and her ex-wife, Lisa Laughton, announced that they will seek their former positions as selectmen for Ward 4 in the November election.
Their selectmen seats — roles that they won during the 2011 municipal election — were nullified in January after an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office determined that previous criminal convictions have not been finally discharged under the law because of nearly $2,000 in unpaid restitution.
That opinion, however, was never challenged by the Laughtons, who still believe they are eligible to run for public office.
"We may have to go to court to prove our eligibility," said Stacie Laughton, who regrets never seeking a hearing in front of the ballot law commission previously.
"… I don't agree with some of the opinions that had come out from the state."
Stacie Laughton, 29, says she feels called to public service, and is ready to take this next step. Despite the challenge that may lie ahead for her, she says it is worth the fight.
"I am ready for the grief and the different criticisms coming my way," said Stacie Laughton, adding her political ambitions go beyond ward selectman.
Bergeron may be her first obstacle. On Tuesday, Bergeron said nothing has changed since the attorney general's opinion several months ago.
"Their sentences have not been fully discharged. I don't believe they are eligible based upon the AG's prior decision," said Bergeron. "Under the law, they can't hold public office."
But the Laughtons are prepared to take that opinion to court, if necessary.
They have already collected their nominating petitions at Nashua City Hall. They must each gather 15 signatures from supporters in their ward in order to be placed on the November ballot as candidates. Still, Bergeron said once their nominating petitions are submitted, he will submit a letter denying their eligibility on the ballot, primarily because their restitution is still unpaid.
At that point, they could go to superior court in disagreement of his decision, he said. A future hearing in front of the Ballot Law Commission might be a possibility, but it is probably too late at this point, said Bergeron.
The Laughtons still have about $1,600 in unpaid restitution, and are continuing to make monthly payments, they said, adding they will pursue court action if their eligibility is denied.
"The last thing I want to have to do is file a petition against the city," said Stacie Laughton, adding she is cautiously optimistic that it will not come to that. "But if it does, we are ready."
Although the Laughtons are no longer a couple, they do consider themselves best friends and running mates.
Last November, Stacie Laughton was elected as one of three House members for Ward 4 in Nashua. However, after news surfaced about her previous life as a convicted felon under the name of Barry C. Laughton Jr. in Laconia, she signed her letter of resignation and a special election to fill the vacant position was scheduled. To complicate matters even further, she then filed to run for the seat she had just resigned before even taking office.
She then withdrew her candidacy again in January, the same day she was stripped of her selectman post along with Lisa Laughton.In 2008, Stacie Laughton pled guilty to charges of fraudulent use of a credit card, conspiracy to commit identity fraud and falsifying physical evidence. Lisa Laughton, 42, was involved in the same identity theft and credit card fraud incident and also convicted.
Under state statute, "A person sentenced for a felony, from the time of his sentence until his final discharge, may not … become a candidate for or hold public office."
The Laughtons maintain that state law does not mention anything about unpaid restitution prohibiting final discharge or preventing an individual from seeking office.