Guest columnist Janice Gardner is an AKC judge and club president, legislative liaison, and delegate for the Rockingham County Kennel Club (NH). She shares her experience as a recently-elected member of the New Hampshire state legislature
New Hampshire General Court Representative and purebred dog fancier Janice S. Gardner.
Photo courtesy J. Gardner.
"The Honorable Janice S. Gardner, New Hampshire General Court, Representative — Strafford 15, Member of the Environment & Agriculture Committee.”
Sort of a mouthful, isn't it? That is my official title following the swearing-in ceremony at the New Hampshire state capitol on December 5, 2012. So how did I come to be a state legislator? Here’s my story:
I am a new member of the New Hampshire General Court. I represent the citizens of Dover, NH's Ward 3, Strafford County 15th District, in the NH House of Representatives.
You may have heard that the NH House of Representatives is the third largest deliberative body in the world. What you may not know is that our pay, as well as the number of representatives (424 total), was established by the state constitution — written in 1744. At that time $200 was considered good pay for a three-month legislative session every other year. Today, the session lasts six months every year and we still get that wonderful $200, whether we want it or not. That rate of pay essentially equates to being a volunteer. It goes without saying members of the NH General Court do not take this job for the money!
My call to action
Last year, the deadline to file candidacy was June 5. On June 4, I confirmed that the candidate for office in my ward was not only a dedicated animal rights extremist, but her other views were also not what I wanted to live with. On June 5, I filed my candidacy.
It immediately became clear that my opponent had access to and intended to spend a great deal of money to win the election — far more than I was able to spend. Historically, candidates for the NH House have rarely spent more than $500 on their candidacy. Reputedly, she spent more than $10,000. I raised enough money for a careful, frugal campaign, and was also fortunate to receive a contribution from the AKC Political Action Committee.
I was blessed to receive excellent advice from five very experienced people who had each campaigned successfully in the past, and I was able to build a group of a dozen supporters who agreed to help. They wrote letters to area newspapers and helped address many hundreds of envelopes for the two mailings I sent to area voters. I also sent a personal letter to about 80 people who I believed were politically aware and who had, over the past few years, discussed with me their concerns about bad legislation and/or the rights of animal owners.
Ultimately, and to my great surprise, I won the election with more than 70% of the total vote. My first legislative session began on January 2 and will continue until late June. We will convene again in January through May of 2014.
Taking a stand on animal issues
I attended legislative training events in November and December of 2012. I received good advice about committee selection, and when asked to cite three committee choices, I listed my choice three times. Based on my résumé, my experience, and on this wise advice, I was assigned to the committee I requested — the House Environment & Agriculture (E&A) Committee, which hears all the animal bills for the legislature. I have been appointed permanent chair of the division of the E&A committee that focuses on anything bearing on animal ownership, care, abuse or neglect, breeding, sales, etc. It’s just where I wanted to be, and where my experience will prove most useful.
The E&A committee has met weekly so far. All meetings are open to the public, whether hearings or sub-committee meetings. One of our bills, HB 110, attracted 68 animal extremists who testified against it for almost seven hours. We had all the national biggies present: HSUS (national and regional), ASPCA (national), Mercy for Animals (national), and the NH Animal Rights League, among many other groups. Testifying in favor of the bill were members of the NH Farm Bureau, six dairy farmers and two horsemen. The bill specifically refers to livestock, but the testimony in opposition encompassed all species. Much heat, but not much light, ensued.
This bill would require that anyone who witnesses an act of cruelty to livestock must report it to law enforcement within 24 hours. The bill sponsor's goal is to stop cruelty or abuse when and where it happens, not to allow it to continue while the animal suffers or until the animal's possible death.
You may wonder, why would anyone object to that? If your practice is to record an incident, then seek repeated occasions for further recording and editing over time with the ultimate goal being a fund-raising or PR campaign, then I guess you would object to this bill. I am chair of the sub-committee in charge of HB 110. My sub-committee voted the bill “ought to pass” by 7-1. However, because the AR’s were able to influence many House members, we concluded that the bill would be killed when it was voted by the entire House. Therefore, we opted to hold the bill in committee for further work while we attempt to change minds. Our re-worked bill will return in January 2014, when it will pass.
A challenge for responsible dog owners
I have been asked why I would want to be a legislator. My response is: why would anyone who values their animals and their chosen life-style NOT do this? The "politicking" in real-world politics is not unlike or any more complicated, time-consuming, or risky than what most who read this do every time they enter a show, apply to judge, or work to put on an event. The skills are easily transferable, the hours are generally much fewer, the cash investment is definitely less, and one drives far fewer miles than when chasing points on a new show prospect.
I refuse to listen to "I couldn't possibly do this," "it's too hard,” “it’s too expensive" or "I don't have time." I publically declare that I am not a political genius — I do not have a super-abundance of free time, money, or other resources. If I can do this, so can you.
It’s important to get involved on behalf of the dogs we love. Would you prefer to wait until we have no more purpose-bred dogs to protect? If you cannot run for office, there are other ways to take part in the political process. You can seek out, befriend and support candidates who share your values, propose and obtain sponsorship for good and reasonable laws, and strongly oppose laws that infringe upon your rights and freedoms. Click here to read about my involvement in passing legislation in NH well before becoming a legislator myself that led to passage of a federal law which allows residents of subsidized housing to keep a companion animal.
Should anyone reading this decide to become a candidate for any public office, I would be pleased to offer whatever help and suggestions I can. Just ask.
Janice S. Gardner
New Hampshire House of Representatives / Environment & Agriculture Committee
107 North Main Street
Concord, New Hampshire, 03301