Whenever there’s a change in party leadership at the Statehouse, there’s bound to be some posturing and battling as members of both the majority and minority stake out their positions on various issues and test their new level of power. And especially in these hyperpartisan times, one would expect pretty much what we’ve seen so far from both parties’ leaders — a raft of public statements and news releases before and after almost every significant vote, casting the opposing party’s members as irresponsible, uncaring or incompetent.
Still, we were surprised last week at House Minority Leader Dick Hinch’s ridiculous demand that Majority Leader Doug Ley of Jaffrey be removed from his position for being “divisive” and not embodying the spirit of how the House ought to be run.
Ley’s divisive action? Lecturing House members on behaving better toward each other. Apparently, to Hinch, civility just isn’t in the spirit of how House leaders ought to comport themselves.
Ley triggered the Republican leader’s response by addressing the chamber during what’s called “unanimous consent” Wednesday, a time set aside to allow remarks from members not specific to legislation. The majority leader noted several instances recently where names were called or demeaning comments were made, and he urged members to have more respect for one another and the office they all hold.
“Is this really what we stand for?” he asked. “Is this what we’ve become? Does this in any way serve the cause of civility and basic decorum and mutual respect? I don’t think so.”
Notably, Ley did not name any individuals or even say any of the offenders were Republicans. In fact, he specified that neither caucus has been blameless. Nevertheless, Hinch painted the remarks as a partisan attack so unbecoming of a House leader that he ought to be stripped of his title.
Maybe some representatives feel themselves above such a rebuke. Some might feel Ley’s public scolding and tone of admonishment was out of place. Making that point would be fair criticism. Hinch’s response was not. It reeked of partisan politics and the sort of indignant outrage one must conjure for effect.
Moreover, it’s a strong sign that this legislative session is not going to be marked by cooperation and compromise. That’s bad for New Hampshire and its citizens. The makeup of leadership in Concord right now is such that Republicans can pass no bill whatsoever without aid from Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers. However, while the Democrats can push bills through, they cannot overcome a veto from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.
Thus, nothing will get done in Concord at all this session — nor, perhaps, the next — without each side yielding something. That means at some point, petty politics and the staking out of imagined high ground will have to be put aside so the real work of running the state can proceed.
Even if it rankled some House members, regardless of party, Ley’s call for civility boiled down to this phrase from his speech: “If you don’t want epithets and hurtful remarks made at your expense, then don’t do it to others.”
That sounds an awful lot like the golden rule by which we all ought to live, no matter our ideology.