Vaccine fighting shakes New Hampshire politics
Republican Representative Ken Weyler was known in the New Hampshire Statehouse for rejecting the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines and opposing tens of millions of dollars in federal funds to promote vaccinations.
“But when Weyler, 79, a retired commercial pilot and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who chaired the powerful legislature’s tax committee, sent a 52-page report comparing vaccines to ‘organized mass murder,’ Republican leaders were forced to act. .
âI don’t know anyone who agrees with that. This is absolute madness, âsaid Republican House Speaker Sherman Packard, who quickly accepted Weyler’s resignation from his committee post.
The episode was particularly acute in New Hampshire, where the previous House speaker died of COVID-19 last year.
A year and a half after the start of the pandemic, surveys show Republicans less worried about the threat of COVID-19 or its variants, less confident in science, less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats and independents and more opposed to vaccine mandates.
It’s a combination of views that comes with obvious health risks – and potential political consequences. In a place like New Hampshire, where Republicans hope to regain congressional seats next year, politicians with marginal views risk distracting voters from the party’s agenda, chasing independents and moderates.
The risk is particularly clear in âLive Free or Dieâ in New Hampshire, where the vaccine fight has activated the libertarian wing of the GOP. Divisions have the potential to dominate the Republican primaries next year.
“What I am wondering over the next year or so is whether all of this is just the tip of the iceberg or the whole iceberg,” said Dante Scala, professor of political science at the ‘University of New Hampshire.
Republican Governor Chris Sununu has been widely praised for his handling of the pandemic, but has also been criticized by conservative critics. They pushed back his state of emergency, which imposed limits on business operations and public gatherings, often staging rowdy protests, some at his home.
Sununu, who is considering a Senate bid next year against Democratic U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, joined other Republican leaders in opposing a federal mandate on vaccines. But that did little to appease his critics, who repeatedly shouted at his fellow Republicans at a press conference last month to protest the federal mandate.
A September Gallup poll found that 57% of Democrats are very or somewhat worried about contracting the coronavirus compared to 18% of Republicans. Democrats are also more confident that vaccines will protect against newer variants and more confident in the science – 79% versus 45% of Republicans.