Social media comments anger GOP’s Speaker Pro Tem as she recovers from COVID-19

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NH State Rep. Kimberly Rice. Photo/Hudson-Litchfield Rotary


House Speaker Pro Tem Kimberly Rice of Hudson said she is tired of being attacked on social media as some kind of horrible person for coming down with COVID-19 and for being a Republican.

Rice said she tried to stay away from the comments on Twitter and Facebook saying they were from people who don’t know her or her work in the legislature on behalf of New Hampshire’s children or the fact that she has been adamant about wearing a face mask.

“I feel like I’m being attacked,” Rice said Sunday when reached by phone. She coughed frequently during the call and said she has been hit harder than some because she also has asthma.

“I’m not a horrible person. I respect everyone,” Rice said, angry that people are making assumptions about her and all Republicans because some are opposed to wearing masks as if they deserve sickness. “What kills me is I wear the mask.”

On Saturday, Rice announced on social media that she has COVID-19 and asked for prayers, saying she felt horrible and was having difficulty breathing.

“This has been one of the toughest weeks I think I’ve ever had. I will beat covid… I’m logging off again because being on here is not good for my health. This post is also not a platform for anyone to debate covid, if you feel the need for that please keep it on your wall not mine because I’m too busy struggling to breath (sic) to fight with anyone,” Rice wrote.

In response to a story about Rice contracting the virus on NHPR’s Facebook page, one woman wrote: “The republican “lawmakers”, who refused to wear a mask are shameful and disrespectful of others.”

Another wrote: “Maskholes proud of yourselves now? Freedumb to die and endanger your families and neighbors. Leaders of the flock.”

It’s also difficult for Rice because House Speaker Dick Hinch, who appointed her Speaker Pro Tem,  was also a good friend, someone with whom she shared mutual respect.

“I loved Dick. He was my very good friend,” Rice said.

Hinch, 71, died of COVID-19 Wednesday at his home in Merrimack a week after being sworn into the House Speaker’s position.

“Dick was a man who dedicated his life in service to others. Whether as a Navy veteran, politician, or charitable advocate, his was a life dedicated to making things better for others. He was a strong supporter of the Nashua Soup Kitchen, Children of Fallen Patriots, and numerous other charitable organizations,” his obituary said.

“His final words as Speaker reflect his true character. ‘We may have different ideas, but we all want to do what we believe is right, and there is nothing political or partisan about that.’” His full obituary can be read here: rivetfuneralhome.com

Rice said she is careful about wearing her mask.

“I have a purse full of masks and hand sanitizer,” Rice said.

She attended the House GOP caucus on Nov. 20 indoors at McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester after which several lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19, but said that was weeks ago and there is no way to know where she was infected.

“I have family members, this could have come from anywhere,” Rice said.

Rice is personally in favor of masks, but said she also has to respect legislators who are opposed because there are so many different studies on their value, it is hard to know which ones to believe.

But she was upset by comments that she says imply Republicans deserve to get sick because they are science deniers.

On Organization Day at UNH on Dec. 2, she said she wore her mask and did not sit in the maskless section, also known as the Liberty Section, where about 80 Republican House members sat.

Rice is isolating in her bedroom to avoid infecting her family. Family members did take the test for the virus that was offered Saturday to legislators, staffers and their families in the wake of Hinch’s death, she said.

“I have been to Hawaii and back during the pandemic with no illness,” Rice said, adding she is now taking a number of medicines to help with her illness.

She worries about the anger in social media comments. “Everything is so polarized. It’s unfortunate that people don’t see we actually do work together.”

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Nancy West

PublisherInDepthNH.org

Nancy West is publisher of InDepthNH.org.