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Renny Cushing was first elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1996.

Legislating to the End: Rep. Renny Cushing Dies 5 Days After Leave

By Lisa Ryckman | March 14, 2022 | State Legislatures News | Print

Cushing

Robert Cushing Sr. was murdered in 1988 by a cop with a grudge.

But his eldest son held none. When others suggested the killer should pay with his life, Robert “Renny” Cushing Jr. said he was honoring his father’s memory by working as a state representative to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.

“If we let those who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs—and we all lose,” Cushing said. “That does nothing to bring back our loved ones. All it does is widen the circle of violence.”

Thirty years after his father’s death, Cushing finally succeeded. A bipartisan vote overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto in 2019 to make New Hampshire the 21st state to end the death penalty.

He was a passionate and dedicated public servant—never afraid to take on controversial issues for the sake of bettering this great state. —New Hampshire House Speaker Sherman Packard

Cushing died at his home on March 7, just five days after taking a leave as House Democratic leader because of advanced prostate cancer. He was 69.

Cushing was born in Portsmouth, N.H., one of eight children. His parents were both teachers.

He was a founding member of the Clamshell Alliance, formed in the mid-1970s to oppose the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. In 1998, Cushing became executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, which promoted reconciliation between families and offenders. He later became executive director of an organization he co-founded, Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, which sought to end capital punishment around the world. 

‘Making the World Better’

Cushing served in the New Hampshire House for eight nonconsecutive terms, starting in 1996. He worked with NCSL’s Standing Committee on Law, Criminal Justice and Public Safety and helped legislators from across the country on issues such as victims’ rights, capital punishment and juvenile justice.

“He was highly respected amongst his peers in the House and throughout the state of New Hampshire,” said House Speaker Sherman Packard (R). “He was a passionate and dedicated public servant—never afraid to take on controversial issues for the sake of bettering this great state.”

Rep. Marjorie Smith, House Democratic policy leader, said Cushing “devoted his life to making the world better. He chose to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.”

Mental health advocates who praised Cushing’s dedication to helping the “forgotten population of mentally ill individuals in prison” suggested that a new secure psychiatric hospital be named for him.

His family, however, said Cushing never sought such recognition and would not have wanted it.

“Renny never put himself first, and that was never more obvious than in his valiant fight against cancer,” acting House Minority Leader David Cote (D) said. “When anyone else would have put aside all but personal concerns, Renny never retreated from devotion to the progressive causes that had been his lifeblood, or from his service to the people of New Hampshire and the institution of the House.”

Lisa Ryckman is NCSL’s associate director of communications.

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