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Interview with NH State Representative Matt Towne: Everyone Should Leave a Better World Behind

In an interview lasting over one hour via telephone, New Hampshire State Representative Matt Towne said, “When we leave this Earth, we leave footprints behind. We should ensure that the footprints we leave are leaving a better world behind.” He cited a hand-written letter that he recently received from a Freshman at Coe-Brown Academy that addressed global warming and said how important it is to listen to the younger generations that will still be here after we are gone.

He also cited JFK’s famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” and said that he could not have said it any better.

According to Rep. Towne, there are a lot of people that don’t trust him, not because of who he is, but because he represents the government. If you’re one of the many people that doesn’t agree with his progressive views, we wanted to point out that he is working very hard to be fair to both sides of the aisle, while still representing his constituents in Barrington, NH.

On January 13th, 2020, Rep. Towne came to the event hosted by Barrington Town News for the New Hampshire Private Road Taxpayers Alliance (NHPVRTA), and with him, he brought a warrant article petition that was for the Town Election on March 11th, 2020, which dealt with changing the rules for redistricting in New Hampshire, by requesting that the legislature appoint an independent commission made up of nine Democrats and nine Republicans, that would be headed by a third-party consultant who is party-neutral.

He brought this petition at a time when his own party is in control of the House and Senate at the State House. After the 2020 Census is completed, the Democrats, if re-elected, would have been in charge of redistricting the State, and they could have gerrymandered, just as the Republicans have done in the past, to prevent the votes of the other party from meaning anything in upcoming elections for the next ten years. This would have surely guaranteed Democrats would hold control over the State House for up to the next 10 years. However Rep. Towne, by supporting this proposed change and bringing it to the town, saw an opportunity to make the system fair for both political parties, and 57 other towns also had warrant articles that were similar.

The Barrington residents that were at the NHPVRTA meeting asked for Rep. Towne’s help and Rep. Towne made a promise to represent the private roads issue in Concord. Not only did Barrington vote overwhelmingly for Towne’s petition, which has now been sent to the Governor’s office, but he also voted in favor of HB 1490, which is a new bill that was spearheaded by NHPVRTA to have the State of New Hampshire study the discrepancies between different towns and cities on the issue of private roads. This was the first positive step to address the ‘taxation without representation’ issue relating to Private Roads.

Rep. Towne mentioned that when he was canvassing for the Barrington Library Foundation before election day, he noticed several private roads that are falling apart along the route he took to knock on doors to leave information about the campaign for the new library. He said, unfortunately, the Town won’t provide funds to repair Private Roads, and according to NHPVRTA, the Town also taxes most homes on Private Roads without a discount, despite the fact that these homeowners have to pay for their own snow plowing and road maintenance – services that are provided to residents who live on Public Roads.

According to data from NHPVRTA, approximately 36% of all buildings in Barrington are on Private Roads, and by “buildings”, we are also including all of the buildings that contain businesses – most of which are on Public Roads such as NH-125, NH-9, and US-4.

Back on the issue of redistricting, Rep. Towne explained that every 10 years, the U.S. Census is done, and afterward, each state is required to redistrict due to population changes. Whatever party that is in power gets to decide what the districts look like.

Rep. Towne said, “It should be fair, to begin with,” and added “Someone put their thumb on the scale,” referring to the Republicans. Giving the entire process to an independent commission would solve the problem of the party in power favoring itself when redistricting the state, but this very concept was pushed forward last year, and Governor Sununu vetoed the bill.

Rep. Towne also voted in favor of a bill that would allow anyone to request an absentee ballot for any reason, as currently anyone who requests one is required to provide a valid reason for needing one. He said it’s forced people to lie about the reason that they need the absentee ballot. This bill passed the House, will likely pass the Senate, however, Governor Sununu didn’t sign a similar bill last year.

Rep. Towne explained that there has been a lot of obstruction by the Republicans in office, such as during a recent House session where nine House Republicans were reprimanded by the Speaker of the House for not taking a sexual harassment training course that was mandatory for all House members. The course was offered at about a dozen different dates and times, so there was no legitimate excuse for them not taking the course.

The Republicans in the House were using tactics to slow down voting on all the bills just the other night, which caused a House session to go until 4 AM in the morning. The Republicans are currently the minority party in the House, and they were trying to kill over one hundred bills by ensuring that they wouldn’t be voted on by the deadline for all bills to be voted on because most of the bills were written and sponsored by the Democrats. At 1:30 AM, a Republican House member tried to adjourn the House through a motion, and it was denied.

The nine Republicans that were reprimanded offered to suspend the rules if their reprimands were removed, but the Speaker of the House held firm and didn’t allow it. It got so late that the Democrats tabled some of the bills – one of which would have DE-authorized a Constitutional Convention. Democrats feared that Republicans would try to strip out Amendments and other parts of the U.S. Constitution if that were allowed, not to mention try to add language to it.

Rep. Towne is hopeful that Governor Sununu may not veto as many bills as he has in the past, due to it being an election year, but he said it’s tough to tell exactly what he’ll do. He cited that 37 communities were not able to install solar projects because the Solar Cap hasn’t been updated. At the Strafford County Complex, it would have saved them $380,000 a year, not to mention the benefits to the environment.

Democrats are hopeful it will be a productive year. There was a bill from Dover that would require that if rent is going to increase by 5%, that tenants be provided 3 months of advanced notice, or if rent is going to increase by 10%, that tenants be provided 6 months of advanced notice. There was also a bill that raised the minimum age to marry up to 18 years, which was spearheaded by Rep. Levesque, also from Barrington. However, several gun control bills are unlikely to be signed into law by Governor Sununu.

Of the gun legislation in this House session, there was HB 1608, which was a bill to limit the magazine size to 10 bullets. A bill to prohibit guns at schools passed, in addition to HB 1374 that would allow Police Departments to destroy firearms that are surrendered to them, rather than the current requirement that they sell them or store them indefinitely. There was a bill to study Police Officer Involved Shootings, and there was a bill to require that a trigger lock be sold with any private sales of firearms. A trigger lock is currently required for any commercial sale of a firearm.

Rep. Matt Towne was asked how the Barrington Library Foundation should move forward, and he didn’t have any ideas for how to move forward from here. He thinks the warrant article failed because of poor voter turnout. The Library Foundation tried to educate people about the benefits of the Library, and motivate them to get to the polls, but it didn’t work. He says that people turned the Library project into an issue about raising taxes, and he said it’s difficult to get people to see the benefits if they have equated it to not willing to vote for it because they can’t afford to pay more in taxes.

In my own personal opinion, it is unfortunate for Barrington residents that taxes will likely eventually increase again, even if not because of the Library, which may make future prospects of the Library even less likely if more of the gap in funds isn’t fundraised from local businesses and from government grants.

On another note, Rep. Towne said that he voted in favor of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation petition. There was also a mention about a bill in the House to study how the State of New Hampshire can make NH citizens more budget-wise, by sticking to a budget. They’re also trying to pass a bill to spend more on road & bridge repairs.

Rep. Towne also believes that there should be early learning, pre-K, and childcare for all families provided by the government. He said, “The money should come from everywhere,” adding that it ought to be local initiatives, funded from taxes from high-tech companies like Microsoft that should come back through the state governments. He also cited that 33 kids are currently receiving care from 68 Hours of Hunger in Barrington – the poorest families in town can’t even afford to feed their children over the weekend, and this is becoming an even bigger issue due to school closures. The kids that get meals from 68 Hours of Hunger will need even more donations because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Towne was asked what New Hampshire was doing about Coronavirus, and whether it would be enough to prevent its spread throughout the Granite State. He said that Governor Sununu has declared a state of emergency, and the Education Department is working with schools to provide online classes for students. He said there will be drive-up testing stations soon, however, he said, “The Governor is behind the curve [on Coronavirus]”.

Rep. Towne expressed concern that even if someone feels great, they may be infected, and that the virus disproportionately affects Seniors, like himself. Rep. Towne isn’t infected, but when asked if elected leaders should share whether they are infected, he said everyone should disclose whether they are sick or not – not just politicians. He thought out loud for a moment, “Can we mandate it? Probably not because of HIPPA rules.”

When asked about Food Service workers and sick leave, he said currently they’re on their own, but he doesn’t agree with this. He thinks that the U.S. Congress should mandate 14-days of paid sick leave for all employees, and gig workers, and even people that work part-time at 2-3 different jobs to make ends meet. Rep. Towne said, “Hotel workers, lawn care workers; the time they take off is on their own dime,” and added “Would if they all close? What do they do if their daycare closes?”

Rep. Towne said that according to Harvard Medical School, a projected worst-case scenario is that there could be 2 Million deaths in America. He said it’s already evident that Coronavirus is affecting the Democratic Primary. He said President Trump is going to pay in votes to the Democratic Nominee because he disbanded the team that was meant to deal with this type of crisis.

Rep. Towne said if he was the President, he would not have disbanded the team that was meant to deal with a pandemic. He said he would have started testing much sooner, and he would have had more tests available at a local level. He also said he would have banned flights out of Italy and Europe much sooner, in addition to other hotspots like Egypt, and even South America.

Rep. Towne said that New Hampshire is starting to go down the path of screening much more, but that Governor Sununu’s hands are tied because of the lack of tests. He said, “It’s not entirely on his doorstep,” giving the Governor credit for what he has done so far. He said it’s the Federal Government that is behind – too little, too late.

On the topic of spending by the Federal Government, Matt Towne said they are spending too much on the military, and not providing enough funding to the State Department. He said if the State Department isn’t fully funded, the military needs more money. He explained how we’re not spending money on diplomatic efforts, like providing clean drinking water to 3rd world countries. He also said that the military has classified the biggest threat to peace is global warming.

Regarding the Democratic Primary, Rep. Towne admitted that he voted for Elizabeth Warren, and is now supporting Bernie Sanders. He thinks Biden may not get all the votes from Warren or Bernie because he’s more appealing to moderates and independents. He said he’d like to see Bernie Sanders become President, with either Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar as Vice President. But he also said he’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is and that he thinks either Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden will be able to defeat Donald Trump in the General Election. He also added that Wall Street doesn’t reflect the average citizen in society since many do not have stocks. Most folks are trying to make ends meet in this gig economy and Wall Street does not reflect on their challenges.