For well over a century, New Hampshire has been solidly conservative — if not solidly Republican.
That is coming to an end.
In some ways, I welcome it. I’ve been a registered independent for most of my life (several years as a Democrat notwithstanding, when I declared to vote for Bill Bradley in 2000 and forgot to un-declare after casting my ballot), and I’ve always been vaguely suspicious of the Republican power structure in New Hampshire. It seemed that they were divided into two factions — the “arrogant rich” and the “arrogant stupid.” (Judd Gregg remains the titular head of the first faction; the second doesn’t have any prominent advocates right now.) For the most part, they did what I thought was right, keeping things mostly in line, but still chafing me on occasion.
Their downfall here, I think, began when the Democrats started running moderate campaigns for governor in the 1990s, while the Republicans kept sending up Arrogant Stupids and Arrogant Riches. It all came to a boil when Craig Benson, co-founder of Cabletron/Enterasys, won the office and pissed off nearly everyone. The Democrats sent up a moderate-to-conservative, and Benson became only the second one-term governor in 78 years.
I voted for in John Lynch in 2004, and again in 2006. I don’t regret either vote for that Democrat, either. Benson was a disaster, and Lynch hadn’t done anything that made me feel he didn’t deserve a second term. (Here in New Hampshire, we think someone should have at least four years as governor, but reserve the right to bounce ’em after two if they screw it up.)
But in 2006, Lynch led a ticket that swept into power. Democrats kept the governorship, added both US House seats, both houses of our legislature, and our Executive Council — as much to their surprise as anyone else’s. (One Democratic Executive Council candidate, John Shea, had so little expectation of winning, he left for a two-week European vacation on election day. He won anyway.) I am convinced that the only reason we still have two Republican senators is because neither Judd Gregg nor John H. Sununu were up for election last year — but Sununu is up next year.
Now, to me, the smart thing for the new Democratic majority to do would be to start pushing their agenda slowly, incrementally. Their hold on power is solid, but not secured. It could all come unraveled in the next election if they go for too much, too fast.
Which is precisely what they’re doing.
This past legislative session has been a big party, fulfilling all the stereotypes of Democrats that the Republicans warned the voters about. The state’s budget went up about 11%. Taxes, fees, and other charges all went up. Civil unions for gay couples flew through the legislature and were signed by the governor in a big ceremony. And the state’s parental-notification law regarding minors having abortions was repealed.
To pay for that hefty budget hike, the legislature raided the state’s education fund surplus, the self-insurance surplus, and the state’s rainy-day fund. It instituted a statewide property tax, hiked vehicle registration fees, raised the cigarette tax, the phone tax, jacked up hunting permits, and instituted a fee for court filings.
Any one of these moves can be argued individually. Hell, I rejoiced at the civil unions bill, and don’t have much of a problem with the cigarette tax. I thought the parental-notification law was a good idea, but it had been ruled unenforceable by the courts anyway.
But to ram them all through all at once, to attempt to check off pretty much everything on the Democrats’ “wish list” in the first six months of their two years guaranteed term, is a hell of a big pill to swallow. A lot of New Hampshirites are going to choke on that one.
I think I might be one of them.
Politically, I like to describe myself as a “militant moderate, with libertarian and libertine leanings.” I also like to believe that a great number of my fellow Granite Staters share my general leanings (while differing on particulars). And I just don’t think that the Democrats’ moves will go down with the voting populace.
At this rate, I feel fairly safe predicting that if the Democrats continue passing all the items on their agenda, the Republicans will reclaim enough offices to retake a good chunk of what they lost last year. And with luck, both state parties will have been properly chastened and act a bit more sensibly.
But these are, after all, politicians. They probably won’t do that.