Profiles in capriciousness

Considering its more than 200-year history, the New Hampshire House of Representatives has suffered through a surprisingly small number of low points. That is exactly why calling the utterly incomprehensible handling of the Legislative Ethics Committee’s recommendation to expel Gene Chandler “a new low” hardly does justice to the unseemly event.

The House leadership in particular showed little, if any, understanding of why so many people – including so many state representatives – were appalled by Chandler’s behavior in seemingly vacuuming up as much money as he could from lobbyists and other “friends” – money he often put to personal use. Similarly, a vast majority of the 189 lawmakers who voted against expelling the former speaker exhibited what can only be described as blind ignorance – demonstrated by their inconsiderate, unjustified and insulting mass walkout on a state representative who just happened to be presenting another point of view.

In essence, Chandler supporters not only attempted to defend his actions, they actually insinuated that, because someone’s a “good guy” with what can pass for “integrity” in New Hampshire politics, the rules shouldn’t apply to him – or at least not as strictly.

Just as troubling were the arguments that the Legislature’s ethics rules were confusing, contradictory and subject to interpretation. Perhaps they were, but the argument could easily be made that they are difficult to understand because the people who write the rules – the lawmakers themselves – WANT the rules to be as muddy as possible. But that’s all besides the point, since common sense – never mind the rules – dictates that an elected representative, and certainly not the most powerful person in the House, should never be grabbing money for personal expenses from lobbyists who have regular business before the Legislature.

In the end, the capriciousness of the House votes to reject expulsion and “censure” the former speaker – a “punishment” that included a standing ovation – are an instructive and disturbing example of how a majority of the members of the House of Representatives approach their jobs. They don’t take enough time to do their homework. They refuse to weigh both sides of an issue. And they fail to act professionally and dispassionately in assessing a situation, unable to separate their friendship with one person from their jobs as elected legislators.

Think about it the next time the House is in session.

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