UPDATE: LINDA HARRIOT-GATHRIGHT WINS HER PRIMARY EDGING OUT HER REPUBLICAN IN DEMOCRAT DISGUISE CHALLENGER, DAVE ROBERTSON.
Congratulations Linda! Now on with the race!
Thursday, September 8th I met with Linda Harriot-Gathright in her home in Nashua. She is running for State Rep in Nashua’s Ward 9 (Hillsborough District 36). Linda is being challenged in this primary by a Republican, Dave Robertson who has switched his party affiliation this race. Linda notes further down that if he had not jumped into the race, she would not have had a primary challenger.
How long have you been in New Hampshire?
“I came here in 1979, thirty-seven years ago.”
What has your career been?
“I’m retired from Verizon, after thirty-four and a half years. When I left there I was a manager for DSL Services, support organization, process and procedures for trouble-shooting. I started at as a teller in PA, I started as a teller with the Ma Bell – AT&T, way back then in the 70’s. I pretty much did it all, payroll, business office, you name it.”
What brought you to New Hampshire?
“My husband, he was working in PA and he took a job with Ralph Lauren clothing, Polo, they were out of Lawrence, Mass and I worked for Bell of PA so it was easy for me to transfer to a New England town. So that’s what we did and here we are. It was just supposed to be two years, I’d go back to school and we’d move to South Carolina and raise the children, so here we are thirty-seven years later.”
So what brought you into politics?
“Good question, I would say I worked with an organization and chaired it for a while, Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity and we began to do things in the school system because people complaining about what was happening to children in the school. So we began to deal with the police department here in Nashua and in the school system in Nashua. The organization still exists today. I’m just not a chair, but I’m still part of the organization.
“So I took a lot of time off, like my vacation time, to be a part of the community in order to represent African-Americans at the table for when the city was having meetings and everyone that works during the day for the city, I would take vacation time and go to those meetings. So I sit back and look back at those years and I wonder, ‘How did you do that, how were you able to do that?’ But I do remember a time when I didn’t have that much vacation and the kids would be upset because my vacation time was gone and they wanted to do vacation.
“So anyway, through the years I worked very closely with that organization and other organizations in the city to make any changes necessary and support other organizations and what they were trying to do, particularly with others that were coming to the state, of color, basically. I still never considered that politics to be honest with you, I just figured that was my responsibility I mean basically.
“In 2005 I had a ruptured brain aneurysm and stayed in intensive care for 21 days in Boston. I was able to walk out of that and still go back to work six months later. By the time they split me open, clipped it, put my skull back together and all that stuff, I realized how fortunate I was and how blessed I was to truly be alive and let alone could still walk and talk and all those good things and I think my faith really kicked in at that time because the whole situation at that time, especially considering how it all happened – that I got there in a snowstorm, then the doctor was the chair of the Aneurysm Society of Massachusetts.
“So it was kind of like the moment my head hurt, to that surgery to me coming back to New Hampshire a month later, I knew there was something else that I was missing, there was more to the story. I actually used to pray quite a bit and I used to say, ‘I know there’s something that you want me to do, I have no clue but I know you didn’t leave me here for nothing, there’s something.’ And ironically the chair of the Democratic Party here was resigning and I’d been in Nashua for years and years and nobody asked me to attend a Democrat meeting or anything.
“I got a call from Harvey Keye and he said, ‘Linda I need help,’ and said for what? ‘I need your help as a secretary,’ and I said, ‘for what Harvey?’ and he said ‘Well they voted me in as chair of the Nashua Dems but I’m going to surprise them because they think that I can’t do this and all the other people that were secretary and vice chair all got up and resigned at that point and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So I attended a meeting with him and it was me, him and whoever was left and that was supposed to be the Nashua Dems and that’s how I got involved.
“Then before I knew it there was meetings and there was twenty-five people coming and thirty people coming … he really did a superb job of building the group here, including people. And he said to me, ‘I’ve been attending these meetings for years and I’m the only one that looks like me,’ you know so that’s how I really got involved, through Harvey. Then sitting at the table, being the secretary and taking the notes and all that good stuff then meeting Betty Lasky and others at the time. Deb Pignatelli, I’ve known her for years. We have the Martin Luther King breakfast we give every year and she’s always attended for her son.
“So one day we were sitting and she said, ‘You need to run for state rep.’ and I said [laughing] ‘Why would I do that?’ You know, I said with what I’m doing and she said ‘Linda we really need you at the table up in Concord.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t think so.’ I didn’t really see myself being that involved in politics and I really felt that way.
“So anyway they convinced me and that that was the right thing to do and once I got there I would understand why I needed to be there and they were so right. I ran in 2010, I didn’t get in but I would have been next in line had I got in. That was the Republican sweep at the time and only 3 Democrats [in Nashua] kept their seats that year. So in 2012 I ran and got in. In 2014 I ran in my Ward. In my Ward there’s three seats I was the only one that lost, the other two won. You might have seen the blue signs coming in with Ohm, that’s who I lost to, a Republican.
“However I was really upset with everyone because basically this thing called the ‘bullet’ – it means you run together because there was three of us. That shows up in the poll when you have three people running and other people will get say, I think I had 130 votes and then the next Democrat had 230 and the other had 250. That says there was a disconnect there with us. When I went around I looked for out for everybody, you know I said, ‘Vote for all three of us.’
“We talked about that and others had that happen. So this time I around, I was asked to run and I had already made up my mind that I would definitely run again because I believe I think it’s very important and I should be there to help sway Concord. So I ended up with a primary this time which is disgusting because the Republican ran as a Democrat this time, that’s why I have a primary. Dave Robertson was a Republican in 2010 and 2014 and this time around he’s listed as a Democrat and that’s why we ended up with a primary. I ran against him when I won in 2012.”
Do you think he’s a Free Stater?
“I don’t know, I just really don’t know for sure.”
Are you familiar with the Free Staters?
“Yeah, there were two. I had served on the criminal justice committee and believe it or not the two to my right were Free Staters and it was horrible. I reported one of them several times because he brandished his weapon at me, [my shocked expression]. Oh yeah, oh yeah. When I didn’t believe the way they believed, it’s a whole nuther ballgame. But they’re no longer there because one was arrested.”
You mean Tasker?
“Yeah, that’s right, it was Tasker yeah. Another we had a case with another one of his weapons.”
How did he brandish a gun at you?
“We were doing the marijuana issue and I did not want marijuana to become legal, I wanted marijuana to become legal as far as possession.”
“Decriminalized, right, that way. But he was different, so because I didn’t believe the way he believed and I was the one doing the speech on the floor, he came over to me in our little area there, we have like a little office there. And that afternoon I was supposed to present on the floor and he says, ‘Uh, we’re going to just tear you up up there and on and on.’ And meanwhile I’m looking at him like he’s crazy and you’re not supposed to show your weapon at all. “You are supposed to have it covered at all times alright and so I said ‘you know what, I said excuse me, ‘and he said, ‘you watch, you watch, you’re gonna get it. ‘
“So he’s threatening how he’s going to act toward me when I’m testifying on the floor and then the second time around, the other Free Stater was off, because he sat two seats from seats from – I can’t think of his name right now. But they were very good friends, he was tall and into real estate.
“So he was off that day, so we never change seats – you always sit in your seat. I turned around this way and he was almost in my space and he had taken off his jacket and when I looked, when I turned around all I could see was him and his gun, alright and I’m like, ‘Excuse me,’ I said, you’re supposed to have a jacket on and ‘Why are you so close to me?’ you know because he was in my space and so our chairperson said, ‘Tasker get out! Get your jacket on right now!’ and she apologized to me for his actions. But he was always doing something and he always smelled like marijuana so when they were talking about it in the newspaper that one of the state reps said he smelled like marijuana, he always did, that was well known. You know that was his business, but I didn’t like the way he acted.”
While you were in state house the last session you were in? What was one thing you were proud of accomplishing?
“I like when we finally got the bill for the Affordable Care Act, I think that was a major step forward for New Hampshire, what I really wanted to get done but it didn’t happen on my watch either was having a minimum wage.”
Let’s go into social issues a little, especially issues that many progressives and Democrats have thought were settled issues. Do you support Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to choose?
“I definitely support Planned Parenthood definitely and as for choice; I feel that’s a choice for any woman, that’s a personal choice.”
Do support sex education in the schools?
“I think it should be in the schools, not to take it away from the parents at some point there are things that kids need to know whether they are getting it from their parents or not because we live in a world where everyone is so knowledgeable. My grandkids are very good on the computer. If I put my Ipad down my granddaughter will pick it up and she can get on the internet and find anything she wants; that’s not the way kids are supposed to learn. I believe that between the schools and the parents that we should educate our children.”
Gay Rights Marriage – Equality in marriage?
“I would defend it – I think again that’s a choice I should not make for someone else.”
Support keeping Medicaid expansion in place?
Would you support a national or state healthcare system?
“Yes, I think I would as long as it would cover everyone, without a doubt.”
“I support funding education and I think teachers should have a decent pay. I’m a substitute teacher now and I do K-12 in Nashua and I see a lot and now a days children are different. I don’t know that they’re any wiser than we were I think they are more vocal than my generation would have been, which forces teachers to be more tolerant because this is a new age of young people.”
Racism/Diversity – How do you see yourself having an impact on that as a state rep?
“Firstly, with ESL or any of that, you have to have the workforce and that’s where I think Nashua, Manchester, Portsmouth –there is a shortage of available qualified ESL teachers. What happens in the classroom is that you might have another student interpreting for the student – to the teacher, for the teacher. That I find to be sad personally that a teacher would have to rely on another student to teach that child. I believe it has to do with the law that a child has to be in school but right now we’re not really set up and I’m not sure what it’s going to take except that we need qualified teachers and in order to get qualified teachers, you have to pay them and we have to have the benefits that go with them because people aren’t just going to come for nothing. I’m sure there are teachers coming out of colleges all across the United States and we need to figure out some sort of way to get them over here in some of our towns to work with our children.
“Another reality, there’s a lot of immigrants, those that come here from other countries; they come here with degrees as well, some of them are teachers, some of them are doctors and whatever it might be, but I think it behooves us, particularly with teachers – and I don’t know how it would work, but we might even use some of them in these situations. You might even be able to seek volunteers to come into the schools to resolve those situations.
“I would be open to pretty much anything that people want to talk about you know, making life easier for the school system and for the students. So anything that goes on up there I would be all game for it.”
Would you be interested in looking to rail development?
“Absolutely, I always wish we had rail. Before I retired my office was at 185 Franklin in Boston, I hated it and I hated that traveling and most of the years I worked in Massachusetts and I was one of those who had to drive and it was awful. I remember at one point I used to drive to Lowell and get on the train, but then that makes for a long day – to drive down, get on the train, then ride back and drive home. It [rail] should have happened a long time ago. I don’t understand why we don’t have it.”
You had talked about be willing to look at bringing back the minimum wage in the state?
Would you consider as well removing the tipped wage?
“That is ridiculous and I remember hearing that on the floor and I was really surprised. When I leave a tip I leave them cash because that way they get cash straight out.”
Right to Work – where do you stand on that?
“Oh yeah Right to Work for less” I was a steward, Local 2320 IBEW and chief steward I used go to down for arbitration in Boston. Years ago back in the 80’s. Kit Bradburry, Marty Fitzpatrick were the union presidents back then. No brainer, I’d vote against it. Even when I was a manager and the workers were on strike I’d bring the pizza and the water to the strikers.
“Then I remember when I was on strike, oh geez. That was awful, my husband and I weren’t together and I had two kids in private school. I sold a lot of stock back then. I did take a part-time job in Lechmere at customer service. That was a long strike, I think we were out for like four or five months.”
What was it over?
“Benefits, it was about keeping the insurance, the company paid all your insurance, we didn’t have to pay for insurance back and then. Also, we had a pension that the company was trying to change and that was the first time when the company was trying to make all that change and that’s why we were out so long. I remember that some people really suffered. Some people lost their homes, I was way behind but I didn’t lose my home. But we won that fight we kept the pension and all that.
“When I left to go into management I lost my pension, but I’ve had friends that were non-management and they didn’t lose their pension. I’ve always said, ‘You stay out there because you don’t want to lose your pension and you don’t want to have to pay part of your insurance because, once I went into management I lost the pension and had to pay part of my insurance. So there was really no incentive to go into management.
“In the communications industry it was difficult to get fired, I mean you really had to do something I mean like steal from the company or something. But even if you were an alcoholic or on drugs you had the opportunity to go to medical in Boston and get into some type of program. The union fought for all that. You know I always felt that in telecommunications that the union was very strong.”
You take a minute and think that kind of stability helps people to buy home, helps neighborhoods to become more stable.
“It really is and I say that because of the union, I really believe if the communication companies did not have a union people would not be as well off as they are today or be able to take care of their families and the pay scale was always great in terms that, as a new employee in the communications world, say every six months you’d get a bump in pay, so you had something to look forward to and plan on.”
Today people are scared of getting fired when they are in non-union companies and that’s the way the companies want it.
“Absolutely, absolutely and I tell young people today, get into the communications industry, start where you need to start whether its repair or where ever it is, get in there, you have a better opportunity for a stable life and a prosperous life. Or just get into something union.”
Bringing jobs to New Hampshire? What else do you think would help out? What could you do as a state legislator?
“I know that’s there’s quite a few taxes that companies pay.”
Which leads us into revenue. For some people it’s hard to settle here because the cost of property ownership is so high. Do you think that our tax structure hurts us or helps us? Because we have all these great ideas as progressives, but how do we pay for it?
“I remember something that was sent to me. It talks about across the country on the average we’re low on non-property tax and business taxes, but high on property tax. However when you add it all together, we’re still running around the same as everyone is across the country, no lower or higher. Now should we lower our property taxes or increase business taxes? I don’t really know the answer to that. I pay my taxes now on my property once a year and I’ll tell you right now every year it gets a little harder to pay that tax.”
Do see yourself as progressive politically?
“What is considered progressive? When I look at what I believe in what might be progressive, I believe in fair wages, I believe in women’s rights, I believe in a great educational system. I think I believe in the same things as progressive values.”
You were saying that police were one of your core issues?
“Yes, always because there’s always been complaints, particularly with African Americans here. More recently with our new chief of police Andy Lavoie, he sat down with the community, we have an organization called Nashua Community Conversation on Race and Justice so back in May in 2015 we had literally had a community conversation, it was advertised in the newspaper and some of the radio stations and approximately 200 people came out and that was because of all the things that were happening throughout the United States and we were afraid something was going to explode here.
“I had a couple of grandsons that every time they turned around they were getting stopped, it was just real crazy. So when this new chief came on board we invited him to the Martin Luther King breakfast that year, 2015 in January and he accepted and he brought his deputy chief and he paid to get in – it wasn’t a freebie and it was very moving for him. After that I said to him, we need to have a conversation on race and justice here.
“So in May, we started what was known as the Nashua Community Conversation on Race and Justice, NCCRJ and Sylvia’s [Sylvia Gale, state rep candidate] part of this group as well and she’s a part of the team. Approximately twenty people are part of the team, there’s police representation, there’s non-profit representation, representation from the mayor’s office, service organizations … anyway, long story short, 200 people came out, the mayor spoke, the Chief of Police spoke and I spoke representing the community.
“In my speech I spoke about twenty situations where different people of color, Indian, African-American, Hispanic, immigrants, about situations of their stops with police. Just a short sentence, gave the identity of the person just by first name and told what transpired and what happened with the police department. At that time they were really upset about it and that set the stage for the tables – we had approximately 15 tables and one police officer at each table and this was all about the community getting to know them and the police getting to know the community and we had African-American males there, at least ten. Of course given where we live it was predominantly Caucasian but that was ok because we had representation from everybody there, even from the faith based community.
“So that was all beginning and from that we have now started ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ It came out of the mayor’s office, he needed an organizational committee to get that started. So he came to the NCCJ and we agreed so six of us served on that MBK committee, Sylvia, myself and some others and we’re planning an event in November where we hope to have some of the NBA players and a some sports figures, African-American, Hispanic and meet some of the high school and college and African-American males and Spanish males here. So we’ve already connected with the high schools. We have three high schools on board, Bishop Guertin, Nashua North and South ten students per school and the college, Daniel Webster, Rivier, SNHU and the Community College.
“What we hope to get out of this is that more African-American males will step up and be mentors. Because that’s lacking here. But they’re here, we need to get them a little more involved. Because when you think about it we’re in the system at a higher rate, so even if they’re getting someone and even if they want an African-American and we believe that all children should have mentors, it doesn’t matter what their color is. You get a certain child that you know will need a little more and that might be something to come from an African-American male whatever the reason might be.
“We had a major non-profit leader that had a Spanish kid that he mentored and he’s reached out to us; he felt that he was missing something with this kid and he said ‘I’d really like to see if he can meet an African-American male that might match with this kid, ‘ because he said, ‘We’re missing it.’ Just the fact that was he was able to feel that there was a disconnect you know, that’s progress.
“So we’re trying in Nashua and I do find that the police department is very open. I can say that in Nashua if they stop someone of color then they want everyone out the car and on the curb and that’s not right and by law they are not supposed to do that but that’s what they’ve been doing. I have told them that they are getting better but I have heard that they have asked for visas and the rest from everyone in the car, I’m like ‘Are you kidding me? That’s illegal.’ Now they’ve been called on the carpet about that and so things are beginning to change here. I’ve heard comments from other people saying the same thing.”
So in closing, why should people vote for you?
“I believe that I care, I care about New Hampshire. I do love New Hampshire and I’ve been here most of my life and New Hampshire home to me, I’m 67, this home for me and my children and grandchildren and I want to make sure we prosper as a state. If we do it educationally, we’ll be fine economically. We have to make we have the best education for children and equal access to all of it. Those are my goals and that’s why you should vote for me.”
Ballotpedia – Linda Harriot-Gathright