LACONIA — "These are bad people looking to do bad things," declared Belknap County Commissioner Ed Philpot of Laconia, referring to what he called "the very extreme political element" within the Republican Party, who have gained a commanding presence among the 18 members of the Belknap County House Delegation.
Speaking to some three dozen Belknap County Democrats gathered for their annual picnic at Leavitt Park Thursday evening, Philpot praised his fellow commissioners — John Thomas of Belmont and Steve Nedeau of Meredith, both Republicans — as "good, honest, hardworking people with their hearts in the right place and working in the right direction. It's an honor to serve with them," he said.
But, alluding to the strife between the commission and the delegation over the county budget, Philpot likened those in the leadership of the delegation, on which Republicans hold 13 of the 18 seats, to the radical faction of the GOP that has fomented partisan strife nationally. These people, he said, "want to kill government, want government to go away" and finding it difficult and expensive to succeed at the national and state levels, have turned to local government, where it "cheap, easy and frankly where people are not paying attention."
"They are the tip of the spear here on the ground," Philpot said, "and where they are successful, like in Belknap County, they have every intention of screwing it up. Think about what is happening here," he continued. "This is not happening by accident."
"We've got a struggle now," Philpot said, alluding to the rifts between the commission and the delegation over the management of the county budget and the future of the county jail. He went on to defend the work of the commission for budgeting responsibly without tax increases, reducing the average daily population at the jail, achieving an unblemished rating at the nursing home, planning for a community corrections facility and maintaining a sound relationship with county employees.. The commission, he vowed, will continue to act in the best interests of the county and "go back to the delegation with a budget that's right. How that will shake out, we'll see."
Philpot's remarks contrasted sharply with those of State Rep. Steve Shurtleff of Concord, the Assistant Majority Leader in the House who, while acknowledging "this is not our father's Republican Party, spoke of the "bipartisan support" for a state budget that increased funding for those with mental health issues and developmental disabilities as well as higher education and health care.
Senator Andrew Hosmer of Laconia said that after recapturing the majority in the House, gaining near parity in the Senate and winning the governorship, Democrats "returned civility to the Statehouse and ended the war on education, the war on hospitals, the war on women and the war on the disabled. Like Shurtleff, he pictured the budget as a bipartisan compromise, conceding "it's not perfect. It was messy. But, we got some things we didn't have before. We're starting to see the changes we promised," he said.