Laughton ineligible to run for state rep, withdraws from District 31 race in Nashua
NASHUA – State representative candidate Stacie Laughton has officially withdrawn from the election to fill a House seat she vacated in November.
“I spoke to the secretary of state this morning, and they finally got some sort of a statement from the attorney general’s office and only as an opinion, the attorney general feels as though I’m not qualified to run or hold office,” said Laughton, D-Nashua.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner received a signed letter of withdrawal from Laughton on Wednesday, he said.
“We did get from Rep. Gidge a signed statement from Stacie Laughton, so that part of it is completed, and so, there’ll be no need for the Ballot Law Commission to meet on Friday,” Garner said, referring to Rep. Ken Gidge, D-Nashua.
The Ballot Law Commission, a five-member board separate from the secretary of state’s office that is appointed by the Legislature and the governor’s office, was granted the jurisdiction over Laughton’s matter, Attorney General Michael Delaney wrote in his letter to Gardner on Monday.
The commission oversees election-related issues, mostly the qualifications of candidates, and planned to convene Friday to review two complaints from Nashua residents that questioned Laughton’s eligibility as a candidate, Gardner said.
At issue has been Laughton’s criminal record. 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 were unclear on the definition of “final discharge.”
Laughton – the first openly transgendered person elected as a lawmaker in New Hampshire – gave up her House seat nearly three weeks after her victory in the Nov. 6 election. It came after she faced questions about several felonies she committed in Laconia under the name Barry Charles Laughton Jr.
On Monday, Delaney sent Gardner a letter on Laughton’s matter, stating, “the court has retained jurisdiction over the defendant and her sentences have not been fully discharged under the law.”
In 2008, Laughton was sentenced to 7½ to 15 years for conspiracy to commit credit card fraud, suspended pending 10 years of good behavior, and 3½ to seven years for falsifying physical evidence, again suspended after 10 years of good behavior.
She served 12 months, with four months suspended, in the Belknap County jail for conspiracy to commit fraudulent use of a credit card.
The remainder of her sentence remains suspended until 2019.
“According to the terms of all three felony sentences, the defendant is required to remain of good behavior and comply with all terms of the sentencing orders including paying restitution,” Delaney wrote. “Each sentence reserves to the state the possibility of bringing these matters back before the sentencing court to impose any sentence within the legal limits of the underlying offense up to 10 years from July 30, 2008.”
Gardner initially expected Laughton to attend the Ballot Law Commission’s meeting Friday to determine her eligibility, he said, but Laughton opted to withdraw in light of the attorney general’s opinion alone.
“I’m drained,” Laughton said. “I’m a little upset, but now that we know what the attorney general has to say, I’m happy that they finally released their statement.”
Now the race will consist only of a special election between Democrat Pam Brown and Republican Elizabeth Van Twuyver, a repeat contender for the seat. Van Twuyver lost in the Nov. 6 election; since a Democratic primary is no longer needed, they will face off in a special election Feb. 19, rather than April 9.
“The nice part of that is the residents of Ward 4 will have someone representing their interests that much sooner,” Nashua City Clerk Paul Bergeron said Wednesday.
State law requires a special election be held to replace Laughton rather than simply filling the seat with the next highest vote-getter.
Laughton first spoke out against holding an election, saying it would cost too much for taxpayers. But she quickly changed her mind, filing last Friday, assuring a Democratic primary and general election for the seat would be held, putting the tab to replace her at $4,350.
With Laughton’s withdrawal, which makes a primary unnecessary, it will cost the city half that, Bergeron said.
Also likely up for grabs are two selectmen seats in Ward 4, which will assist the Ward 4 clerk and moderator at the special election Feb. 19.
Laughton and ex-wife Lisa Laughton, who was charged with the same felonies Stacie was, are Ward 4 selectmen in Nashua.
They likely will have to give up their seats in light of the attorney general’s opinion.
Selectmen assist at election polls by working the checklist table, or sorting, packing or sealing ballots, among other tasks.
“I’ve forwarded the attorney general’s opinion to our legal department and asked them to review it, but my initial reading of it, and discussion with the secretary of state’s office, it would be appear she would not be eligible to hold public office of any kind – that includes as selectman,” Bergeron said.
If the Laughtons are deemed ineligible to hold office, the third selectman for the ward, G. Anita Perreault, has the authority to appoint replacement selectmen under state law, Bergeron said.
“I suppose, technically, she would appoint one person, then the two would appoint the third,” Bergeron said.
Perreault likely will work with the ward clerk and moderator in Ward 4 to find poll volunteers to do the job until an election to fill the positions is held in November, he added.
Laughton is not the first candidate to bring the filing process about a candidate’s criminal record into question, Gardner said.
There is currently no mechanism to the state’s declaration of candidacy procedures that screens a candidate’s criminal background, despite state law that prohibits convicted felons from running for or holding office.
“We had about 1,500 people file for office in this last election,” Gardner said, “I’m sure there are some people in the Legislature who will probably address this issue or at least discuss it to see whether there should be something additional as part of the filing.”
The news for Laughton on Wednesday wasn’t all negative, although she said she likely won’t run for state representative for another six years, when her term for good behavior is through.
“It allows me to do some other things that I want to do in life,” Laughton said. “I want to go back to school, finish my culinary education, maybe take a few legal courses. I’m going to continue to serve whether it be with the Salvation Army or other places I already currently work with, and I’ll still be at City Hall sharing my opinion.”
Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).