Change is com­ing to stead­fast New Hamp­shire

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

Some 47 of the last 56 gover­nors of this state have been Re­pub­li­cans. For six decades, ev­ery ma­jor-party nom­i­nee for statewide of­fice has pledged not to sup­port a sales or in­come tax.

For 340 years, New Hamp­shire has del­e­gated ma­jor pow­ers -- par­dons, con­tracts, nom­i­na­tions -- to a body called the Executive Coun­cil that has few ana­logues in the other 49 states. This is the only state that has never num­bered high­way ex­its by miles.

The more things change else­where, the more they re­main the same here.

Un­til now. Just six weeks be­fore this quirky state -- rich in scenic by­ways, cheap in gov­ern­ment spend­ing -- takes cen­ter stage in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics by con­duct­ing the first pri­mary in the con­test for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, New Hamp­shire is over­run with White House can­di­dates who are promis­ing change, some of it dra­matic.

But a state where po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates used to print plac­ards that had taglines boast­ing they were “Hon­est.


Con­ser­va­tive” is it­self un­der­go­ing change.

A state that voted

Re­pub­li­can in 28 of the 34 elec­tions be­tween 1856 and

1988 -- be­tween GOP nom­i­nees John C.

Fre­mont and Ge­orge H.W. Bush

-- has given its elec­toral votes to a Demo­crat in six of the last seven pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. A state that once was so iso­lated that home­own­ers in Grafton County in north­west­ern New Hamp­shire got only one tele­vi­sion sta­tion now are awash in cable TV and in­ter­net in­for­ma­tion. The state that once lived by colo­nial-era Blue Laws that shut­tered busi­nesses on Sun­days is a ver­i­ta­ble van­ity fair of com­merce, with fac­tory out­lets in this com­mu­nity open only one hour less on Sun­days than on Mon­days.

A state Robert Frost -- who boasted “I suppose I’ve slept in more towns in New Hamp­shire than you’ve ever heard of” -- saw as a cen­ter of what his New Hamp­shire-born bi­og­ra­pher Lawrance Thomp­son listed as its “cities and towns and vil­lages and moun­tains and lakes” now con­ducts al­most all of its pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics in its cities, leav­ing its towns, vil­lages, moun­tains and lakes play­ing a role only as scenic back­ground.

Those towns and vil­lages and moun­tains and lakes re­main, and it is still pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially in Fe­bru­ary pri­mary sea­son, to have the sort of ex­pe­ri­ence Frost cel­e­brated in the poem “Good Hours”:

I had for my win­ter evening walk No one at all with whom to talk, But I had the cot­tages in a row Up to their shin­ing eyes in snow. But the state that sits at the ge­o­graph­i­cal cen­ter of New Eng­land and that in­vented Old Home Week -- an 1899 gu­ber­na­to­rial in­vi­ta­tion from Frank West Rollins for the state’s na­tives to re­turn to their jagged home­land that helped seal New Hamp­shire’s iden­tity of Yankee farm­ers liv­ing in neat com­mu­ni­ties with green town com­mons and whites­teepled churches -- no longer is al­most en­tirely pop­u­lated by peo­ple of English and French Cana­dian ex­trac­tion. (Many of the lat­ter flooded into the state in the late 19th cen­tury to work in tex­tile mills along the Mer­ri­mack, Salmon Falls and Con­necti­cut rivers.) To­day only 42% of New Hamp­shire res­i­dents were born here, a rate of in-state na­tive pop­u­la­tion far less than that for the

New Eng­land re­gion (58%) or for the coun­try as a whole (59%).

Jere Daniell, the revered re­tired Dart­mouth his­to­rian, racon­teur and mas­ter of all things New Hamp­shire, once ar­gued that the ge­o­log­i­cal cu­rios­ity known as the Old Man of the Moun­tain -- an out­crop­ping that looked eerily like the old Yankee of New Hamp­shire myth cel­e­brated by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Web­ster -- was “a re­veal­ing fu­sion of land­scape and per­sona in the Gran­ite State.” The Old Man en­dures on road signs and on the state’s li­cense plates, but it crumbled to the ground nearly 17 years ago.

These changes are more than the fact that state game war­dens no longer pay a 25-cent bounty for each por­cu­pine nose -- the no­tion of count­ing noses has an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mean­ing at pri­mary time

-- or the fact that the shoe, tex­tile and wood-prod­uct in­dus­tries that dom­i­nated the state’s econ­omy in 1850 dis­ap­peared more than a half cen­tury ago. The late Hugh Gregg, who served be­tween 1953 and 1955, once told me, in a ref­er­ence to his years as gov­er­nor: “The econ­omy back then was a lot like the way it had been a cen­tury ear­lier. There was no new in­dus­try. The state was pretty re­mote. Auto travel was very dif­fi­cult.”

None of that is true to­day. Nor are the cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics of the state. Only a com­mit­ted nos­tal­gist knows that Clare­mont, on the Con­necti­cut, once had an opera house and a Rose­land dance hall where Tommy Dorsey played reg­u­larly. Mr. Dorsey, whose sig­na­ture tune was “I’m Get­ting Sen­ti­men­tal Over You,” died 26 years be­fore Pete But­tigieg was born.

Two decades ago New Hamp­shire ranked 15th among the states in the per­cent­age of its pop­u­la­tion with a col­lege de­gree (27%). To­day it ranks sec­ond, with 36% of its res­i­dents pos­sess­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or higher. That ed­u­ca­tion-heavy pro­file is only grow­ing more dis­tinct; be­tween 2013 and 2017, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased in Novem­ber by the Carsey School of Public Pol­icy at the Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire, 16,000 peo­ple with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or higher moved here while 11,500 with­out a BA left the state. “Even dur­ing the worst of the [2008] re­ces­sion,” the re­port said, “New Hamp­shire had a net gain of migrants with a col­lege de­gree or more, but the state’s gain has ac­cel­er­ated in the post-re­ces­sion­ary pe­riod.”

Even the fac­tor that poses the great­est dan­ger to New Hamp­shire’s fa­vored place at the front of the pa­rade of pri­maries -- the peren­nial com­plaint that the state lacks diver­sity and thus is an im­proper place for such promi­nence -- is chang­ing, though only mod­estly. While only 6% of the state’s pop­u­la­tion is for­eign­born, far less than the 13% na­tion­wide, the mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion has dou­bled since the be­gin­ning of the new cen­tury, now reach­ing 136,000 peo­ple, about a tenth of the pop­u­la­tion. But growth among mi­nori­ties ac­counted for two-thirds of the en­tire in­crease in the state’s pop­u­la­tion.

So when the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates talk about new ideas in this old state, they are not try­ing to per­suade the pop­u­la­tion. They are try­ing to ap­peal to the pop­u­la­tion. That, above all, makes pol­i­tics dis­tinc­tive in this elec­tion year.


David M. Shribman is the for­mer executive ed­i­tor of the Pitts­burgh Postgazett­e. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at Shrib­manpg.


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