New Hampshire House Democratic leader Cushing dies at 69

State Representative Robert “Renny” Cushing, who staged a massive sit-in against nuclear power in the 1970s and spent decades later advocating for social justice in the State House, has died. He was 69 years old.

Cushing, D-Hampton, who was battling stage 4 prostate cancer, died Monday at his home, the House Democratic Office announced. Even as his illness progressed, he was elected House Democratic leader in late 2020 and told his colleagues he would focus on finding common ground in the fight for the common good.

“You should know your leader’s physical condition. What it does is it actually helps inform my approach to work,” he said as the 2021 session began in a windy parking lot due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I will help work with everyone to create a New Hampshire where justice prevails and everyone is treated with respect.”

First elected to the House in 1996, Cushing was serving his eighth nonconsecutive term at Concord, where he was known for championing progressive causes. He spent more than 20 years trying to repeal the state’s death penalty law, finally winning in 2019 when lawmakers overruled a veto by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

This fight was intensely personal. After Cushing’s father was murdered in 1988, a longtime family friend told him he hoped his father’s killer would “fry”. But Cushing’s opposition to capital punishment only deepened after his defeat.

He founded Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and, as executive director, has traveled the country speaking on behalf of victims against the death penalty.

“If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs and we all lose,” he said on March 7, 2019, during the passage of his House bill, three years a day. for day before his death. “It does nothing to bring our loved ones back. This only widens the circle of violence.

In 2001, he learned from a news article that his father’s killer had attempted to have his murder conviction overturned in federal court. Cushing successfully sued to force the state to keep crime victims and their families informed of homicide cases.

“The victims, already ravaged by the monster, should not be further harmed by the Attorney General’s failure to shed light on his tracks,” Judge Gillian Abramson wrote.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised his dedication and offered their condolences.

“He chose to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Now we have to be brave and follow that flame,” said Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, House Democratic Policy Leader.

“He was a tireless and passionate defender of New Hampshire,” said Senate Speaker Chuck Morse, R-Salem. “His service to the Tribunal has made a real difference and he will be greatly missed.”

Cushing was also a co-founder of the Clamshell Alliance, a coalition of New England anti-nuclear groups that organized what became a galvanizing moment for their movement. On April 10, 1977, he was among more than 1,400 protesters arrested at the nuclear power plant project site in Seabrook, a small coastal town on the Massachusetts border. Although subsequent protests by dissident groups turned violent, the earlier sit-in was peaceful and served as a model for other anti-nuclear campaigns across the United States.

Both sides claimed victory. The plant was built, but it was commissioned a decade late and billions over budget, and the country stopped building new ones for more than two decades.

“I think more people are realizing the consequences of the nuclear age,” Cushing said at a rally marking the protest’s 10th anniversary. “People who didn’t consider themselves activists wake up and say, ‘I was fooled. Nuclear energy is neither clean nor safe. ”

In recent years, Cushing has championed the legalization of medical marijuana, drinking water standards, and the construction of a secure mental institution to serve patients currently held in a correctional unit. As the coronavirus spread, he waged an unsuccessful legal fight to allow lawmakers with serious health conditions to participate in legislative sessions remotely.

“We are going to be forced to have people put their lives unnecessarily at risk in order to fulfill their responsibilities as lawmakers,” Cushing said last year. “It’s not about personality. It’s not about politics. It’s about public health.”

Representative David Cote, the interim Democratic leader, said Cushing never put himself first, even during his battle with cancer. Cushing took time off just five days before his death.

“While anyone else would have set aside all but his personal concerns, Renny never shied away from his dedication to the progressive causes that had been his lifeblood, nor in his service to the people of New Hampshire and the community. institution of the House,” Cote said. “He was a citizen of New Hampshire, but also a citizen of the world, who loved humanity both individually and in the abstract. He held no grudges but took no prisoners. He lived by the ideals of justice and mercy.

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