The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New Hampshire, where the fourth-graders behave and the state legislators don’t

The New Hampshire Statehouse in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
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Some New Hampshire fourth-graders got their first taste of rough-and-tumble politics.

A group of 9- and 10-year-olds from Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls proposed a bill last week to make the red-tailed hawk their state raptor. Legislators shot it down — one attempting to turn it into an abortion debate.

The students worked during class time to craft House Bill 373 to give their feathered friend some notoriety. The purpose was really to give them a better understanding of how a bill becomes law. They got some sponsors and pushed it through the House’s environment and agriculture committee. On Thursday, they took a field trip to the statehouse, some 50 miles from school, and watched from the gallery to see what would happen on the floor.

The bill was defeated 133 to 160, but it was the way it was killed that took some by surprise.

“I realize this may put me in hot water with fourth grader teachers and students in our state,” State Rep. Christy Bartlett (D-Concord) said, according to CBS Boston. “I understand and encourage engaging all residents in the governmental process, but would ask that consideration be given to more pressing matters on which we must debate both in our committees and in the full house during our budget year.”

The real zinger came from State Rep. Warren Groen (R-Rochester), who used the red-tailed hawk as a metaphor for a pro-choice lobby.

He 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,” he added, “is it would make a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”

Lincoln Akerman School principal Mark Deblois told the Associated Press parents have been calling the school, saying their children are asking what Planned Parenthood is and why it was brought up in a conversation about a hawk.

“None of the kids got those [abortion] references,” he told the news agency. “Fortunately they didn’t, because it’s such a disgusting reference.”

Since then, Groen has come under harsh criticism for his remarks and has spoken out to explain them.

“I think that perfectly describes how a baby is aborted,” he told NH1 News. “It’s torn limb from limb.”

So, it seems, Groen’s question becomes not whether the statement was inappropriate, but whether the children should have been there to hear it.

“Every time we’re in session the gallery is open, and there are children in the gallery,” he added. “So, I don’t know, should we limit free speech or should we limit who goes in the gallery?”

Indeed, many disagreed with the comments made from the House floor last week, but most concluded the bird shouldn’t represent the state.

“Bottom line: If we keep bringing more of these bills, and bills, and bills forward that really I think we shouldn’t have in front of us, we’ll be picking a state hot dog next,” State Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown) told the news station.