The odd couple
The question that looms after the “press conference” announcing the “findings” of the state commission studying same-sex unions is: What the heck was in the water?
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the commission came up with a pretty much down-the-line anti-gay union report, including a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and no recommendation for anything resembling civil unions.
And, also to absolutely no one’s surprise, the public event to announce the findings once again revealed an almost comically divided and angry commission whose members are not likely to spend much time together over the holidays.
But what was surprising was the volume and intensity of the anger, most of it coming from Chairman Tony Soltani and alternate member Steve Vaillancourt. The two state reps were said to be friends at one time, but have since evolved into the New Hampshire version of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Or at least Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie.
Vaillancourt - who happened to show up to the event by chance, since Soltani didn’t see it necessary to invite commission members who had opposed the final report - lashed out at the report, calling it a “disgrace” and “homophobic” and other such non-diplomatic words and launched a couple of personal attacks against the chairman himself.
But Soltani did him at least one better. At one point he fashioned himself as a media critic of sorts, calling out Associated Press reporter Beverly Wang, screaming that she set herself up a “very low journalistic standard.” He also basically told her to shut up after claiming she was “operating from a private agenda” when she asked about the legal status of children born to gay parents.
He also found it necessary to repeat the unsubstantiated claim that it would take “at least two generations to tell what the effects of a statutory recognition of a same-sex marriage would be,” which apparently implies that New Hampshire will be conducting statutory recognition studies over the next two generations of Massachusetts and Canada before venturing into the deep end of the same-sex marriage pool.
In the end, Soltani’s performance apparently didn’t just raise eyebrows among the press and his opponents, but his backers as well. One of them, commission member Sen. Jack Barnes, stopped by the State House press room afterwards to offer an apology on behalf of the panel for Soltani’s behavior.
A helping hand
By all accounts, New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte acquitted herself last month before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing to uphold the state’s parental notification law.
And, even though it was Ayotte’s debut before the nation’s highest court, she said her jangled nerves disappeared as soon as the arguments began. ( “Once you open your mouth and they ask the first question, [the nervousness] all sort of melts away because you’re so focused on the case,” she told the Associate Press afterwards.)
The AG apparently prepared herself well, although she didn’t seem to go into details about just what went into her preparation.
But somebody else did shed some light on Ayotte’s abortion law-review process. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with the Chicago-based organization called Americans United for Life, spent time with Ayotte to help the AG practice the arguments she used before the justices.
Calling on Americans United for assistance was a good move for Ayotte, since the organization — which describes itself as a “nonprofit, public-interest bioethics law firm” that has been fighting to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision since the day it was written — wrote the language that was used in crafting the 2003 New Hampshire law.
The Americans United lawyers “were a big help,” New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Dan Mullen told the Journal. “They made themselves available for any information we may need.”
Indeed. According to the Journal, Forsythe flew to New Hampshire earlier last month and sat with Ayotte in her offices to work out the arguments she would use to defend the law. Among the points Forsythe stressed to Ayotte was to remind the justices that the New Hampshire law is virtually identical to a 1988 Minnesota law - also drafted by Americans United — that was upheld in 1990 by the Supreme Court and hasn’t produced evidence of creating “undue burdens” on minors, the Journal noted.
According to the Journal article, Forsythe also sees the New Hampshire case as a chance to shift the burden of proof in abortion cases from the pro-life to the pro-choice advocates.
Under current practice, when a state abortion law is challenged, courts generally impose a preliminary injunction that blocks enforcement of newly passed restrictions for years while the case is argued.
Apparently Ayotte isn’t the first attorney general to be aided by Americans United. In fact, working with willing states to chip away at the Roe decision is the organization’s strategy. Its 1987 book, “Abortion and the Constitution: Reversing Roe v. Wade Through the Courts,” still serves as a legal roadmap for the anti-abortion movement.
Ayotte, by the way, has insisted on not giving her personal opinion on the parental notification law, telling the AP that people on both sides would find fault with her actions if she disclosed her personal views.
It's been making the rounds...
• It’s nice that the people of Killington, Vt., have weighed in on their desire to become part of New Hampshire — but has anyone asked the citizens of the Granite State if they actually want a bunch of whining complainers to actually join up with them?
• There’s a reason former CNN financial editor Myron Kandel has been visiting New Hampshire over the last months. No, and Sharon Stone hasn’t been.
• Whether they’re onto something or not, national Democrats are pulling out the stops in going after both Charlie Bass and Jeb Bradley.
• The next Wile E. Coyote-like assault against Governor Lynched, launched by the hardiest Republicans: Pinning any future rap for a lost New Hampshire primary on the Dem governor.
• How about this argument in the latest debate over whether members of the Legislature should be paid more? You get what you pay for.
F&J TOTE BOARD
Unfortunately, New Hampshire’s newest radio talk show host’s daily program is only an hour long, so it doesn’t give him enough time to mention any of his business or political conflicts while spouting his opinions.
Tom Eaton’s chief of staff when he was Senate president way back lands on her feet - or at least at the state Community Technical College System, where she’ll be director of its scholarship foundation.
The state senator from Derry has a “whoops!” moment when he’s forced to admit to a reporter that he actually did take political action committee money in his 2004 campaign - something he had vigorously denied previously.
Thanks to the New York senator and her husband’s inability to mention the name of the Granite State during the national Democratic Party’s New Hampshire presidential primary inquisition, her first trip to New Hampshire - as the presumed presidential front-runner, whenever that may be - will have even more fireworks than expected.
As soon as they said “All rise” at the Supreme Court, the attorney general’s political stock did too.
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITEE:
The entity that’s footing the entire legal bill for alleged phone-jamming impresario James Tobin insists that there should be no suggestion made at his trial that the RNC was involved in the conspiracy.
This article appears in the December 9 2005 issue of New Hampshire Business Review