On Wednesday, not long after a 62-year-old New Hampshire man who took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol walked out of a courtroom with a slap on the wrist called probation, the Republicans who control the New Hampshire Executive Council showed that political intimidation works.
At least Thomas Gallagher, whose presentencing report suggested he had been watching “too much Fox News” leading up to the insurrection, had the decency to apologize for being part of the mob of thousands who invaded the Capitol to try to stop Congress from formally recognizing the election of President Biden.
So what’s the excuse for the four Republicans who sit on the five-member Executive Council? They rewarded the outlandish and menacing behavior of anti-vaccine demonstrators by caving into their demands, refusing to accept $27 million in federal money that would help vaccinate the most vulnerable Granite Staters.
Just two weeks ago, the Executive Council meeting to debate the $27 million grant was canceled after an angry crowd of anti-vaxxers began chanting “Shut it down!”
Some in that mob took it to another level, telling councilors who might consider accepting the funding, “We know where you live!” The state’s attorney general is investigating those threats.
So, in response to such blatant intimidation, what did the four Republicans on the Executive Council do?
They gave the mob exactly what it wanted.
A video feed of the meeting showed a raucous gathering, where nine demonstrators were arrested for disorderly conduct. One of the anti-vaxxers held a sign reading, helpfully, “The Final Variant Is Called Communism.”
The Republican councilors ignored their fellow Republican, Governor Chris Sununu, who urged them to accept the federal money, which would have paid for COVID-19 vaccinations for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, including the homebound. Lori Shibinette, the state’s health commissioner, said the grant money was needed not only to vaccinate those who haven’t been vaccinated or those who needed a booster shot but also to reduce the burden on primary care providers.
The council has approved similar grants throughout the pandemic.
So, what changed? Anti-vaxxers have organized to pressure lawmakers by portraying acceptance of federal funds as a Faustian pact that would force the state to mandate vaccines and mask-wearing.
But the biggest change is that, after being threatened by an angry mob, the four Republican councilors weren’t prepared to face them down, choosing instead to offer phony-baloney excuses for rejecting the money.
Councilor Joe Kenney said he voted no because he opposes vaccine mandates being imposed on private employers. Councilor David Wheeler said he voted no because he opposed the state’s new vaccine registry.
But neither the vaccine registry nor private employer mandates have anything to do with the $27 million in federal money.
Sununu reminded the councilors they had voted for other grant contracts with identical language. Kenney insisted the government has no right to tell private employers what to do, which probably came as news to federal inspectors who work for OSHA and the FAA.
“I appreciate you have reservations,” the governor told Kenney, “but they are based on fantasy.”
But if the insurrection of Jan. 6 and those who continue the “Big Lie” that Donald Trump won the presidential election have proved anything, it’s that fantasy is a successful political strategy. And if the angry crowd that forced the cancellation of the Executive Council meeting two weeks ago proved anything, it’s that intimidating and threatening politicians and the democratic process works.
Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat on the Executive Council, cast the only vote to accept the $27 million. She told her colleagues they were siding with a misinformed minority, noting that 70 percent of New Hampshire residents have been vaccinated.
“A vote against this funding is guided by politics and not by the public health of the people of our state,” Warmington said.
Hers was a voice in the wilderness — a wilderness increasingly dominated by the loudest and most intimidating voices.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.