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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lawmaker apology too little, too late

Did you ever hear a juicy bit of gossip and later repeat it to a close friend? Unless you are a candidate for sainthood, chances are you have done so at least once in your life.

But did you ever take that same piece of unsubstantiated information and repeat it before a roomful of people? As part of your official job? With video equipment recording every moment?

As it turns out, that was just the first monstrous error in judgment committed last week by state Rep. Nancy Elliott, R-Merrimack, who in the span of a few days has gone from being one of 400 members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives to a worldwide celebrity courtesy of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other Web sites – and we don’t mean that in a good way.

That’s what happens when you are recorded during an official government hearing describing in graphic detail how men engage in anal sex; and then compound that bizarre behavior by stating fifth-grade students in Nashua are being shown pictures of naked men engaged in this practice as part of their classroom instruction.

Waiting nearly a week to formally retract that second statement – in what can only be characterized as an unapologetic apology – did little to mute some of the outrage, especially in Nashua education circles.

Elliott made those statements as a member of the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday during a session on HB 1590, which calls for the repeal of same-sex marriage.

A strong supporter of repeal, Elliott made a conscious decision to use the unverified Nashua incident in a bid to persuade her colleagues to support the legislation.

“I heard yesterday from a mother that in fifth grade in Nashua, they were given as part of their classroom instruction naked pictures of two men showing a presentation of anal sex,” she said, a statement she would acknowledge five days later could not be substantiated.

If that weren’t bad enough, she then tried to draw a cause-and-effect relationship between the state’s legalization of gay marriage last year with teaching gay sex in our public schools.

“Because we have made a marriage of same sex, they are now teaching it in public school,” she said. “They are showing our fifth-graders how they can actually perform this kind of sex … They are saying this is normal and this is something that you may want to try.”

Apparently, the committee was not swayed by her warped logic and voted 12-8 to recommend the bill be killed when the full House of Representatives votes today.

What would compel an elected official to make these kind of irresponsible statements? We’re not sure, but it turns out this isn’t the first time we’ve taken Elliott to task over inappropriate remarks.

Last spring, during a debate on a bill that would have granted civil rights protections to the transgender community, Elliott made the following juvenile observation: “I feel really bad for you men when you go to Hooters and get someone other than the little girl with the little shorts.”

Now, if this were just a matter of a lawmaker behaving badly, perhaps it could be rationalized as just that. But it’s impossible to rationalize her decision to accuse the Nashua School District of condoning the teaching of gay sex in fifth-grade classrooms before making any attempt to verify the information.

In fact, as of Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Mark Conrad had still not heard from Elliott, even though he left a message for her Friday morning.

In her statement, Elliott apologized to the House Judiciary Committee, the Nashua School District and “anyone else affected by what I said.”

Conspicuously absent from that list were the voters of Merrimack, who sent her to the Statehouse not once, not twice, but three times to represent their interests in the state capital.

Now that Elliott has turned Merrimack into a punch line for off-color jokes around the world, voters would be wise to think twice before doing that for a fourth time come November.