GOP posturing puts N.H. economy at risk
On its first day in control at the New Hampshire State House, the new Republican-led Legislature made it crystal clear where its real priorities are.The Republicans' first legislative act? Voting to open the House chamber to firearms for the first time since 1971.Take that, recession!Their second big move? Voting to begin expulsion proceedings against a key Democratic representative on laughably trumped-up charges.Eat dirt, budget shortfall!The new Republican Legislature began this session with an important choice: Either get serious about protecting our economy and our state budget against the powerful downward gravity of the national recession, or instead spend its time pursuing an extreme and partisan agenda that caters to the fringes, no matter the cost.And to be sure, there are real costs.The attempt to unseat Rep. Michael Brunelle, who was democratically elected by the voters of Manchester's Ward 3 just two months ago, will consume significant time and state funds - not just in the Legislature, but also quite possibly in the already-stretched state courts and attorney general's office.The charges would be laughable if they weren't coming with the direct blessings of the speaker of the House. His team claims, erroneously, that Brunelle's work as executive director of the state Democratic Party makes it unconstitutional for him to support legislation that would raise the minimum wage, create job-creation tax credits or advance any other proposals that the Democratic Party favors.Meanwhile, this same leadership team is turning a blind eye while Republican Rep. Jim Coffey of New Ipswich - who it appointed to the Municipal and County Government Committee - was arrested two weeks ago for stealing personnel files from, of all places, a municipal government office.There is no doubt that the fired-up and ready-to-go Republican base from 2010 is exchanging high-fives over its opening week. But there must be some adults in the party who are wondering if this is really the right path.The national recession is stubbornly tugging at our state. New Hampshire's job growth is the second-best in the nation, but along our southern and northern borders, unemployment doubles or more.The state budget in 2010 once again finished with a modest surplus, but without federal stimulus dollars next year the fiscal puzzle will become much harder. Navigating this economic gauntlet is no easy feat, and neither bringing firearms into the House chamber nor kicking Democrats out of it will help.In January 2007, Gov. John Lynch rode the same high that Republicans ride now - a historic takeover of the Legislature in his party's favor. Four years later, we know that his response in the face of this newfound power benefited not just our state economy, but also his own historic political success.So how did he do it?Here are the opening words from his inaugural address four years ago this week: "These are trusts we all share, regardless of political party: improving education, strengthening our economy, expanding access to health care, ensuring public safety, and preserving our natural environment."There has been an historic change in the composition of this Legislature, but our duty to the people has not changed. Our duty is not to seek Democratic solutions, nor Republican solutions, rather, we must seek New Hampshire solutions."Where Lynch prioritized policy, the new GOP Legislature is prioritizing posturing. Where he offered cooperation, it pursues controversy and contention.And where he succeeded - both in strengthening our state and in bolstering his own political career - it is already courting failure.Colin Van Ostern is a former communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party.