Letters to the Editor • Opinion
The coronavirus might not be the worst of it
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New Hampshire lawmaker switches parties, joining Democrats because of GOP views on vaccines and masks

ICU nurse Heidi Kukla, center, sits next to a snow pile as she is injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine outside a hospital in Manchester, N.H., in December. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

A New Hampshire state representative “reluctantly” switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic on Tuesday, citing state Republicans’ opposition to masks and coronavirus vaccines.

Rep. William Marsh said party extremists are edging out moderates like him, and that he had planned quietly to retire but felt his hand was forced by what he called Republicans’ refusal to take reasonable health precautions.

“Politics, I'm afraid, is a team sport,” he told The Washington Post. “You’ve got to work with other people, and if nobody's interested in what you have to say, you might as well go home.”

Marsh’s announcement comes as the nation faces a new surge of coronavirus cases fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant. Daily numbers are rising across the country, including in the Granite State, where infections have increased 16 percent from last week and deaths are up 36 percent.

Marsh, an ophthalmologist who has served as his town’s health officer for 20 years, said his tipping point was when New Hampshire House Republicans organized a rally Tuesday opposing President Biden’s new vaccine mandates for federal and private-sector workers. Marsh has repeatedly identified public health as his top legislative priority.

GOP condemnation of Biden coronavirus mandate fuels concern other vaccine requirements could be targeted

“It’s not in the interest of the public to allow covid to spread in New Hampshire as it has in Florida,” Marsh said. “I’m a doctor first, so I stood up for my patients and said, ‘I’m done with this.’ And I left.”

Most Republicans across the nation have denounced vaccine and mask mandates, especially as the prospect of requiring face coverings and inoculations has grown increasingly political.

At a news conference Tuesday before the rally, Republican House leaders questioned the constitutionality of vaccine mandates. Anti-vaccine protesters, some clad in Trump and QAnon gear, criticized the party for not reacting more dramatically to Biden’s mandates.

Marsh said precedent supports the constitutionality of mandates, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that allowed a mask mandate at Indiana University to stand.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has condemned the mandates as what he called federal overreach, saying, “I am as pro-vaccine as it gets, but I do not support this mandate from Washington, as it is not the answer.”

New Hampshire House Speaker Sherman Packard (R) said in a statement that Marsh misunderstood Tuesday’s news conference, which Packard said was to speak out against “unconstitutional mandates and executive orders.”

“Anyone choosing to get vaccinated should, and we have the resources available here in N.H.,” Packard’s statement said. “Nobody should be forced to get vaccinated, that is not the correct way to go about this issue.”

But Marsh said he would not “stand idly by while extremists reject the reasonable precautions of vaccinations and masks.”

Biden vaccine mandate pulls workplace safety agency to center of political storm

“I have come to realize a majority of Republicans, both locally and in the New Hampshire House, hold values which no longer reflect traditional Republican values,” he said in a statement. “And so I am recognizing the reality that today’s Republican Party is no longer the party I first joined when campaigning for President Reagan many years ago.”

Previously, Marsh has openly lambasted Republican leadership over covid-19 safety measures.

When House Speaker Dick Hinch (R) died of covid-19 in December, Marsh tweeted, “Those in our caucus who refused to take precautions are responsible for Dick Hinch’s death.”

He also gave a speech in early June opposing an amendment that he said would have restricted New Hampshire’s ability to control the spread of the coronavirus. Marsh said that after the speech, the party pushed him out of his role as vice chair of the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee.

He said that within minutes of his announcement about switching parties Tuesday, he was removed from his newer post on the Election Law Committee.

Marsh said he does not expect to fit in any better with the Democrats than with the Republicans but does not see a third party as a viable option.

“At the end of the day, I may decide that retirement is a better deal than politics, but it’s been an interesting ride,” he said.

Read more:

U.S. covid death toll hits 1,500 a day amid delta scourge

As breakthrough covid infections rise, nursing home chains require that staffers be vaccinated

New Hampshire’s GOP governor blasts anti-maskers after House speaker dies of covid-19: ‘Don’t act like a bunch of children’