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Friday, November 30, 2012

Felon lawmaker Laughton calls it quits on TV Thursday, parallels Tom Alciere

NASHUA – Stacie Laughton, who made history this month as the country’s first openly transgendered candidate to win a seat in a state Legislature, signed a letter to give up her post Thursday, calling it a “tragic end.”

“I am deeply saddened that it had to come to this,” Laughton said, “but as I said earlier this resignation is in the best interest of myself, my party, the citizens of my district, and I’d even go as far as to say the state of New Hampshire as a whole. My wish is that we can just move on from here.” ...

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NASHUA – Stacie Laughton, who made history this month as the country’s first openly transgendered candidate to win a seat in a state Legislature, signed a letter to give up her post Thursday, calling it a “tragic end.”

“I am deeply saddened that it had to come to this,” Laughton said, “but as I said earlier this resignation is in the best interest of myself, my party, the citizens of my district, and I’d even go as far as to say the state of New Hampshire as a whole. My wish is that we can just move on from here.”

Laughton joined Nashua state Rep. Ken Gidge during his Access Nashua show “Gidge’s World” to announce the final decision, after she had wavered back and forth about giving up the seat after news surfaced that she had served several felony convictions under the name Barry Charles Laughton, Jr.

Former WSMN radio disc jockey Gidge also hosted a show a decade ago when embattled state Rep. Tom Alciere tearfully resigned. Like Laughton, Alciere was also elected by voters in Ward 4.

In January 2001, Alciere bowed to intense pressure and resigned his seat after published reports revealed he advocated the killing of police officers. He did not express those views during a campaign, he said, because no one asked.

Gidge, who represents Ward 6 in Nashua, said he would deliver Laughton’s letter to the secretary of state’s office for her.

After announcing she would give up her seat on Tuesday, Laughton reconsidered signing a letter of resignation Wednesday, waiting for an attorney general determination as to whether she had violated a state statute by running.

“I believe I would’ve made a brilliant state representative and I believe that my ideas were great, the information I ran on, I believe, was apt and to the point …” Laughton said, “but given the climate of how this has taken on a life of its own, if it’s found that I am legally eligible to serve, I don’t believe over the next two years I could get anything done.”

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.”

In 2008, Laughton was sentenced 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 falsifying physical evidence – again suspended to 10 years for good behavior.

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. The remainder of her sentence remains suspended until 2019.

Laughton, who serves as selectman for Ward 4 along with her ex-wife Lisa Laughton – who was charged similarly in the incidents – still has not made up her mind about that position, which, in Nashua, assists Election Day polls by working the checklist table, or sorting, packing or sealing ballots, among other tasks.

Laughton worked the Ward 4 polls when she was elected on Nov. 6, but was prohibited from handling ballots or going near ballot counters. She assisted with voter affidavits, she said.

But given Laughton’s decision to give up her District 31 seat, Nashua’s Board of Aldermen must decide how to move forward to find a replacement.

They could schedule a special election for a make-up vote to find a replacement – at which Laughton could potentially serve as selectmen, depending on the attorney general’s determination of her eligibility.

“I don’t think it would be a conflict of interest anymore because I would have no dog in the fight anymore, if you will,” Laughton said. “It will just be me, in my independent role, which Nashua selectmen are nonpartisan positions so I have to go in there with an independent mind and follow the laws and the rules and regulations that are set forth by state and federal law, so I don’t think it would be a conflict of interest.”

As of Thursday, the attorney general’s office is still investigating Laughton’s matter.

“I anticipate that this office will issue a letter probably before the end of the week,” senior assistant attorney general Michael Brown said Thursday afternoon. “Tuesday I think there’s the organizational day (for the state legislature), so at the very latest this would go out early Monday morning.”

In hindsight, Laughton still touted the historic gains she made for the transgender community, and regretted the fact that she would not be able to pursue legislation on behalf of gays, lesbians and transgenders, as she had planned to do.

But Laughton said her transgender status had little or nothing to do with her decision to hold onto her seat earlier this week – or to give it up Thursday.

“I spent very little on my campaign and I had maximum reach,” Laughton said.

And there isn’t much she would have done differently in her campaign, she said.

“I don’t know how much more I would’ve promoted the fact that I have a background,” Laughton said. “I know I may have been a little bit more open about it so more people could have known so there never would have been any question to anyone whether I may or may not have deceived anyone.”

Laughton maintains that she didn’t know she could have been violating state law by running for the House seat. And she said the state doesn’t need to alter its policies in order to check candidates’ backgrounds.

Despite state law, officials are not required to perform criminal background checks on candidates, and those filing to run for office are not asked to answer anything about their criminal history.

Laughton said the law in her case could be clearer, but she was against the idea of candidates undergoing criminal background checks in order to run for office.

“I think we should leave it to someone’s moral character or moralness to be honest with the voters like I was,” Laughton said. “The ones that did ask were informed.”

Although her road to Concord ended before she wanted it to, Laughton said she is still honored to have inspired others, and resigning the seat did not change the historic gains she made for the transgender community.

And one local impact on a transgender girl specifically sticks out in her mind, she said.

“This third grader and her family live in my district and I’ve been on the phone with them every day since this started,” Laughton said. “It is my understanding that she hadn’t informed any of her friends of her gender identity … and once this little girl heard of me, she went ahead and told her mother, ‘I want to tell my friends and I want to tell my teachers who I really am.’ And she did that with no complications and she cited to her mother that she did that because of me.”

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Gill
on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).