What Conflict of Interest?

New Hampshire prides itself on having a part-time legislature and pays its lawmakers only $200 plus per diem for a two-year term. So it’s necessary for them to maintain their full-time jobs elsewhere.

Scott McGilvray was elected to the New Hampshire state senate last November and decided to keep his regular job as president of NEA New Hampshire, the state teachers’ union.

His Republican opponent made much of McGilvray’s potential for conflicts of interest when education policy or budget matters come before the senate, but McGilvray addressed it head-on. Here are a couple of questions New Hampshire Public Radio asked him:

Would you vote on a bill the NEA was lobbying for?

If it was a conflict of interest in a personal way, then we’re going to have cross that bridge when it comes.

What do you mean when you say a conflict of interest in a personal way?

For instance, I’m part of the state retirement system. My wife is, too. I shouldn’t be voting on a retirement bill that would affect my pension. Advocating for education and our public schools I don’t believe is a conflict of interest. If we had to turn around and do something that would affect the salary and benefits of school district employees, then I would need to take a look at that then. I certainly will vet (bills) with the Senate majority and minority leader as well as legal counsel. I’ve already talked to all of them about this. And we’re going to have to see as we go.

New Hampshire law requires legislators to disclose conflicts of interest, but leaves it up to individuals whether to recuse themselves from votes.

McGilvray was put to the test almost immediately, as a bill was introduced to make New Hampshire a right-to-work state. He followed the law, formally declaring he was the president of a union that charged agency fees.

He then voted against the bill, which passed the senate anyway, 12-11.

In his NHPR interview, McGilvray seemed to draw the line at whether a bill would affect his personal compensation. Aside from its effects on the economy of New Hampshire, a right-to-work law would certainly have an effect on the current and future membership levels of NEA New Hampshire, which pays McGilvray about $200,000 annually in compensation.

But it’s only a conflict if you fail to represent your constituency, and McGilvray clearly knows who that is.