Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack) was elected Speaker of the House on December 2nd during Organization Day held at the University of NH. Eight days later, he died of COVID. House Organization Day was held on December 2nd, outside at UNH, due to concerns over COVID after a number of House Republicans tested positive for the virus following an indoor caucus held in Manchester 12 days earlier. I did not know Speaker Hinch personally, but Republicans and Democrats who did described him as kind, humble, respectful and considerate of others. Upon being elected Speaker, Rep. Hinch’s remarks might be described as deferential and uncontentious. In the December 4th House Calendar, for example, he extended the following comments to members of the House: “…I ask each of you not to look at each other as Republicans and Democrats, but friends and colleagues working towards the same goal. We have a responsibility to respect each other, work with each other, and understand each other. We are all here to make a positive difference in our communities, and our state. We may have different ideas, but we all want to do what we believe is right, and there’s nothing political or partisan about that.”
The first gathering of the House for the 2021 – 2022 session was held on January 6th. The NH Supreme Court had issued a previous Opinion that holding a House session remotely, either wholly or in part, would not violate the NH Constitution. However, the Acting Speaker of the House (Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry) opted for a “drive-in” type of session which was held in a seven-acre parking lot at UNH, with a jumbo movie screen that could not be seen by many of the legislators parked in those lots, with portable toilets, cars running to keep occupants warm, a special radio frequency to broadcast proceedings, golf carts to bring microphones on booms to extend into car windows so that legislators could speak, and occasional passing freight trains that drowned out the proceedings. A number of House members had expressed concerns about participating due to disabilities, concern about COVID, or who had transportation limitations.
Rep. Packard was elected to succeed Rep. Hinch as House Speaker. His remarks were anything but deferential and uncontentious: “Democrats want to pass a sales and income tax…Democrats want to pass higher business taxes and increase business taxes…Democrats want to raise your electric rates and your heating oil and your gas taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon taxes…Democrats want to eliminate school choice…Democrats want to increase overburdening regulations on businesses…Democrats want to take away your gun rights…” His acceptance speech was campaign rhetoric, party-driven political hyperbole, divisive – and so untrue. House Minority Leader Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) responded with the following release: “…I recognize that we have somewhat of a toxic political climate in this country and sadly somewhat of a toxic political climate in our state….I promise that I will listen to everyone, treat everyone with dignity and respect, try to work across the aisle to find common ground. Because at the end of the day, what we should be about is perfecting our democracy.”
During this session, the Republican majority made the following changes to House Rules during the first session. (For further information about each of these votes, see the “House Press Releases” page):
- Authorized the possession of deadly weapons in House Chambers.
- Refused to Ban the Consumption of Alcohol in House Chambers
- Blocked Rules aimed at reducing instances of sexual harassment and unconscious bias
As of this date, all House Committees have held organizational meetings. The House Election Law Committee will be the first to hold public hearings on pending bills (SB2, HB 86 and HB 121) on Friday, January 22nd.
Photo credit: David Murray (Clear Eye Photo)