Keene’s delegation to the N.H. House of Representatives is no longer all Democrats.
A freshman state representative from the city has changed his political affiliation, saying he doesn’t feel welcome in the Democratic Party.
Joseph P. Stallcop, who represents Cheshire District 4, is now a member of the Libertarian Party. He announced his change of political affiliation on the steps of the Statehouse in Concord Wednesday.
The change doesn’t affect his ability to continue as a state representative; his term is up in 2018.
District 4 covers Ward 1 in Keene, which includes Keene State College, much of the Marlboro Street area and the east side of Main Street up to Central Square.
Stallcop, 21, a senior at Keene State College, was elected to the seat without opposition in November 2016.
“Personally witnessing the situation at Standing Rock showed me the danger of relinquishing power and authority into an institution,” Stallcop said in a statement released by the N.H. Libertarian Party Wednesday.
Standing Rock is an American Indian reservation straddling North and South Dakota that became the epicenter for protests against the Dakota Access pipeline last year, as well as the nation’s energy policy encouraging such projects.
He added that his time in Concord has “reinforced the ineptitude that can exist by those in charge.”
In video footage of his speech Wednesday, Stallcop described his arrival at the Statehouse as a “starry-eyed” liberal ready to make a difference, but said his quest quickly became a “Cinderella story in reverse.”
Each time the House met, he said, he was handed a list that told him what to vote on for that day.
“If I did my job well, I was quietly left to my own devices,” he said in his speech. “But if I missed a spot, the passive-aggressive frustration I received from certain individuals was enough to make a wicked stepsister blush.”
More than ever now, the people need community, and to work together “to leave our imprint on those who need it the most,” he said.
Stallcop said in a statement that he originally joined the Democratic Party hoping to make a difference through critical thinking and his “classic liberal” viewpoint.
However, he said, he has received biased data from both Democrats and Republicans on bills and backlash for votes he’s made independently.
“(I)t seems there is no longer a place for me here,” he said in the statement.
Stallcop says the criticism he received on some of his votes that weren’t along party lines — including on whether to change the state’s marriage age and whether to require a permit to carry a concealed firearm — came from within the Democratic Party and not his constituents. That was frustrating, he said.
He voted in favor of indefinitely postponing legislation to change the minimum age someone can get married in New Hampshire from 13 for girls and 14 for boys to 18 years old for both sexes, and for allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit.
Rep. William A. Pearson, D-Keene, who Stallcop has said inspired him to run for office, said it’s unfortunate to hear that Stallcop had left the Democratic Party — and not from Stallcop himself, but from a reporter.
“He was a young Democrat who I was hopeful would continue to be so in the state for at least the next few years, but that’s clearly fiction now,” said Pearson, who was 23 when he was elected to the N.H. House in 2014.
A list is handed out to Democrats and Republicans at each legislative session showing important bills and committee recommendations for each, according to Pearson.
The N.H. Democratic Party didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
It takes two to caucus
Stallcop said he chose to join the Libertarian Party because he is socially progressive, but not always on the same page with Democrats on issues such as spending because he considers himself a fiscal conservative. However, he doesn’t agree with the socially conservative philosophy of the Republican Party.
“In the end, I’m for giving more liberty to people and giving people their rights,” he said.
N.H. Libertarian Party Chairman Darryl W. Perry — a Keene resident, former mayoral candidate and blogger for the website FreeKeene.com — noted that Stallcop is the second sitting Democratic state representative to leave a mainstream political party in New Hampshire and become a Libertarian.
The first was state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester, who joined the Libertarian Party in 2000. Vaillancourt, who was in his 10th term in the N.H. House, died in March.
In February, then-Republican Caleb Q. Dyer of Pelham joined the Libertarian Party. Dyer, who is the floor leader for the N.H. House Libertarian Caucus, represents N.H. House District 37, which covers Hudson and Pelham.
This is the first time in nearly two decades that the N.H. General Court has a Libertarian caucus, which requires two members, according to Perry. He said the N.H. Libertarian Party is 45 years old.
The state’s Libertarian Party has nearly 110 dues-paying members, according to Perry, who said this is an increase from about 60 when he became chairman seven months ago.
Perry said he looks forward to the membership of the party and caucus continuing to grow. In addition, he noted, a “handful” of former state representatives who have joined the Libertarian Party in recent years say they plan to run for election in 2018.
“I look forward to this caucus growing, and hope that more of the classical liberals and civil libertarians in the General Court will defect from the two-party system and join the party of principle,” Perry said. “I look forward to liberty in our lifetime.”