Where else can you meet your legislators at the mailbox?
It took Barrington resident Marty Harty 91 years before he was elected a New Hampshire State Representative. And three months into the job he resigned amid statewide controversy. The story of Marty Harty will likely go down as another example of who gets elected to our oversized legislature, in which each member has little power and little pay. It means electing a few who claim, as Harty did, that Hitler gets a bad rap and maybe those with mental deficiencies should just be sent off to Siberia.
Not even Harty can defend those comments, but I fear that amid the controversy and outrage and resigning and apologizing we fail to recognize the magic that we take far too often for granted in our state.
It all began with a constituent who looked up her State Representative’s phone number and called him at home.
I have covered New Hampshire politics for nine years after covering politics in a number of other states. To this day the thing about the state’s political culture that never ceases to amaze me is the expectation that elected officials publicly display their home phone – or cell – numbers. It’s not something that eager beavers or naive politicians do. It’s the rule. And those who don’t do it have to be ready to have a good excuse as to why not.
In other states, even with part-time legislatures, constituents are directed to an office number. In bigger states, like Massachusetts, there are staff whose job it is to keep the crazies away and to take care of as many of the callers as they can themselves and not bother the elected official.
But not here. In Marty Harty’s case the caller was Sharon Omand. She called to ask him to vote for funding a state program that helps the mentally disabled, which was on the chopping block by budget writers. Harty said he was joking around with her when suggested we cart all of the state’s mentally ill to Siberia.
Nonetheless, she alerted the media. Then, according to Harty, people from all around the country started calling him. And here is the thing: He talked with nearly all of them, some for extended amounts of time.
I came here from covering West Virginia politics. I spent so much of my time there just simply trying to collect private phone numbers of politicos that I could almost do little else. Imagine my surprise my first week here attending a candidate night forum in Milford. After an Executive Councilor gave a stump speech about his role as one of the five most powerful people in the state, a woman stood up saying flat out he was horrible at returning calls she made to his house. Other members of the audience nodded their heads in agreement. I sat in amazement that all these people had his phone number!
The openness and transparency that is a hallmark of the state reaches all the way to the state’s top crust. Not long after that meeting in Milford I was looking to talk with then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen on a particular Saturday afternoon. That’s when a member of her staff suggested the simplest of ideas: the Governor is “in the book” – just call her. NH