New Hampshire State Rep. David Bates, chairman of the House Election Law Committee and supporter of the state’s controversial ‘birther’ bill told TPM he can’t say for certain where President Barack Obama was born. “I don’t know where the guy was born, I don’t care,” Bates said in a phone interview on Friday. He later hedged, saying he had to accept that Obama was born in the United States because he didn’t “have any evidence to the contrary.”
The proposed legislation, which was unanimously defeated in committee on Wednesday, would have required candidates competing in New Hampshire’s presidential primary to provide their long-form birth certificates.
While Bates maintains the bill had nothing to do with President Obama—the amended bill wouldn’t have gone into effect until 2013 and thus wouldn’t have impacted the next presidential election—he said members of the committee were concerned with the political ramifications of passing such a measure. “There was significant pressure coming down from the Republican leadership,” he said.
He said his reasons for supporting the bill were to ensure individuals who aren’t qualified to appear on the ballot don’t somehow sneak on. Bates cited an instance in 2007 when an Egyptian-born citizen filed to be included on a New Hampshire primary ballot. When Deputy Secretary of State, David Scanlan, was flipping through Mohammad’s campaign literature, he noticed it said Mohammad was born in Egypt. Scanlan contacted Mohammad to tell him he was ineligible to run for president. “He genuinely sounded surprised and unaware of the requirement that he had to be born in this country,” Scanlan said. “He probably would have ended up on the ballot.”
Since the measure was introduced, Bates says he’s received an outpouring of support from constituents. He admitted some of the positive feedback may have come from the “birther” crowd. “Perhaps some of those who are supporting this legislation, support because they have doubts about [Obama’s] legitimacy. I’m sure there’s a number [of people] who still question whether the president is a natural-born citizen. To me, that is irrelevant,” he said.
He hit back at lawmakers who had criticized the bill in claiming it could endanger New Hampshire’s coveted position as the first state to hold primaries. “The hysterical claims that we are going to jeopardize the first in the nation primary, it’s just utter nonsense,” he said.
While it’s dead in the water for now, Bates said the bill may be introduced again next year. “I’m fascinated to see what kind of response there is,” he said, calling the controversy over the measure “absolutely tragic” and unnecessary.