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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nashua Ward 4 state rep.-elect Laughton to resign post

CONCORD – State Rep.-elect Stacie Laughton, a Nashua Democrat who did not disclose her criminal history while running for office this fall, plans to give up her seat in the state Legislature.

“After a lot of thought and after talking with the state party chair and my Democratic caucus director, I’ve decided to resign my position of state representative-elect,” Laughton said Tuesday. ...

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CONCORD – State Rep.-elect Stacie Laughton, a Nashua Democrat who did not disclose her criminal history while running for office this fall, plans to give up her seat in the state Legislature.

“After a lot of thought and after talking with the state party chair and my Democratic caucus director, I’ve decided to resign my position of state representative-elect,” Laughton said Tuesday.

“As far as the stuff that’s been going on up until now, and with that in mind, I’ve decided to resign for now, and leave my options open for future political office,” she added. “There’s been a lot of negative news that’s been published about me as far as what I’ve done in my past.”

The Laconia Daily Sun and The Telegraph first reported last week that Laughton served four months in jail in 2008 on charges of conspiracy to commit credit card fraud. But, Laughton, known until December 2010 as Barry Charles Jr., failed to acknowledge her criminal history to voters, drawing criticism and calls for her resignation from Republican lawmakers and political leaders.

Before Laughton’s announcement, Wayne MacDonald, chairman of the state Republican committee, demanded her resignation, saying Laughton’s district deserves someone “who will be fully up front and honest with them.”

Laughton, the first transgender lawmaker elected in New Hampshire, can’t formally resign her post, as she has not yet been sworn in. But with questions surrounding the state’s reporting requirements, she plans to draft a letter this week to the secretary of state, declining to accept the seat, Laughton said.

State law prohibits convicted felons from running for or holding office until their final discharge from prison. But, legal professionals and political leaders across the state aren’t clear on the definition of “final discharge.”

Initially, Laughton was sentenced in 2008 to 7½ to 15 years for conspiracy to commit credit card fraud – all suspended pending 10 years of good behavior, and 3½ to seven years for the falsifying physical evidence – again suspended to 10 years good behavior. The two suspended sentences were concurrent.

She was sentenced to serve 12 months with four months suspended in the Belknap County Department of Corrections for conspiracy to commit fraudulent use of a credit card.

Republican leaders contend that Laughton’s sentencing agreement required a probation period of 10 years of good behavior. “They’re trying to say, technically, it means I haven’t had a final discharge,” Laughton said.

But, in the prison system, officials consider final discharge to be when the convict is released, not when parole expires, according to Jeff Lyons, the Department of Corrections spokesman.

“(Convicts) can run for office or vote while on probation or parole. The issue is confinement,” Lyons said Tuesday. “As far as we’re concerned, (Laughton) is no longer under our supervision.”

Still, investigators from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office are looking into the matter to see if Laughton abided by the law. “This is kind of a perfect juxtaposition of sentencing law and election law,” said Michael Brown, a senior attorney general. “We’re looking into the matter. … We have yet to make a determination.”

Despite the state investigation, Laughton hesitated to resign at first.

As recently as Tuesday morning, she had posted on her personal Facebook page: “What (sic) did anyone think I was going to give up. Not a chance. That is not in my nature. We move forward and we do not give up or give in.”

But around 1 p.m., Laughton said, she learned that violations of state requirements were in question.

“We’re trying to get that clarified,” she said. “But now, to try to get some of the bad press to stop being generated … now I’ve decided to resign and leave my options open for future runs for office. Because it’s been spreading more than just in the state, its been getting some national attention.”

If she broke any laws, it wasn’t done intentionally, Laughton said.

“A lot of my supporters did know, and the ones that didn’t know, they didn’t ask,” Laughton said, referring to her criminal past. “I would’ve been more than happy to discuss it with them if they had asked me if I had any criminal background … I don’t feel as though that I ever deceived anyone, but for those that feel as though that they were deceived, I am truly sorry and that was never my intention.”

News of her announcement prompted a quick response from Raymond Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, saying Democratic leaders “will stay focused on the work they were sent there by voters to do: move New Hampshire and our economy forward.”

Laughton filed to run for state representative at Nashua’s city clerk’s office, which is not required by state law to perform criminal background checks on candidates.

“There’s no process. There’s also apparently no restrictions under state law,” Nashua City Clerk Paul Bergeron said. “I suppose it’s conceivable that someone might not have met the standard of final discharge, and I would have no idea how we would determine that.”

Once Laughton gives up her seat, it will be up to the Nashua Board of Aldermen to determine how to move forward. The aldermen, charged with arranging the city’s elections, could schedule a make-up vote to find Laughton’s replacement, according to Karen Wadsworth, clerk of the House of Representatives. But, the board also could decline to hold the election to save costs, leaving the 400-seat House with 399 representatives throughout the term, Wadsworth said.

“I would definitely want a special election for someone to fill it. I wouldn’t want someone appointed,” Ward 4 Alderman Art Craffey said.

On Nov. 6, Laughton won one of three seats in the state House of Representatives in Ward 4, joining Democrats David Cote and Mary Gorman. She garnered 1,588 votes, easily beating two Republican candidates.

“It would be very difficult for her to be an effective legislator with this issue that’s been raised,” said Mayor Donnalee Lozeau on Tuesday. “I’m quite certain that her goal was to be an effective legislator.”

Also to be determined is whether Laughton and her ex-wife Lisa – who also faced charges in the incidents, Laughton said – will have to resign their posts as Ward 4 selectmen.

Meanwhile, Laughton said she hopes her decision to give up her House seat does not discourage other members of the transgender community from running for office in New Hampshire.

“For those who have considered it, go ahead and run and continue the movement,” Laughton said. “But as far as for me right now, it puts a halt in my political plans. But the state hasn’t seen the last from me and moving forward, I think this position … it’s possible that I will run for it again.”

Representatives from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a legal group in Boston, and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBT candidates to political office, declined to comment for this story.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashua