The Pound Sand Approach

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2007, Gov. John Lynch signed a law prohibiting New Hampshire from participating in the federal Department of Homeland Security standards for New Hampshire driver’s licenses.

In 2008, with a deadline for REAL ID participation looming, state officials stared down the DHS in an epistolary battle of wills. This showdown included letters between DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart “Stew Beef” Baker and New Hampshire’s Assistant Commissioner for Safety Earl “Sweet” Sweeny and New Hampshire Governor John “Pale Rider” Lynch. New Hampshire Magazine was able to obtain the original, unedited versions of these letters, which we now share with our readers with this caveat: DHS may already know that you are reading this and such action may be appended to your permanent record with appropriate measures to follow.

BAKER (Jan. 18, 2008): Dear Gov. Lynch. I’m writing to remind you that New Hampshire has until May this year to agree to at some point in the future comply with DHS’ REAL ID mandates. If you don’t, your citizens may find it very difficult to use their New Hampshire driver’s licenses to get through security in airports, get into federal buildings, see “Grease” on Broadway, that sort of thing.

LYNCH (Feb. 25, 2008): Dear Lord Vader. Why don’t you and your storm troopers pound sand? I told you, we preemptively voted to make it illegal for us to participate in the REAL ID program: it puts an unfunded federal mandate on taxpayers, is the precursor of a civil-liberty-stifling national ID card, a blow to states’ rights and, oh yeah, it’s not actually going to make people more secure. Are you serious about “Grease”? They cast that dog on reality TV. Grade schools in New Hampshire put on better musicals. Hell, pre-schools in New Hampshire put on better musicals. If I have to write you about this again or if one citizen gets strip-searched at an airport because he’s carrying a New Hampshire driver’s license, I’m coming out there.

Seriously. And it’s your ass.

SWEENY (March 26, 2008): Dear, um, Secretary Baker. The governor has had a bit of a headache all month. And to top it off, his great-great-grandfather was actually killed by a Real ID. It fell on him while he was taking a sauna. Tragic, really. So he’s a bit touchy about the whole subject. I hope you accept my apology, but I’m afraid I’ll have to reiterate, we can’t accept your kind invitation to take part in the Real ID program. Our legislature made it illegal and they couldn’t take the matter up again, even if they wanted to, which they don’t, until 2009. So sorry. But honestly, we have a really secure system for issuing driver’s licenses. Some would even call it “super” secure. Your pal in safety, Earl Sweeny.

BAKER (March 27, 2008): Dear Mr. Sweeny (and Hon. Governor Lynch). Thank you for your request for an extension for compliance with Real ID. We’re happy to grant that extension to 2009, just as you have requested in your last letter, especially as you have indicated that in 2009 your legislature will take up and resolve the matter of having made Real ID illegal.

LYNCH: (March 28, 2008): That’s right, cream puff, you keep on telling yourself what it takes to get you through the day.

The publicly released (and somewhat sanitized versions) of these letters can be found here:

Ernesto Burden serves on the editorial board of The Telegraph when he’s not doing his job as vice president of new media for The Telegraph,, New Hampshire Magazine and other related sites.