From the Monadnock Region to Concord: a day with our state legislators

  • Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives Shawn Jasper, a Republican from Hudson. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • John O’Day, a Republican from Rindge, enjoys lunch at an event for The League of Conservative Voters on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • John Carr, a Republican from Brookline, represents Mason. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Carol Roberts, a Democrat from Wilton, outside the State House on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kermit Williams, a Democrat from Wilton, during a session of the New Hampshire General Court on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Peter Leishman, a Democrat from Peterborough, speaks in defense of gambling in New Hampshire on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • State legislators from the Monadnock Region participated in a session of the New Hampshire General Court at Concord’s State House on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Peter Leishman, a Democrat from Peterborough, speaks in defense of gambling in New Hampshire on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Carol Roberts, a Democrat from Wilton, outside the State House on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Peter Leishman, a Democrat from Peterborough, speaks in defense of gambling in New Hampshire on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript). (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • State legislators from the Monadnock Region participated in a session of the New Hampshire General Court on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kermit Williams, center, a Democrat from Wilton, listens to his colleagues in session on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Kermit Williams, center, a Democrat from Wilton, listens to his colleagues in session on Thursday, May 4. Staff photo by Brandon Latham

  • Peter Leishman, center, a Democrat from Peterborough, listens to his colleagues in session on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Josh Moore, a Republican from Merrimack, is one of the youngest member of the New Hampshire General Court. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Students on a class trip observe the general court from the gallery on Thursday, May 4. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Marjorie Porter, a Democrat from Hillsborough, represents Antrim. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/8/2017 11:22:21 PM

Peter Leishman took the podium in front of his colleagues of the New Hampshire General Court last week in defense of legislation to allowing gambling in the state.

“If you,” he started, motivating the legislators with how gaming might align with their goals, but was cut off by Speaker Shawn Jasper, who reminded him that he was only allowed to speak to his own beliefs, and to avoid the second person.

Leishman, a 16-year veteran of the House of Representatives, began again, “If you believe,” then he paused as the rest of the representatives shouted to keep him in line. Leishman smiled, and said, “Just making sure you were paying attention.”

The video and table gaming bill was rejected, but it was just a part of a long voting day in Concord. In the schedule of a state legislator, there are committee meeting days and general session days. Sessions, like last Thursday when Leishman made his speech, are when House-wide voting takes place, but time in hearings and in committee make up the bulk of a representative’s commitment.

“I don’t think that there is a typical day, because it depends on the elements that are going on,” said Kermit Williams, a Democratic representative from Wilton.

Williams is in the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, which he said handles bills related to banking, insurance, consumer protection and alcohol. He said most are not very controversial.

The Speaker of the House decides which bills go to which committees. Frank Sterling, a Republican from Jaffrey, is the vice chair of the Municipal and County Government Committee. Among the bills that committee has dealt with lately is town budgets, property taxes and cooperative school districts.

Like the rest of the Monadnock region’s legislators, Sterling’s day begins with the long drive to Concord.

“I usually leave at 7:30 to get there for 9,” he said. “I sign in to get my mileage [reimbursement], you got to do that, you don’t get paid unless you sign in.”

Leishman, a Democrat who does not identify as a senior representative despite his first election coming in 1996 — “There’s a lot of people that have a lot more experience than me, believe it or not, and ‘senior’ always sounds old to me” — is in the Finance Committee. That committee handles bills like the gaming bill Leishman defended, which was proposed by Katherine Rogers of Concord. It also recently had a bill sponsored by Sterling to help nursing students pay off student loans.

Most hearing days involve running through two to seven bills, complete with discussions with other members and testimony from members of the public. Sterling likes to finish with a conversation with the chair about the changes made to the bill and guess how it will do. He tries to follow up with committee members giving negative feedback about why they do not agree with proposed recommendations.

Committees give recommendations on bills, decided at an executive session, labeling them as inexpedient to legislate, recommended to pass or to pass as amended.

This time of year, most House bills have already been completed, and the House is debating the bills that have been passed in the Senate. During peak seasons, Leishman is in Concord five days each week as his committee reviews the budget. Other committees meet about twice per week.

“I spend a lot of time researching the bills that come to us,” Sterling said. “I always tell newcomers, do your homework.”

When recommendations leave committee with a supermajority, they can go on the consent calendar for voting day, which is voted on all at once in a voice vote and tends to have the least contentious legislation. If not, it goes on the regular calendar.

Before voting sessions open at 10 a.m., each party holds a caucus to plan the day. Sterling said this can get “lively,” and noted that they are not allowed to record or report the discussion: “If you get caught, the speaker will have a chat with you.”

In general session, bills to be voted upon are presented. First, someone speaks against the committee’s recommendation, then, someone speaks for it.

On Thursday, bills included adding to Granite Hammer drug enforcement, fully funding kindergarten and sexual assault victim privacy.

The first long debate regarded possible investigations into representatives’ online behaviors while in office. It was inspired by recent reports that Rep. Robert Fisher, a Republican from Laconia, created the Reddit page The Red Pill, which is criticized widely for alleged misogyny. The representatives chose to look further at what their steps should be.

“I thought today was going to be pretty dull,” Williams said Thursday. “But that was pretty contentious.”

When discussion closes, members can recommend a roll call vote, more precise than a voice vote, and all members are shepherded to their seats.

“You sit there and press your button yes or no, it’s a green button and a red button, and the vote it tallied,” Sterling said.

Votes like these are recorded and published online for constituents to see.

Midday, the speaker announces a recess for lunch, and the members disperse. Some head downstairs to the cafeteria, where John Carr, a Republican from Brookline, was seen chatting with Sen. Kevin Avard. Some go across the street to various Main Street restaurants. Some take it as a working lunch, like Carol Roberts, a Wilton Democrat, who prepared a speech about broadband access; John O’Day, a Rindge Republican, who attended an event for the League of Conservative Voters; and Williams, who went to speak at St. Paul’s School.

The process

To help with understanding how representatives decide to vote, Leishman, Sterling and Williams explained their processes for two April bills.

One was about legalizing certain firecrackers. It was recommended to pass out of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which it did, despite a nay vote from Williams. In addition to workforce concerns about possible injuries, Williams said he spoke with Rep. Jerry Knirk, a Democrat from Freedom and retired hand surgeon, and, “he told me about his experience on days like the Fourth of July when kids would have things blow up in their hands.”

Leishman said he went along with the committee because it did so much research. Sterling did too, because it was so easy to get them anyway with a license or from out of state.

Another April 20 vote was to increase the possible property tax credit for veterans up to $1,000. It was deemed inexpedient to legislate.

“This isn’t a bill that I really looked at before the House debate,” Williams said. He voted against it because it was recently changed and he thought it was best to see those changes play out first.

Leishman voted for it because he is in favor of giving communities more local control.

Sterling called it a “tough one.” He voted against it because so few towns even hit the current $500 maximum, and that it only benefits veterans who own property.

For May 4, Sterling’s voting record does not show any yeas or nays. It shows “excused,” which legislators can ask for if they are kept from attending sessions for good reasons. Sterling moved into a new home that day.

‘I feel young at 53’

In addition to these committee and voting days, local representatives put in a lot of other work.

“I have a number of additional responsibilities that I’ve gotten because I’m a member of the state legislator,” Williams said.

He is a representative of the Hillsborough County legislature, which is currently in county budget season; he was appointed director of the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority; and is chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Manufacturing Education.

He is retired from the computer software industry, and is the chair of the Wilton Board of Selectmen.

Sterling is also retired, mostly, and plays “a lot of golf.” He is on the Jaffrey Board of Selectmen and on the board of directors for the River Center in Peterborough.

“Certainly there are people in the legislature who have jobs, and some do things part-time,” Williams said. “Which I really admire.”

Leishman is one who works. He owns and operates the Milford-Bennington Railroad Company. He said that works out because the legislature breaks for summer, which is busy construction season for his rail concrete delivery.

“Unless you have a business like I do with a flexible schedule, or you’re independently wealthy, or you’re retired, it’s really difficult to do it,” he said.

Legislators are paid $100 per year before taxes, in one check at the beginning of the two-year session.

“It’s one of the few places I feel young at 53,” Williams said. He is interested in increasing pay in the long run because, “having retired people making all the decisions certainly skews things a little.”

Members do not have full-time staff, like they do in Massachusetts, and sometimes committee staffers are spread over multiple committees.

“People ask if you’re making what those people in Massachusetts make,” Carr, who sits on the Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee and represents Mason, said. “I go, ‘No.’”

Carr thinks that protects members’ integrity, since no one is there for the money.

Williams said most of his stipend goes to expenses, including campaign signs, business cards and name tags. Leishman joked that he uses it to go out to eat once or twice. Sterling said the same thing.

“I could take the wife out to dinner,” Sterling said. “She’s the one that suffers the most.”

There is a lot of turnover — and the average age is near 70, according to Williams, who thinks there are a lot of representatives could learn from more experience. He talked Roberts into joining him two years ago, so they share the cost of the signs as a way to keep expenses down and still try to serve their constituents in four local towns. Service is the common theme of why legislators do what they do.

“It was always something that I wanted to do, and once I was retired, I thought now is the time,” Sterling, first elected in 2014, said. “I started out as a regular member in the minority and now I’m the vice chair of the committee.”




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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