A retiring NH rep reflects on life in Concord

Lenette Peterson on being a state rep: "the experience was phenomenal."
Lenette Peterson on being a state rep: “the experience was phenomenal.”

Lenette Peterson was elected in 2010 to represent Merrimack in the New Hampshire legislature. She served two terms, and then retired. She’s a friend and neighbor and hiking buddy, firmly pro-life. We sat down for coffee just before Christmas so I could ask her to look back on her time in office.

Why she’s leaving 

She’s been a sponsor of some important pro-life bills. As constituent, I supported her in two elections. I had to know: why is she leaving office?

“I two-termed myself.” Along with her husband, she prayed and thought about running back in 2010. “I asked [husband Erik] if he’d give me two terms. First term would be a learning experience. Second term is when I’d actually hopefully be doing something good.” She laughed as she added, “And I said only two terms, because we now have two children in college. State rep salary really doesn’t help pay for even a lunch card.”

That salary is $100 a year, plus mileage. New Hampshire in effect has a volunteer legislature. That hundred dollars a year is fixed. It doesn’t vary if session days run long or if a representative’s committee assignments are especially time-consuming. I hate seeing good, conscientious representatives choose not to run for re-election, but I can understand it – even if we’re losing a solid rep from my own town.


Why she ran 

Is the life issue one reason why she ran? “Yes.” No apologies for the social issues here.

She recounted a story from her early days in office in 2011. “I remember my freshman year, before we met for the first session. The majority leader at the time was meeting with groups of freshman [legislators]. Someone mentioned social issues, and the majority leader said ‘You guys can put all your social issues aside. We’re not going to deal with anything social this year.’ When he got to me, I said ‘first and foremost, I ran on social issues. That was on every piece of literature I passed out. Parental notification came up. Repeal of same-sex marriage came up. I ran on social issues so don’t tell me they don’t matter. I got elected by talking about social issues and Second Amendment issues. Social issues will be dealt with.'”

She hadn’t intended to run before 2010 – but she was asked, or more-or-less drafted, by a conservative legislator who had her eye out for likely candidates.

“If you had told me in April [2010] that I was going to put my name on the ballot, I would have told you you were nuts. That May, my oldest daughter and I were in Kohls. Lo & behold, we run into the Honorable Nancy Elliott.” At that time, Nancy was a Merrimack state representative in her third term, and Lenette had worked on her campaigns. “I said ‘I’m ready for your next campaign’ and she said ‘I’m not running again.'” At that point, Lenette walked right into trouble by asking, “So if you’re not running, who is?” Nancy Elliott was ready for that question: “Well, I’m praying about you running.”

Lenette shook her head as she recalled hearing that. “I said ‘are you nuts?’ My daughter said, ‘Mom, it’d be great!’ Nancy said to me ‘At least pray about it.'” L

enette was teaching at the time, at Milford Christian Academy. Being a legislator would put a crimp in that. Her husband realized what a commitment she’d be making if she went to Concord. It took a lot of prayer and thought. When filing period came in June, Lenette took the plunge and ran. She was elected that fall. She won again easily in 2012, a year that saw a lot of other Republicans lose.

What got done, and what didn’t – and why

What is she happiest about, in terms of legislation from the last two terms? “We kept [expanded] gambling out. That was huge. Parental notification [for abortion] was huge.”

And what’s been left undone? “Oh, my word – so many life bills. The life things, for sure. Statistics from abortion clinics: facts are facts, and it makes no sense that we don’t collect these. Why should [abortion facilities] get to stay in the dark? We didn’t get a 24-hour notice [waiting period before abortion]. Also, right to work needs to be passed here in New Hampshire. Those three in particular. And we’ve got to get rid of the Unaffordable Care Act. Medicaid expansion is going to bankrupt the country; we failed in getting rid of that.”

She credits Bill O’Brien, Speaker of the House in the 2011-12 session, for helping to get parental notification passed, over Governor Lynch’s veto. “I don’t think it would have happened without Bill.” Noting that the House elected in 2010 had the largest number of freshman legislators in recent memory, she compared the group to “a huge litter of Labrador puppies. I thought [O’Brien] did a phenomenal job.”

One disappointment was the failure of a bill to repeal same-sex marriage. “I said from day one, put it on the ballot. Let New Hampshire voters decide.” Instead a repeal bill was introduced. “Repeal of same-sex marriage was killed by Republicans, or people who ran as Republicans.” She said it was “unfortunate” that the leading Republican advocate in the House for restoration of traditional marriage tried to go it alone. “He wanted no help. He had it under control, he had it organized. And they ate him alive. So ignorance and ego killed that one.”

On being Republican

“I’m a Republican,” says Lenette. “Take away the social issues and a Republican is nothing but a Democrat.”

She’s a Republican. I’m an independent, or as I think of it, a recovering Republican. She is not going to follow me onto the Undeclared column. “I am definitely staying Republican, first and foremost because sometimes when you say ‘I’m an independent,’ no offense to the blogger, but are you that wishy-washy? You can’t decide?”

Lenette is an inveterate bestower of nicknames. (I am “Mother Hubbard,” a hiking reference whose origins I will save for my Granite State Walker blog.) Among her more stinging references: “Demo-rat,” instead of Democrat. Harsh, is it not?

“Sometimes I say Demo-rat and hear ‘that’s offensive.’ I say not really, and I explain why I use the word Demo-rat. What do rats do? They’re in back alleys eating out of dumpsters. They don’t do anything for themselves. They take what everyone else has. At least the rats take the leftovers. I say, what do you people [Democrats] do? You raid people’s pockets, you add tax after tax and fee after fee and call it revenue, but you’re just raiding someone’s wallet. You’re nothing better than a rat. Most Republicans agree with me. Dems just kind of look at me and shake their heads.” She hastens to add, “I give nicknames to Republicans, too.”

The recent vote for Speaker of the House

A recent power play in Concord saw the Democratic House caucus join with a minority of Republicans to elect Rep. Shawn Jasper as Speaker of the House, after O’Brien on the first ballot fell four votes short of regaining the Speakership. I asked Lenette for her comments.

The recent Speaker vote was “a total embarrassment. Jasper let his ego take over the House. There was a [Republican] majority choice for Speaker already.”  Lenette was in the gallery that day and witnessed the goings-on. On the second ballot, Rep. David Bates – an O’Brien supporter – made a motion to make subsequent votes for Speaker public, as opposed to the secret ballot normally used. Lenette said, “As soon as he went up there, I knew nothing good was going to come of this.”

She knows about the anger of O’Brien supporters who have vowed not to support a Speaker who has effectively been chosen by the minority party. Some of those supporters have also indicated reluctance to work with committee chairs appointed by Jasper. “It’s tough. There are some good reps who are pulling back. They’re frustrated, they’re furious. And I can see their point to a certain degree.” She said the situation will be very challenging for members of the House Republican Alliance, an informal conservative caucus that has been influential in policy discussions in Concord. “Whose allegiance are those HRA members [going to be with]? They’re going to disagree with leadership on more than [a few] things.” Lenette believes the Speaker vote will lead to bitterness at the polls. “This is not good, and it’s really going to hurt us in 2016.”

She wrapped up the subject with a blunt observation. “Jasper sold his soul to the devil, meaning Ray Buckley [chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party], and Ray Buckley is going to collect. Anyone who sells his soul to Ray Buckley is just deplorable.”

How to testify

Lenette served on the Judiciary Committee – a plum assignment for a first-term rep who’s not a lawyer. Judiciary has a heavy workload, including most of the life-issue bills. I asked her how a citizen coming to testify before the committee could get a point across.

“Keep it short, and keep it to the facts of the bill. Tears and sob stories are wasting time, in my book. Stick to the facts, and keep it short. That made more of a difference with me than anything else.”

And what would she tell her replacement on the committee? “No matter where they stand, pro-choice or pro-life, I’d advise them to go in and just listen. Facts are facts.”

She counsels brevity to House members as well as citizens coming to Concord to testify. “If you can’t make your point in three to five minutes, forget it. You’ve noticed that when certain representatives walk to the well [to make a speech about a bill], the place clears.”

“I’d encourage anyone to run …the experience was phenomenal.”

So a hundred bucks year, intraparty bickering, and six months a year of hearings and votes. Would Lenette recommend this to anyone else?


“I’d encourage anyone to run. If you have the time, and don’t need the money, run for office. The experience was phenomenal. The opportunities are just phenomenal. And with New Hampshire being First in the Nation, you get a chance to meet every candidate running for office. I was on a first name basis with some of them.”

As a Merrimack voter, I’m certain that had Lenette run for state rep again, she’d have won. In fact, she did win an election this year as a delegate to the state GOP convention, which she proudly attended with her daughter Sheila who was elected delegate along with her. Any second thoughts about that state rep seat?

“I could have run for a third term, not put as much time into things, maybe asked for a less crazy committee, but I would hate it. If I couldn’t do it 110%, I didn’t want to do it.”

Life and Liberty, in that order


memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777
Declaration of Independence, memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777

Karen Testerman’s recent Facebook post, in reply to supporters who are reluctant to follow her into Bob Smith’s camp, includes this: “Friends, it is about life, liberty and property and adherence to the Constitution. Without life, we cannot have liberty or property. Neither of the other two candidates will promote a culture of life. Life is not an issue. It is a fundamental principle that is foundational to America.”

That’s a good point that becomes more important as self-identified libertarians or liberty Republicans step up to run for office. There will be primaries this year in New Hampshire, several of them against Republican state senate incumbents who cast ill-advised votes on taxation, education and Medicaid expansion. Fair enough. I love primaries. They tend to discourage complacency.

But for the sake of all I hold dear, I don’t assume that every challenger is pro-life, particularly at the state representative and state senate level where so many important decisions are made. I want to ask the candidates some questions, read their literature, and look at how they’ve voted in other offices. What would they do if there were an attempt to repeal parental notification? Ask what they’ll do about the state’s buffer zone law. If the Supreme Court OKs the 35-foot zone in Massachusetts, will they support extending New Hampshire’s “up to 25 feet” provision? Are they favorably disposed to regulating the abortion industry, even in the limited manner currently acceptable to the Supreme Court? Do they know who Kermit Gosnell is?

Beware of candidates who put liberty ahead of life. As the campaign season goes forward, we’ll learn if such candidates are out there.

More on primaries: 

Senator David Boutin is on the hot seat for his Medicaid expansion vote. He’s being primaried by an impeccably pro-life state rep, Jane Cormier. Good – but it would be grossly unfair to forget that Boutin was the one and only Manchester senator who stood fast against the buffer zone. Voters in District 16, including the ones who will vote for Cormier, ought to thank him face-to-face for that. He was under a lot of pressure to cave in, and he did the right thing. He and Cormier were on the same side in that battle. He voted for effective language in Griffin’s Law, too, before voting to table the bill. You don’t hear much about that nowadays, as his district is being flooded with mailers pointing out his more egregious votes.

Two other state senators who opposed the buffer zone (although one of them took his time about it) and supported Griffin’s Law are being primaried as well. Where do the challengers stand on the right to life? I’ll be asking them, and until I hear their answers, I won’t be leading any cheers for change.



Santorum’s blunt question

“How did it work out for the Republican establishment running ‘moderate’ candidates the last two elections?…After we leave here, we’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to win. We win by uniting.”

–former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, speaking at CPAC 2014

Rick Santorum (E. Kolb photo)
Rick Santorum (E. Kolb photo)

Guest Post: Thoughts on policy and party by Steve MacDonald

[My thanks go to Steve MacDonald, blogger/editor at GraniteGrok.com, for this guest post.  I put a question to him: does he see any connection between pro-lifers and libertarians who are disenchanted with the Republican party, where so many such individuals once felt at home? Here’s his reply.]

The Republican 80-20 rule doesn’t apply to New Hampshire Libertarians, Conservatives, or anyone that has ever considered themselves aligned with the TEA Party.  You are with the Republican establishment or against them.  “Against them” means failing or refusing to toe any line laid before you by the NH-GOP or the folks with the money and power that yank their pull-strings.

Objecting to the musings of party-mouthpieces is met with varying degrees of outrage.   If you offend enough of the right people you can expect to get a phone call or to be ushered aside at the earliest opportunity for a trip to the proverbial woodshed.

Now to put this in proper perspective, the left is no different, but socialism is a compliance-based world-view that relies on cookie-cutter obedience.  Falling out of formation is not permitted, but almost everything else is.  So as long as you are throwing bricks—real or rhetorical—for the benefit of leviathan-centrally-planned-government it is difficult to go wrong.   But the left always defines the terms, the ruling class always gets better terms, and everyone else is a foot soldier for that cause or its enemy.

On the right the idea of conformance is not to orders and government but to ideals and principles.  The State exists to keep everyone else’s hands off you so that you are free to interpret those principles and ideals within a limited framework of laws that are meant to apply equally to everyone.   We are not foot soldiers of the party but principled idealists who would rather embrace the risks of freedom and liberty than risk the known dangers of an overprotective state.  That a Party existed to represent those ideas at all is more of a testament to the ideas than to the party, but the party has been around long enough and “men” are not angels.

So the so-called party of local control, of limited and efficient government, even right here in New Hampshire,  has turned against its own principles, and we know this to be true.  We know this because the people who are still more devoted to those principles than the party that once existed to defend them are under attack by Legacy Republicans.

Conservatives, Libertarians, even undecided and independent voters who answer the call of the TEA Party are bad-mouthed in public and private for defending the principles the Republican party used to defend for them; and questioning the logic of abandoning them in the nation’s hour of need.

That need connects New Hampshire’s Conservative Republicans and Libertarians, regardless of their individual position on specific social or fiscal issues.

In New Hampshire, the NH-GOP appeared briefly to be a place for them to advance their shared principles.  But as establishment Republicans display an increased willingness to abandon those principles (in pursuit of what I can only assume is the view that there are more votes to be had by doing so) every one of us has to wonder how long it will be before they chase that same chimera on life, guns, speech, local control, or taxes; and who will be remain to stand with us to defend it from them?

And this is not a phase.  In recent years Republican State senators have proposed speech limiting legislation.  They supported an initiative that open the door to federal intrusion through regional planning. Most recently they put low taxes and local control on notice as the State Senate looks for a way to accept some $2.4 billion in Federal money for Medicaid expansion.

This effort to tie us to D.C. is an assault on low taxes, local control, and personal responsibility.  Expansion will remove decision making and chase it down the strings to the nation’s capital.  It will increase taxes to meet rising costs, extracting wealth from an economy that might otherwise evolve to create jobs that allow people to care for themselves and their own.  That will relieve many of the opportunity to strive and climb another rung of the ladder but who will instead drop back into the state’s hammock.

Each act appears self-serving.  It suggests that Republicans are happier carrying the water for the left, even if it is only in tiny buckets at first, than standing up for their own platform.  They have become…

“The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot (who) will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; 

The balance of the quote is, of course…

but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

We who stand..?  Mocked by the establishment, often with the rhetoric of those who were once our shared ideological opposites.   We are mocked for defending the Republican Party platform.  Calls for reconciliation look not-surprisingly like the “reach across the aisle rhetoric of the left.”  No one ever reaches over to the right do they?

So we are at an impasse.  The NHGOP and the GOP have a platform.  A menu of social and political dishes, advertised outside the door.   But they are selling something else inside.  In the free marketplace of ideas, people who hunger for limited government, local control, and personal responsibility, will find someplace else for their ideological custom, and they will take their money and their votes with them.

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For future reference: the parties on the right to life

What a party has to say about the right to life is relevant to anyone who takes civic responsibility seriously. Here is what the two major American parties have to say on the subject, in their most recently-issued platforms (2012). This is not to be confused with what an individual candidate might say, which might be enough to make me ask “so why are you running with THAT party?”

First, the Democrats. While the 2012 platform addresses many rights at length, the right to life is not mentioned. “Right to choose” gets the ink.

Protecting A Woman’s Right to Choose. The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs.

The Republican party takes a different approach.

The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life

Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We oppose the non-consensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, from people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose active and passive euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Republican leadership has led the effort to prohibit the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion and permitted States to extend health care coverage to children before birth. We urge Congress to strengthen the Born Alive Infant Protection Act by enacting appropriate civil and criminal penalties on healthcare providers who fail to provide treatment and care to an infant who survives an abortion, including early induction delivery where the death of the infant is intended. We call for legislation to ban sex-selective abortions – gender discrimination in its most lethal form – and to protect from abortion unborn children who are capable of feeling pain; and we applaud U.S. House Republicans for leading the effort to protect the lives of pain-capable unborn children in the District of Columbia. We call for a ban on the use of body parts from aborted fetuses for research. We support and applaud adult stem cell research to develop lifesaving therapies, and we oppose the killing of embryos for their stem cells. We oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

We also salute the many States that have passed laws for informed consent, mandatory waiting periods prior to an abortion, and health-protective clinic regulation. We seek to protect young girls from exploitation through a parental consent requirement; and we affirm our moral obligation to assist, rather than penalize, women challenged by an unplanned pregnancy. We salute those who provide them with counseling and adoption alternatives and empower them to choose life, and we take comfort in the tremendous increase in adoptions that has followed Republican legislative initiatives.

Each state’s GOP has its own platform. New Hampshire’s, for example, has this to say about the right to life:

Support the unborn child’s fundamental right to life and implement all possible legal protections; encourage individuals and organizations who provide alternatives to abortion by meeting the needs of mothers through adoption, support, counseling and educational services; require parental consent for minors seeking abortions, ban the use of public resources to fund or promote abortion, appoint judges who respect traditional families values and the sanctity of innocent life, and support similar efforts at the federal level; oppose euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

In recent years, Democratic candidates have been remarkably consistent in their support for abortion, while Republicans can be all over the place. A Republican voter can be forgiven for assuming a Republican candidate is pro-life (after all, the platform’s pretty clear), but verifying that with the candidate is always a good idea.