Senate Bill 500, which dealt with prison reform, became a political football nearly a year ago now; that much has been well-written about, including in this space. It’s not necessarily that the issue won’t die, but it does seem to raise its head from time to time. Maybe this time, though, Gov. John Lynch really put it to bed — but not without making some folks angry.
Lynch endorsed the measure with plenty of bipartisan support. It allowed prisoners, including violent offenders, to be released a few months early under surveillance. The idea was that it provided an opportunity for officials to monitor offenders as they transitioned back into society, whereas previously, when offenders’ sentences ended, they’d simply be released without any way to monitor them. The first few months after release were said to be the most likely time for recidivism. The measure has since been changed in some regards, specifically in regard to violent and sex offenders.
Lynch recently nominated former commissioner of safety Richard Flynn and former Republican House speaker Donna Sytek to the seven-member Adult Parole Board. No one seems to question their credentials. But some are up in arms because the pair would replace two board members, Gregory Crompton and Alan Coburn, who were particularly critical of Senate Bill 500. Members serve five-year terms and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
Republicans have expressed their thoughts on the matter. State GOP Chairman Jack Kimball said in a statement that Sytek and Flynn were qualified candidates. But he didn’t stop there.
“John Lynch chose to put politics above public safety by supporting a seriously flawed law which let felons out of jail early,” Kimball said. “Once he realized it was a horrible mistake, he dismissed the two people who pointed out his critical error instead of doing the honorable thing and owning up to it.”
That seems to sum up the GOP response: first, credit Sytek and Flynn, then criticize Lynch for removing dissenters, for playing politics.
The statements coming out of the governor’s office on the issue suggest he was simply nominating the most qualified people possible. We can’t know whether Lynch had intended to replace the other two all along.
Closing out the issue
The Senate Bill 500 issue seems to have been resolved to some degree. Everyone, Democrats, Republicans alike, wants to reform the prison system — make it less costly, more efficient. Some, including Lynch, would like to see some form of privatization of the system. Maybe Lynch sensed Crompton and Coburn wouldn’t be on his side moving forward.
Crompton and Coburn had wanted more discretion on the board. They got that in Senate Bill 52, which made changes to the law to give the Board discretion specifically in the cases of sexual and violent offenders. Lynch signed that measure. He didn’t veto it. He signed it.
While some, including Cornerstone Action’s Kevin Smith, who has said he’s thinking about running for governor himself, are critical that Lynch is removing dissenting opinions from the board, the all-Republican Executive Council is expected to confirm the new nominees, according to a Concord Monitor article last week.
If that happens, and reportedly a vote could come this week, that probably puts it to bed.
A savvy political move?
But what’s wrong with Lynch’s replacing them? Coburn was nominated for the Board in 2006, and Crompton was nominated in 2009 to fill the rest of Paul Emery’s term. Silencing dissenters kind of cuts against the whole democracy thing, but Lynch isn’t working around the system, he is working right through it. And he’s not required to appoint people who disagree with him.
Politically, it seems like a good move. Sure, Lynch removes two potentially critical voices from the Parole Board, but that’s his right as governor. Coburn and Crompton’s terms were up — it’s not like he tried to remove them early. And in their steads, Sytek and Flynn are both highly regarded — a point that makes it difficult for the opposition to speak too loudly on this.
Flynn became Commissioner of Safety in 1972 and continued in that role until 2007 when Lynch did not re-nominate him. Sytek, the first female speaker of the House in New Hampshire, served as speaker from 1996 to 2000. She also served as chairwoman of the state GOP from 1981 to 1984, and served as a state representative for 23 years.
And Sytek, at least, though she supported Senate Bill 500, certainly isn’t a shoo-in to support anything the Democratic governor proposes. So while it’s possible Lynch is playing said politics, he’s also making it at least somewhat difficult to be critical of his selections as political appointees.