All my life, I've had a fairly consistent image of New Hampshire's politics. We were a conservative state. That meant that we tended to elect Republicans, but when given a choice between a too-conservative or otherwise unacceptable Republican, we'd go Democrat just to keep the GOP on their toes. We've had a couple of Democratic governors, but they got their breaks when the Republicans put up a hard-line ideologue and an arrogant technocrat.
But over the last decade or so some things started to change, and I didn't notice.
The Democrats started making small advances here and there. It was mostly below my radar, as I tend to be distracted by the never-ending car wreck that is just south of us. They kept it quiet and subtle, never making much of a splash, until they found just the right time to press the issue, and press hard.
That time came Tuesday, when New Hampshire changed to a near-solid blue. The Democrats unseated both incumbent congressmen, kept the governorship, took 237 of the 400 House seats, 14 of 24 Senate seats, and 3 of the 5 Executive Councilors. Our two senators remain Republican, but I suspect a good chunk of the reason is that neither were up for re-election this time around.
Since I didn't see it happening, I'm not sure just how it happened, but I have a theory:
I blame the flatlanders.
To those unfamiliar with that term, a "flatlander" is our pet name for those people who flee to New Hampshire for our low cost of living, low-maintenance government, friendly business environment, healthy economy, and sense of independence and freedom. Unfortunately, they see only the good things and don't see the underlying elements needed to maintain them. There is a price to be paid for such things, and we have looked at them, seen how they work out elsewhere, and want nothing to do with them.
The newcomers don't make the connections, and immediately start working towards "improving" our state by bringing in the parts of their old home they miss the most. They don't see the underlying costs and needs of such things.
And the main ingredient for such things is money. Public money. Tax money. OUR money.
We learned a long time ago that a well-fed government is a happy government. A happy government is an active government. And an active government wants to grow.
When it comes to the power game between the individual and the state, it is a zero-sum game. For one to gain, it must take from the other. We understand that here in New Hampshire, and have kept our foot firmly on the throat of the state for centuries. We warned them from the outset just what we were capable of doing -- look at Article 10 of our Constitution:
[Art.] 10. [Right of Revolution.] Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
June 2, 1784
That is the club. That is the blunt weapon, the big gun, the "nuclear option" that tells the state that if you go too far, we'll take you out. But it is hardly our only weapon.
We also have the stiletto, the quieter, more subtle weapon. And that fine knife is the power of the purse.
Money, as I said, is the food and water of government. And while we don't exactly starve the government, we keep it lean and weak. We see it as a necessary evil, so we feed it only what we think is absolutely necessary for survival.
New Hampshire has the distinction of being the only state with no general sales tax, nor any income taxes. We also pay our legislators less than a pittance -- $100 a year, plus expenses. We understand that in our three branches of government, the judiciary interprets the law, the executive carries out the law, but the legislature MAKES the law -- and we neither want nor need more laws. The idea is that if we don't pay the legislators a living wage, they might not feel inclined to make a living out of lawmaking and therefore won't make so many new laws. We see every day the consequences of a "full-time, professional" legislature, and we don't want anything to do with it.
As I said, we learned a long time ago the price of a full-service government -- "a government that is powerful enough to give you anything you want is powerful enough to take away everything you have." But in the last few years, we have unlearned that and fallen into that deadliest of sins, envy. We see the advantages our neighbors enjoy, and don't see the price they pay for it -- or don't care.
We're still drawing a lot of people, a good chunk of them the right types who understand what is the essential nature of New Hampshire, the elements that made us what we were. But we have far too many of those -- mainly from Massachusetts -- who "come up here to get away from the craziness, then start remaking things to be just like what they ran away from."
Maybe I'm just being bigoted and xenophobic, but I am damned proud of my state, and love her just the way she is. I see changes happening, the diminishing of the elements I cherish and the rising of the elements I have always disliked in the other states. Maybe it'll all work out for the best in the end.
I'm not betting the rent on it, though.