EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 18, 2013

Editorial: Absentee lawmakers should do their job or quit

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — They say that half the battle in life is just showing up. But some New Hampshire legislators can’t be bothered even to show up.

As Doug Ireland reported Sunday, many of the legislators representing the 12 Southern New Hampshire towns covered by The Eagle-Tribune have already missed dozens of roll-call votes during this session, which ends later this month.

Salem Republican Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, has voted on only six of the 164 roll-call votes taken through June 5. All six votes were cast on the same day, May 22, the day the House rejected legislation that might have opened the door to a casino in Salem.

Reps. Ronald Belanger, R-Salem; David Lundgren, R-Londonderry; Jeffrey Oligny, R-Plaistow; and Rep. Daniel Tamburello, R-Londonderry, have also been frequent absentees when the roll is called.

Azarian and Belanger at least had reasons they missed so many votes.

Azarian cited a serious illness in his family as well as business commitments. “Hopefully, the voters will understand that my family needed to come first,” Azarian told Ireland.

Azarian, who voted 96 percent of the time a year ago, said he considered resigning but decided against it when his circumstances improved.

The 74-year-old Belanger was hospitalized with pneumonia for several weeks, then needed a pacemaker. He showed up for the gambling votes in a wheelchair and using an oxygen mask.

Other excuses are less persuasive.

Lundgren missed 103 of the 164 votes, apparently because he was too busy with his chiropractic practice. He did not respond to calls for comment.

Oligny missed more than half the roll-call votes — 94 of 164. He cited his 50-plus hour work week as an engineer.

“You do have to support the family and pay the bills,” he told Ireland. His financial burden includes putting two children through college.

Tamburello missed 69 votes, or 42 percent, as of June 6. His voting record was almost as spotty last year — he missed 32 percent of roll-call votes.

Tamburello did not return phone calls asking about his record this year. A year ago, he cited work pressures.

“I like to pay my bills, house my family and feed my children,” he said then.

Tamburello is a father of five who is a systems engineer and member of U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

We have little patience for such excuses.

Neither does Rep. Mary Griffin, who at age 87 made every roll-call vote through June 7.

“That’s my job,” the Windham Republican said. “There are some people who don’t have the same dedication. I would say, ‘Don’t do it if you’re not interested.’ It’s not fair.”

Griffin was one of five local legislators who didn’t miss any roll-call votes. The others are Reps. Patrick Bick, R-Salem; John Sedensky, R-Hampstead; Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham; and Lisa Whittemore, D-Londonderry.

Rep. Mary Allen, an 82-year-old Newton Republican, missed only one roll-call vote this session, and that one because she stepped out of the room.

“If you are not planning to be there on session day, then you should not run,” she said. “ It’s unfair to the people you represent.”

New Hampshire has a citizen legislature. Members are paid $100 a year, as they have been for more than a century. The meager perks include a legislative license plate.

That means many members are retirees or people with financial resources and time on their hands. The New Hampshire Legislature may not be entirely representative of the state’s population. But the last thing the state needs is a full-time “professional” legislature, like Massachusetts’ General Court, which is representative only of the state’s political class.

But Griffin and Allen are right. Candidates who run for the state Legislature know what the responsibilities are.

If they seek office knowing they won’t be able to perform those duties, they are not being honest with the voters who elect them or fair to other candidates for the job.

If circumstances change after they are elected and they are unable to do the job, they should resign to make way for someone who can do it.