House Majority Leader Pete Silva, R-Nashua, is calling on newly elected State Rep. Stacie Laughton, D-Nashua, to resign her post after "not coming clean" with constituents about her past conviction in 2008 for credit card fraud, for which she served four months in Belknap County House of Corrections.
That news came over the weekend in a story published by the Laconia Daily Sun. The Daily Sun's Gail Ober, who wrote the story, said that while Laughton's criminal history was well known in Laconia, she was unaware Laughton was running for office in Nashua until after the election results came in.
"None of us realized it until two or three days after the election," Ober said. "I also didn't realize he'd legally changed his name to Stacie Laughton."
Laughton made headlines after announcing her candidacy in June, for being the first openly transgender candidate. Her successful election made her the state's first transgender elected official.
Laughton served a little more than four months of a 1-year sentence, from July to November of 2008, and two years probation, which ended in Nov. 2010, according to Jeff Lyons, public information officer for the state Department of Corrections.
Lyons also said Laughton makes regular payments on the $1,991.54 she was ordered to pay in restitution for her crime.
Legally, there is no restriction in New Hampshire against convicted felons from running for office or voting, according to the state Voting Code.
In an exclusive interview on Nov. 24 with Nashua Patch, Laughton said she had expected her past to come to light sooner, and was prepared to field questions from constituents and the media.
"I didn't feel it was necessary to tell [constituents], but I felt like if it came to light – which it has – I was going to be honest. I was prepared for it to come out during the campaign," Laughton said. "I don't want to step down; I want to serve the people – that's all I've wanted to do, and regardless of my past, I can do it and serve them."
Laughton also said she is trying to put her past behind her.
"I know we live in a society where they say once you're a felon and shouldn't be able to work here, or there. But people get out of jail, every day, and we spend so much to rehabilitate them. I just want to prove myself," Laughton said.
However, in the statement issued by Silva Monday morning, he cites Laughton's lack of transparency as the issue.
“It is unfortunate that Ms. Laughton did not come clean with the voters of her district during the election process. If I lived in the district, I would be extremely disappointed to learn, just days after the election, that my neighborhood was going to be represented by a person that only 4 years ago was convicted of a felony charge involving conspiracy and fraud and served time in prison," wrote Silva.
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"While I believe in a person’s ability to be rehabilitated and become a productive member of the community, I also believe it is a candidate’s duty to fully disclose their personal history to allow the voters an opportunity to make an informed decision. Ms. Laughton failed to give the voters of her district that very basic amount of trust and respect. Lawmakers should hold themselves to a higher standard and Ms. Laughton has already failed the voters of her district by not being forthright with them. Ms. Laughton should step down immediately in order to allow for an election process where voters are given the opportunity to evaluate candidates through an open and transparent process; something they were denied on November 6th."
Silva called on “Democratic leaders including Rep. Terri Norelli, Chairman Ray Buckley and Governor-Elect Maggie Hassan," to "realize the injustice being done to the people of Nashua’s Ward 4" and join with Republicans in asking Laughton to "step down immediately.”
Laughton made headlines as the first openly transgender elected official in New Hampshire. Her conviction and jail time was served while she was living in Laconia as a man, under the name Barry Laughton Jr.
She has since changed her name and begun the physical process of transitioning to a female identity.
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley did issue the following response to Silva just after noon on Monday:
"The outgoing Majority Leader needs to accept the defeat dealt to him on November 6th and come to terms with the fact that he only has two weeks left in office as Bill O'Brien's chief lieutenant. The people have spoken and they roundly rejected Bill O'Brien and Pete Silva's extreme agenda and it is now time to move New Hampshire forward, away from their divisive policies and tactics that moved us backwards for two years."
On Sunday, Nashua City Democratic Committee Chairman David Tencza said he was not prepared to comment on the question of Laughton's status or a call for resignation until having the chance to speak directly with Laughton. He said the news of her past in Laconia was not previously known to city party members.
He also said that based on the information included in the Laconia Daily Sun story, there did not seem to be a legal basis for Laughton to have to resign.
On Monday, Nashua's Ward 4 Alderman, Art Craffey, said he has yet to field a phone call from a Ward 4 resident on the Laughton issue – but personally, he agrees with Silva, that Laughton should have disclosed her full background to voters before the election.
"I have mixed feelings about this. I do know her personally, I've gotten to know her over the course of a few months, and I wish she had made it known up front. It would've affected the way people view her, and it makes it look like she's trying to hide something – a politician trying to hide something makes constituents suspicious," Craffey said.
"As an elected representative, you can't lose the people's trust and, to me, this becomes a trust issue," he said.
Craffey, a second-term Republican alderman, also believes that even had she disclosed her past, Laughton would have won in Ward 4 – a "huge Democratic ward."
But he does not believe Laughton should resign.
"It's too late for that. The she won the election, fair and square, and did what she was supposed to do. Now she's going to have to earn the trust, not only of the people she represents, but her fellow state representatives," Craffey said.
"I'm afraid people are going to wonder what else they don't know. When you go into politics, everything is fair game. I find it's always best to be up front and honest," Craffey said.
"And it two years she'll have to face the people again. People have long memories. They don't forget dishonesty. Look at Ted Kennedy – he did a lot of great things while he was in office, but when you say Ted Kennedy, the first thing people say is 'Chappaquiddick.' That's just how it is."