State House Dome: Fallout from Klein-Knight controversy won't stop

Feb. 6—CONTROVERSY OVER racial slurs state Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight reportedly used in talking to others about a Black organizer who testified before her committee has spun out of control.

Klein-Knight, D-Manchester, has declined to comment, but that hasn't stopped many from piling on.

House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, approved a request by House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton that Klein-Knight lose her seat on the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

A complaint against her has been referred to the Speaker's Advisory Group, a bipartisan select team of elders that Packard and past speakers have employed to review all allegations of misbehavior by lawmakers.

The group tentatively plans to hold a fact-finding meeting on the topic in private on Tuesday.

The New Hampshire High School Democrats organization decided it has heard enough and has called for Klein-Knight's immediate resignation. "Racism does not belong in the Democratic Party," it said in a statement

State Rep. Manny Espitia, D-Nashua, raised the temperature of the situation by at least appearing to suggest Klein-Knight put the Black person at risk from State House security officers.

"Rep. Klein Knight represents one of the most racially diverse districts in the state and should therefore feel an even greater responsibility to uplift Black, Brown and Indigenous voices," Espitia wrote.

"Instead, she engaged in degrading, bigoted behavior against a young Black man, eventually calling security on him, despite being fully cognizant of the heightened dangers Black men face in this country in the presence of law enforcement."

Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough and an 11-term incumbent, said Espitia was out of line.

"In my 22 years I have seen nothing but professionalism and respect from all our security team, many of whom are retired State Police, county or local law enforcement officers," Leishman said.

"This stuff is getting crazy now. People are getting all worked up and throwing around wild accusations."

Some House Democrats have privately suggested Klein-Knight may have become a vessel for some liberals "settling scores."

Some even question if Klein-Knight's Jewish faith contributed to making her an easy target.

No Jewish organization in the state has stepped up to defend her.

This imbroglio dominated the talk at House Democrats' 90-minute virtual caucus Friday, which Cushing attended.

Many defended Cushing's actions. Others questioned whether he acted rashly.

In the background, a few have started to say Cushing should step down because of his inability to quell the unrest.

Cushing is battling late-stage cancer, and many of his supporters consider the mere suggestion extremely insensitive.

Republicans feel heat, too

Establishment Republicans, too, have plenty of bitter critics in their ranks.

There it was on the "We The People — An Appeal to Heaven" Facebook page last week: "N.H. Bootlicking Tyrants Wall of Shame."

Gov. Chris Sununu earned the No. 1 spot, followed by Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, the four GOP executive councilors and leaders in the House Finance and Election Laws Committee.

They incorrectly spelled the name of House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, who was seventh in the rankings, which were rounded out by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, who was 20th.

Anti-vaccine mandate activist Terese Grinnell of Loudon made the same "bootlicking" reference during a public hearing last week on legislation (HB 1484) to conducted a forensic audit of the 2020 election.

The phone number listed on the We The People website matches Grinnell's.

Has COVID peaked?

Sununu picked an unfortunate week to be out of the country.

That's because signs are pointing to the omicron variant starting to run its course in New Hampshire.

Last week, hospitalizations fell below 300 for the first time in nearly three months.

The number of those needing inpatient beds in New Hampshire has fallen in the past two weeks.

"It really looks like we are on the back side of this trend," Sununu said during a telephone interview.

Sununu said there's no reason to pull back on any of the fixed sites for COVID-19 testing and vaccine delivery.

"This surge is trending very much in the right direction, moving very aggressively, but all of our contracts for vaccination sites run through March, and we'll keep them in place," Sununu said.

"Testing is still going to be a big issue for the next six months or more."

The first batch of half a million COVID-19 tests went on sale at 67 liquor stores Friday for $11.29 apiece.

"We are still very much in it, but no question, we like where it looks to be going right now," he said.

Sununu goes to Africa

Since Sununu hasn't ruled out a run for federal office after 2022, including a presidential run in 2024, everything gets viewed through that lens.

When Sununu hops a plane to a remote African nation to sign a partnership agreement with the New Hampshire National Guard, some see a three-term governor looking to spruce up his foreign policy credentials.

Sununu was greeted at the airport by U.S. Ambassador Jeff Daigle and met with José Maria Neves, president of the Republic of Cabo Verde.

When New Hampshire Guard Adjutant General David Mikolaities came up with this agreement in October, Sununu said he couldn't wait to be on hand when it became official.

Since 2000, the New Hampshire Guard has had an agreement with El Salvador that has led to many joint exercises.

The federal government fully financed the cost of the trip.

Last Friday, Sununu presided over a virtual Zoom meeting between students at Bow High School and Pedro Gomes High School in Cabo Verde.

"A governor can't sign any foreign policy agreements, so this is as close as a governor gets to build international ties in a formal way," Sununu said.

Information, please

During an interview with Chris Ryan on "New Hampshire Today" on Monday, Sununu opposed out of hand former President Donald Trump's suggestion that protesters at the Jan. 6 riot of the U.S. Capitol should be pardoned.

"I don't think anybody else thinks those who charged on the U.S. Capitol and attacked our police officers should be pardoned," Sununu said.

On a separate subject, Sununu said it's not government's role to police "misinformation" about COVID-19 or any other issue.

Americans should be trusted to distinguish between internet rants — like those from Joe Rogan — and mainstream news sources, he said.

"I listen to Joe Rogan. I like Joe Rogan. He says some things I agree with, and others I may not, but it's just a podcast. I would not equate Joe Rogan with Fox News," Sununu said.

Warning on blackouts

The overseer of the New England power grid last week warned of the potential for rolling blackouts this winter.

Gordon Van Welie said a loss in capacity and winter strains make the threat very real.

"In fact, the combination of extended severe weather conditions and a single large contingency could cause us to take emergency actions, including calling for controlled outages," van Welie wrote.

"These are not hypotheticals, as all of these situations have occurred this winter, in the January 10 to 22 time frame."

Dems target Morse aide

Former state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, wrote to Republican Senate candidate Morse about his campaign manager, Jim Merrill, and his past lobbyist ties to Terrafugia Inc., a company with prior links to the Chinese Communist Party.

"Mr. Merrill's work for your campaign and for various lobbying clients creates a serious conflict of interest, and the only appropriate course of action would be to remove Mr. Merrill as finance chair of your U.S. Senate campaign and for the payroll of your State Senate campaign account," Hennessey wrote.

Morse dismissed the claim as partisan.

"These cheap tactics are weak gimmicks to try and deflect from the dysfunction among the Democrats' current dumpster fire in the Legislature," Morse said in a statement.

"Maggie Hassan has taken more money from special interests than anyone in this race with nearly $2 million collected from special interests last year. My track record shows that I've always put the people of New Hampshire first and foremost in everything I've ever done. Maggie Hassan wishes she could say the same."

Next session dates

Speaker Packard decided the House should meet at least one more time outside the State House.

He's set the next House sessions for Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 9:30 a.m. back at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Manchester.

Sununu will kick off the second day with his annual state-of-the-state address, Packard said.

Meanwhile, House committees will be hold long executive sessions next Tuesday through Thursday to get their initial work done.

All House bills must be voted on by Feb. 17 if they have to go to a second committee for further review.

College citizenship test

Senate Republican conservatives continue to flex their muscles.

The Senate Education Committee had voted, 5-0, to kill a House-passed bill to require all two- and four-year college students in New Hampshire to pass a citizenship test (HB 319).

In 2021, the Legislature passed a law requiring all high school students to take the same exam and get at least a satisfactory grade on it.

Wait a second, said Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren.

"We have a very serious, potentially lethal lack of knowledge on the system of our government," Giuda said.

All Senate Republicans backed the bill that passed, 14-10, and now it's headed to Sununu's desk.

"Yet another Big Government mandate from the New Hampshire GOP," said Paul Phillips, former chairman of the New Hampshire Commission on Human Rights.

"It's not enough the University System of New Hampshire has the lowest state appropriation in the U.S., the highest in-state tuition and the highest-student debt load in the country. Now let's poison USNH's academic reputation."

Retailers want freedom

Nancy Kyle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Retailers Association, said the group is urging lawmakers to let their members decide how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their businesses.

"The NH Retail Association has held the position on many issues that the business owner or manager is in the best position to determine how to meet and balance the needs and wishes of customers, employees and the business as an entity," the group's statement said in part.

"The issue of COVID-19 vaccines is no different, and should be left to each individual business to determine."

Fundraiser coming up

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford, has a big fundraiser scheduled for March 9 at Chen Yang Li Restaurant in Bow.

Tickets are $125 apiece, but they go all the way up to $2,500 "platinum" sponsorships.

Last week, Daniels tried to inject fiscal sanity as requests mount in this off-budget year to spend much of the 2021 budget surplus.

"The legislative requests off the budget exceed the amount of surplus that we have," Daniels warned the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Kevin Landrigan is the State House bureau chief for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at