Last Thursday, fourth graders from Hampton Falls, New Hampshire visited their state legislature to observe a bit of democracy in action. The children had previously proposed House Bill 373, establishing the Red Tail Hawk as the New Hampshire State Raptor, as part of a civics lesson in how bills become laws. Their measure had already sailed out of the Environmental and Agriculture Committee. Now the young students gathered in the House galley to watch their bill pass its next hurdle.
But the nine and ten-year-olds were in for a brutal lesson in realpolitik. At the start of the day, legislators turned and applauded to children for coming to the statehouse. When lawmakers began to consider the bill, however, Republican Rep. Warren Groen—who has devoted his career to combating abortion and marriage equality—took the floor to denounce the Red Tail Hawk. "It grasps [its prey] with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb," he explained as the children watched. "And I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood."
Rep. John Burt, another Republican, also castigated the effort to name an official state raptor. "Bottom line," he said, "if we keep bringing more of these bills, and bills, and bills forward that really I think we shouldn't have in front of us, we'll be picking a state hot dog next."
A number of other legislators, it seems, shared Burt's and Groen's concerns: Ultimately, the House killed the bill by a 133-160 vote. In the end, New Hampshire's lawmakers may have crushed the dreams of several fourth graders. But in fairness, the legislators probably gave the students a better lesson in the realities of American democracy than their teacher ever could have hoped.