The General Court in Concord sees its share of quirky and sometimes downright wacky legislation filed each session. These can be the product of pet peeves harbored or causes célèbres promoted by citizen legislators who figure, what the heck, every bill gets a committee hearing no matter how dim its prospects, so why not file this one? Perhaps, then, it was not surprising to learn that for the upcoming session seven members of the House of Representatives have proposed a constitutional amendment calling for New Hampshire to secede from the United States and become a sovereign nation.
Residents of Cheshire County District 14, which takes in Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Harrisville, Jaffrey, Rindge and Roxbury, could be forgiven surprise at learning that their representative, Matthew Santonastaso of Rindge, is one of the sponsors. Santonastaso, who was elected in 2020, has not yet shared his thinking on the amendment, so his constituents are left wondering what’s motivated him to go to Concord to break up the union.
But some of his co-sponsors have spoken out, and their rationale is either intentionally ineffectual or downright alarming. In the former camp is co-sponsor Peter Torosian of Atkinson, who told The Sentinel the proposed amendment is meant more as a statement than as a practical matter. He conceded there was “not a snowball’s chance” the proposal would gain the 60 percent support it needs in each house, even before requiring a two-thirds popular vote to be adopted. Instead, Torosian described it as “a shot across the bow to the feds,” although a more apt idiom is “tilting at windmills.”
Then there’s Rep. Mike Sylvia of Belmont, a co-sponsor who shamefully speculated in an online video chat that the proposal might attract support from those who harbor such anti-immigrant beliefs as “those dirty Mexicans or Guatemalans or whatever are coming across the border bringing in COVID with them.” As is too often the case with politicians, he disingenuously sought to distance himself from those views — “[t]his is not my feeling,” he said — even while he aired them, and he’s given no indication he wouldn’t welcome support for his secession proposal from those who hold them. This led House Speaker Sherman Packard to issue a statement that the House’s Republican leadership disavows racial stereotyping and has no involvement in promoting secession.
Torosian is at least honest in offering his “snowball’s chance” assessment of the proposed amendment’s prospects. There was, of course, a cataclysmic civil war fought 160 years ago in large measure by the northern states — New Hampshire prominently among them — to resolve that no individual state has a right to secede. And the Supreme Court and legal scholars have since asserted the same.
The co-sponsors seem to be motivated by their objection to what they perceive as federal intrusion on personal freedoms. That’s of course a legitimate position to hold, but it’s one that in our constitutional democracy should be advanced through the democratic process of electing enough representatives to Congress who share that view. Instead, it’s a cynical waste of legislative time and effort for state representatives to propose breaking away from the union just to underscore a point. It recalls a similarly specious bill introduced some 20 years ago by then state Senator and now Executive Councilor David Wheeler calling for New Hampshire to secede from the union if the federal deficit got too big, a remedy the Milford Republican seemed to have conveniently abandoned while the deficit began ballooning again under former president George W. Bush.
There is no shortage of serious issues to be debated and resolved in Concord. A petulant, “we’re going to take our ball and go home” proposal to yank New Hampshire out of the union rather than work to improve it should not be one of them, and the proposed amendment should die a quick death in the Legislature.