Ballot Law Commission hearing was a wake-up call

On Nov. 19, a memorial service was held in Peterborough for Perkins Bass, the late former congressman from New Hampshire’s 2nd District, founder of the law firm for which I work and a distinguished New Hampshirite.This was one of those events that brings together the best of New Hampshire and recollections of heroism, decency and leadership.At the ceremony, Bass’s children, friends, former in-laws and others spoke glowingly about him, not as a politician, but as a leader, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and cement keeping a distinguished family together through love, loyalty and devotion. In short, he was a very good man.There was a lot of fun and no sadness evident at the celebration. How can you be sad when a 99-year-old dies of old age surrounded by family?One of the great lines at the ceremony was the following, “Perkins Bass was a Walter Peterson Republican before there was a Walter Peterson.” That spoke volumes about what was and should be in the Republican Party in New Hampshire and should have been instructive to those right-wing Republicans who came to pay homage to Mr. Bass.*****On the other hand, this writer serves as chairman of the state Ballot Law Commission. On Nov. 18, the commission held its required hearing on the presidential primary ballot. There were four challenges to decisions made by Secretary of State William Gardner.Three of the challenges were relatively minor, but one made the news. It was a challenge to President Obama’s appearance on the ballot due to the allegation that he was not a citizen of the United States born here.Without discussing the merits of the argument, since this writer was one of those making the decision, the tone of the proceeding is what was troubling.A passionate advocate of the position objecting to Obama’s appearance on the ballot made her presentation. She did so forthrightly and with an 80-page submission, challenging the president’s birth certificate, Social Security number and various other matters.However, the tone escalated into one that said if the Ballot Law Commission did not agree, we would be complicit in a felony, treason and fraud. That kind of talk is unnecessary and improper in an official proceeding.More troubling was the presence of a number of supporters of the position, most of whom were elected state officials. Rather than participate civilly in a discussion of an issue, these people took upon themselves to be nasty, confrontational and accusatory.Indeed, when the commission took a break to consider the arguments, apparently this group of people berated a young assistant attorney general, the deputy and assistant secretaries of state and others in the room. This required calling security.When the commission returned to the room and took its vote, denying the objection and pointing out that its jurisdiction did not allow an inquiry or investigation in such matters, on the advice of counsel, these people loudly, pointedly, and objectionably, pointed fingers and threatened members of the commission, accusing them of being “traitors,” “enemies of the Constitution,” and, in one case, stating that “you had better not show your face in Laconia, New Hampshire, without a mask on, or you will be in danger.”This required asking the security detail to clear the room.After the hearing was over, members of the Ballot Law Commission received threats in emails. Most problematic is that most of those making these confrontational, threatening statements are elected state representatives, appearing with their official badges on in the very building where they are supposed to be performing their duties.For such things to take place by elected officials in the State House in front of an official adjudicatory body is reprehensible, inappropriate and should be a warning to all of us that civility, rational discussion and debate are necessary if this democracy to survive.The Nov. 18 Ballot Law Commission should be a wake-up call. Attorney General Michael A. Delaney rightly was concerned about the treatment his staff received at this hearing. The Speaker of the House, who presides over the miscreants, and all others desirous of civil government also should be concerned.The problem represented by this kind of polarity was eloquently stated by former New Hampshire Charitable Foundation President Lew Feldstein at the Nov. 22 New Horizons for New Hampshire Thanksgiving Breakfast.Comparing what we as a divided country face now to the Civil War, he pointed out the need to listen, consider the ideas of one’s opponents, and attempt to work together for common solutions. Otherwise, America and New Hampshire are in for a future that is very ugly.Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.