If you’d like to know whether you can trust people with political power, you may have to hand them a little to see what they do with it. In 2018 the town of Merrimack tried that with Nancy Murphy and Wendy Thomas. They both failed that test miserably.
To be clear, it makes no difference whether you like them, dislike them, are Democrat, Republican, or Independent. Elected officials whose first instinct to political adversity to deprive you of your rights cannot be trusted. Murphy and Thomas took their abuse of power one step further.
When faced with public challenges to their use of their power, they sponsored legislation that not only muted free speech they gave themselves and their family a little indulgence. A carve-out. Their abuse of power would only silence the speech of those with whom they disagreed.
HB1159 was a bill “relative to cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and doxxing of a public servant.” Both Murphy and Thomas were co-sponsors.
The bill was a vanity project meant to make it more difficult for New Hampshire residents, their own constitutes, to challenge their political actions. I call it a vanity project because New Hampshire already has statutes to address actual threats, doxxing, or other uses of the internet to intimidate. HB1159 would allow them to use the threat of lawsuits to silence dissent.
But wait, it gets worse.
If someone shared your opinion and frame it around their own threatening language, you as the author of the original piece might still be open to litigation.
I think I framed the problem well here.
This bill is so bad (at least the way I read it) you don’t even need to be referring to them directly. If something else you wrote (not directed at or relating to them) can be construed (by them) to constitute a threat when considered with other remarks (elsewhere), you could be charged. You just need to be an elected official and say you feel threatened.
And apparently, the very act of breathing (emailing, tweeting, or using Facebook) by public officials is an administration of government (even though they can block you or ban you). And should you rub two words together that hastens their breathing (oh, my!), you could be in violation of their law.
It would effectively chill political comments about public officials from the statehouse to the town hall.
Any public official (or their family members), not just Murphy and Thomas, would be free to rant online about you but returning the favor could result in a lawsuit if they decided you had malicious intent.
They just need to feel threatened.
That means any expression from any citizen in disagreement could become fodder for the retribution built into HB1159.
There are hundreds of other reasons why they are a poor fit for Merrimack or New Hampshire. Niggling differences over political agendas, boring records, even colluding with openly hostile and intolerant peers like Dover Rep. Sherry Frost. Those pale compared to this.
The bill never made it out of committee, but not for lack of trying.
Merrimack residents would be wise to keep them out of public office and vote for their opponents in tomorrow’s Merrimack Town and Special election. There’s no telling what they might do next if given any opportunity.