Haven’t posted for quite a while now. Maybe it is the end of winter doldrums (I can almost say I survived my first Vermont winter which wasn’t nearly as bad as winter in the Boston I left behind.) or maybe I’m just discouraged by the general state of politics. I’m becoming increasingly fearful about what will happen if the Republicans take over the Presidency next year. But I have been aroused from my lethargy by a story and editorial in today’s Brattleboro Reformer.
I’m not sure how it works in other parts of the country, but New England has a tradition of school children asking a legislator to introduce a bill for them. I wrote a few weeks ago about the young woman who wanted Vermont to have a Latin motto. Another group would like the Gilfeather turnip to become the Vermont state vegetable. The children have to do their research and come and testify before the appropriate committee of the state legislature. Their bills sometimes pass and sometimes get postponed for a year, but along the way they learn about politics and how bills become laws. So a group in New Hampshire wants to make the red-tailed hawk the state raptor. The Reformer editorial compares their reception to that given to the Gilfeather turnip lobbyists.
On March 17, a dozen students from Wardsboro Elementary School traveled to Montpelier to lobby for designating the Gilfeather turnip as the state vegetable. Wardsboro was home to John Gilfeather who is credited with developing the turnip that bears his name.
Rep. Emily Long, a Democrat from Newfane and a co-sponsor of the turnip bill, said she was “absolutely thrilled to see the kids here. I heard they were really good, I saw one of their teachers, and she was glowing!”
The students were told by Rep. Carolyn Partridge, a Democrat from Windham, that the bill would not pass this year, but she said many members of the committee supported it. In fact, Partridge said Gilfeather turnips had a celebrity status at her family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables growing up, and she said she would make a soup from them and bring it to the committee so they can taste the gnarly root vegetable for themselves.
Members of the committee were given wool-felted Gilfeather turnip pins, one of many items handcrafted and sold as part of fundraisers for the annual festival, which benefits the town’s library.
But what happened in New Hampshire?
Now let’s compare the reception the Wardsboro students received to the reception a handful of fourth-grade students received when they went to Concord to lobby to name the red-tailed hawk the state bird. What was the reaction they got? Incredibly, one legislator likened the bill to abortion.
State Rep. Warren Groen, from Rochester (need we really name his party?) said the red-tailed hawk “mostly likes field mice and small rodents. It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds and then basically tear it apart, limb from limb. And I guess the shame about making this the state bird is it would make a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”
Yes, Groen took the opportunity to push his anti-choice agenda at the expense of a group of 9 and 10-year-old students from Hampton Falls.
We’ve all seen video and read stories about male Republicans at all levels of government getting tangled up in trying to figure out birth control, rape, and abortion. Remember back when Newt Gingrich said women can’t be soldiers because they get a “disease” every month? Or Rush Limbaugh thinking one had to take a birth control pill with every act of intercourse? Or the guy who said women could hold an aspirin (I think it was an aspirin.) between their knees to prevent rape. And most recently the state legislator who thought maybe one could swallow a tiny camera so a doctor could see how old the fetus was before an abortion was performed. The list is endless. But NH Rep. Groen really shows the totality of their obsession by introducing the anti-choice agenda during a hearing about raptors. When the inappropriateness of his comments was pointed out and he was asked by leadership to apologize, Groen made the whole thing into a free speech issue.
What was Groen’s reaction to criticism of his comment? “Every time we’re in session the gallery is open, and there are children in the gallery. So, I don’t know, should we limit free speech or should we limit who goes in the gallery?”
Maybe the answer, Rep. Groen, is that on a day when birth control, abortion rights, or Planned Parenthood are being debated it is up to parents to decide if their children should be in the gallery. But not when we are talking about red-tailed hawks.
And while we are on the topic may I ask why Congressional Republican have to add an amendment about abortion to every single piece of legislation? Today I’m talking about the bill concerning trafficking of women, the bill that is holding up the confirmation of Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General. Can we drop that language and pass the bill and confirm Ms. Lynch, please?
Photograph: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Taken by Betty Lemley, New Jersey, February 2008