20211204-LOC-StatehouseFiler

The N.H. Statehouse

CONCORD — Perhaps the most startling proposal at the N.H. Legislature has a title beginning with the words “relating to independence.”

Under the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by seven Republican lawmakers, including Rindge Rep. Matthew Santonastaso, “the state peaceably declares independence from the United States and proceeds as a sovereign nation.”

Santonastaso, who did not return requests for comment by text, email and phone over the past week, participated in but said little in a series of video chats with Rep. Mike Sylvia of Belmont and others over the summer, in which strategies for furthering the proposal are discussed.

The chats, which are posted on NHExit.US, attracted public attention over comments by Sylvia that anti-immigrant sentiment could be used to further the argument for secession.

“This is not my feeling, but you know the atmosphere out there is that those dirty Mexicans or Guatemalans or whatever are coming across the border bringing in COVID with them,” he said in an Aug. 12 video chat.

(Mexico, which has a population of 130 million, has recorded 3.9 million COVID-19 cases and 294,428 deaths, while the U.S., with a population of 329 million, has logged 48 million cases and 778,336 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.)

House Speaker Sherman Packard put out a statement at the time saying House leadership does not condone racial stereotyping and is not remotely involved in promoting secession.

Sylvia, who also did not return several calls for comment, discussed a variety of talking points in the chats, including taxation, Obamacare, election law, refugee resettlement, foreign policy, climate change, carbon taxes, critical race theory and COVID-19 mandates.

“There are a lot of people very unhappy with D.C.,” he said. “The federal government has totally perverted the ends of our desired government, and it’s clearly time to make a change, and simply removing the current configuration of the United States of America is apparently a good way to go.”

He said Texas is another state where there has been sentiment for secession, and even suggested New Hampshire could throw in its lot with the Lone Star State if they both seceded.

“You don’t necessarily have to have physical borders connecting states to become a collective, so if we want to join with Texas, why not?” Sylvia said.

He said he sees a lot of sentiment against the federal government when he goes to Republican meetings in his district in the Lakes Region.

“When you go to those, and I do, there is a definite flavor of people who are not exactly friends of D.C., especially with the current figurehead down there. He’s falling apart,” Sylvia said.

He said Biden is mocked in some international news broadcasts and that in some quarters, “The U.S. is an embarrassment.”

“Maybe it’s time to separate ourselves from it and spare ourselves the agony.”

Another sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Peter Torosian of Atkinson, said in an interview Friday that its proponents have come in for undue criticism for a proposal that he views as more of a statement than a practical matter.

As a constitutional amendment, it would require 60 percent support in the House and Senate and then 60 percent support by voters.

The legal ability of states to secede has been questioned by scholars. The U.S. Supreme Court found in an 1869 case out of Texas that the United States is “an indestructible union” from which no state can secede.

In a 2006 letter, then-Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the matter was clear.

“If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede,” he said.

The slim Republican majority in New Hampshire’s two legislative chambers is one reason the amendment’s chances for passage are minimal, Torosian said.

“It’s more of a shot across the bow to the feds who want to impose mandates and regulations that infringe on the U.S. and the state constitutions,” he said.

“Do I think we’re going to do it? Absolutely not. There’s not a snowball’s chance.

“The other side of the aisle has mischaracterized this and said I’m not a patriot. I’m a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and am all about protecting rights and freedom and keeping the cost of state government at reasonable levels.”

Torosian said that even in the extremely unlikely event the proposal succeeds, the results might not be as Earth-shattering as some believe. He compared it to Brexit, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

“It didn’t really affect things,” he said. “I know it’s different, but the fear of change is worse than the actuality.”

Aside from Sylvia, Santonastaso and Torosian, the other sponsors of the proposed constitutional amendment are Reps. Ray Howard of Alton, Dennis Green of Hampstead, Dustin Dodge of Raymond and Glenn Bailey of Milton.

The proposal, which is to be considered in the legislative session that gets underway next month, is now in the hands of the state Office of Legislative Services for final drafting and does not yet have an assigned bill number.

Santonastaso won a seat in November 2020 in the N.H. House in Cheshire County District 14, which takes in Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Harrisville, Jaffrey, Rindge and Roxbury, defeating Harrisville Democrat Andrew Maneval, 4,963 to 4,516. In October, Maneval won a special election in Cheshire House District 9, where a seat was left vacant by the death, over the summer, of former House Majority Leader Doug Ley.

Rick Green can be reached at rgreen@keenesentinel.com.