Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Grass-roots Democrats Push NH Legislature Towards Impeachment"

Dan DeWalt (Huffington Post):
Howard Dean's famous scream may have capped the unraveling of his presidential campaign, but it was also the unwitting herald for a grass roots movement that six years later played a major role in overturning the Republican stranglehold on power, not only nationally, but across the river in New Hampshire as well.
Now those same grass roots groups are calling for impeachment, taking the challenge directly to Dr. Dean's own Democratic Party hierarchy.

If 86 year old Brookline New Hampshire resident Betty Hall has her way, the New Hampshire legislature will be the first in the nation to invoke Jefferson's manual and send a call for impeachment to Washington D.C. "Impeachment is huge for us because Bush is going to kill our elections. The right to vote is the most important right of all and he's stolen the last two elections," she said to The Commons.

It was this perceived threat to the nation that led her and others to bring an impeachment resolution to the floor of last summer's N.H. Democratic Party Convention. Hall said "we passed impeachment in June of '06 over the objection of the top brass of the party. We took the battle to the floor and won."

Hall said that the defeated Party leadership went so far as to not include the impeachment vote on their website's convention coverage.

The Party establishment took another hit in last year's Democratic primary when Carol Shea-Porter was able to muster enough volunteers to out-hustle the Party's favored candidate and take the nomination for U.S. Congress.

Porter benefited from the work of Democracy For N.H., the New Hampshire version of Democracy For America, a grass roots organization that Dean created to give new purpose to the volunteers who had worked for his campaign.

After last November's election, some of these volunteers found themselves in the legislature as well.

Tim Butterworth of Chesterfield N.H. is one. When his granddaughter was born in 2003, he realized how angry he was with what he sees as the sorry state of the world and the profligacy of our government's actions and reacted with anger and determination. He became more of an activist than he had been, then ended up running for and winning a seat in the House. During the first session, he was impressed that every proposal that came forward from the body rather than from the leadership passed. "As a group the Democratic Party would be much stronger if the leadership listens, leading the people in the direction they want to go" he said.

Indeed, N.H. Democratic Party chairman Ray Buckley has tapped two long time state activists to create a grass roots committee for the party. According to committee co-chair Howard Morse, the party is aiding and abetting grass roots groups and is working to bring the various groups together under the Democratic Party umbrella. His co-chair Chas Pru describes it as a sea change. He is encouraged that the Democrats are taking the grass roots interests to heart.

Robert Perry of Strafford, who is one of the leaders of the House legislative impeachment effort, said "the success of the grass roots movement in N.H. has caused the leadership to pause and assess what it all means." He said that state party recognizes what the grass roots are doing and are making space for them in the party structures. He said, "The leadership has us on board."

There is no indication that the leadership has gotten aboard the impeachment train however. In spite of the vote for impeachment at the '06 convention, Howard Morse remembers "no clear call of any kind for impeachment. There might have been a vote, it might have even passed, but in all the reporting that I saw, it did not come up. Its much ado about what I think is nothing."

Betty Hall has a somewhat different take. "I think that establishment Democrats don't understand what's out there. The dumb bunnies don't understand how angry people are."

Tim Butterworth: "I've always assumed that most organizations have pyramidal structures. Generally the ones on top have worked their way up. They tend to become conservative trying to stay on top. D.F.N.H. founder Alex Lee sees it the same way. "Bad habits make the Democrats hold onto their bad political calculus ... there is more interest in holding power than in making positive changes. The election wave came in but they're just worried about the undertow."

Robert Perry says that it is essential to move forward with impeachment. He also has a different assessment of the prospects. He said, "An impeachment resolution presented this fall and voted on in January has a good chance of passing the House and a better than even chance in the Senate."

A legislative House with 400 members makes for an unwieldy body. Party leadership can assert itself, but House votes tend to be more of a reflection of the individual districts and representatives, according to Marjorie Smith, 11 year House veteran and Finance Committee chair.

Hall, Perry and their allies will give these legislators a chance to weigh in on impeachment in the next session. Howard Morse predicts that "it would not be well received and it would not be accepted." Hall accuses the party of being overly cautious. She and Perry see a real urgency. Perry cites U.S. military threats against Iran. Hall is worried about voting and constitutional rights. She has her own first hand account of when she discovered her right to free speech to be missing. "I was arrested and put in jail for carrying a sign that said Bush is bad for America in Nashua where Bush was speaking across the street. The secret service wanted to put us in a cage far from Bush, I refused to go and they arrested me, I had a trial and was acquitted." That judge agreed that her constitutional rights had been violated and the police lost the case. Hall doesn't want to have to worry about what the next judge will say. She wants Constitutional redress now, in the form of impeachment.

"I want to raise the level of noise" she said. Her impeachment efforts are meant to do just that.

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