NH’s Primary Is Fun, But Local Politics Are Where the Rubber Meets the Road

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Nancy West photo

Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.


CONCORD – The satellite trucks have arrived with logos from the major networks and cable news superstations.

The candidates debated and held town halls around the state as the eyes of the nation are on New Hampshire this week especially in light of the fiasco in Iowa with an outcome so confusing the Associated Press could not determine who won.

The state’s election master Secretary of State Bill Gardner was joined by Gov. Chris Sununu and other election officials as they assured the media and the public nothing similar would happen here Tuesday where the primary results will be known by the end of the evening, not a week later.

The New Hampshire results will have consequences as the gaggle of presidential wannabes will no doubt shrink a little after Tuesday night’s returns.

Every four years New Hampshire and Iowa seize the public’s attention as the country determines who the next leader of the free world should be.

The candidates come and shake hands, make proposals, organize and tell the voters why they should be the chosen one.

But once they are gone, and they will be after Tuesday with an occasional visit if the candidate needs the state’s four electoral votes to win, New Hampshire returns to “normal.”
And normal means the candidates make promises, but whether they are fulfilled depends on a willing Congress and the utopian ideals they espoused yield to pragmatism if they want to accomplish anything.

And everyone should ask how those promises will affect your life.

Down the Line

Washington has been gridlocked for some time. Even when Republicans controlled the presidency, U.S. Senate and U.S. House, as they did for 2017-18, they could not find a path to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature achievement.

They did manage to approve a massive tax cut that helped drive the deficit to new heights. All the talk about balanced budgets during the last administration has been forgotten.

If the federal government cannot effectuate change, where do you turn?

It is exciting to work and support a presidential candidate and New Hampshire is spoiled with the face-to-face contact residents expect from the country’s next leader.

Living in New Hampshire will turn you into a political junky if you have any interest at all.

But the excitement may mean taking your eye off the critical points where the rubber meets the road, either in state government, or your selectmen, aldermen and councilors who will make decisions that will affect you far more than anything the federal government does or does not do.

On the Move

Most state residents use state roads but the traditional way of paying for those roads is no longer producing the money needed to do the job because of greater fuel efficiency and the increase in hybrid and electric vehicles.

This week the House will vote on House Bill 1649 which would establish a road usage fee based on a vehicle’s fuel efficiency or alternative fuel like propane or electricity.

The greater the efficiency, the higher the fee up to $150 a year in essence to replace the gas tax the highway fund loses with more efficient or electric vehicles.

The House killed a nearly identical bill in January that was retained from last session, but the current bill has the backing of all the Republicans on the House Public Works and Highway Committee and all but three Democrats.

If the bill is approved Thursday, it will go to the House Ways and Means Committee to review and determine how much money will be raised for the highway fund before a final House vote is taken.

It would need to go through the Senate and pass Gov. Chris Sununu’s muster before becoming law and adding to the cost of registering your vehicle.

Another bill before the House Thursday would require all children two years old or younger to be restrained in a vehicle facing the rear, which supporters say is safer for the child.

The vote in the House Transportation Committee was extremely close, 10-9, and opponents note it is contrary to federal guidelines which is up to three year olds should be restrained in rear-facing car seats.

If House Bill 1603 is approved, and it has a long way to go, new parents would have to purchase new rear-facing seats for their youngsters.

Those are two examples of more likely impacts to lives in New Hampshire than what the federal government is likely to make in the gridlocked, highly partisan atmosphere in Washington.

Pocketbook Matters

The New Hampshire Presidential Primary became the first in the country when it was aligned with Town Meeting Day, which traditionally has been the second Tuesday in March.

The original sponsors of the change wanted to save money — something familiar even today in the Granite State — by lining up primary and town meeting voting.

Over the years the primary date has been moved up in the calendar as other state’s challenged its privileged position.

Not that long ago, town or school meeting used to be an all-day affair often stretching into the evening as town residents debated the issues of the day, often a new tractor for the highway department or a new fire truck or police cruiser.

And then there were the white-hot issues like where to put the town’s transfer station or landfill with nearby residents packing the gyms and auditoriums to voice their vehement opposition.

Many communities had and still have the town contrarian who speaks against any warrant article that raises money.

Just reducing a couple of requests saves him — it always does seem to be a male — a few hundred dollars on his property tax bill and he goes home with a smile on his face.

However, town and school meetings do not draw the kinds of crowds they once did, perhaps SB 2, which splits the debate from the voting by paper ballot may have contributed to the smaller turnouts in many towns and school districts.

But the local meeting is still the most direct way to affect your life and your tax bill.

Most warrant articles have public hearings before either the deliberative session or town meeting night for residents to come and ask questions and learn why the town’s or school’s governing body has decided what is needed and what is not.

The public hearing on my town’s budget was held last week before the selectmen, budget committee and department heads ready to explain the finer points.

Only one town “citizen” attended.

The regular town meeting will no doubt have more than one citizen attending, but the last few years debate has been somewhat limited as most items sail through without a lot of animosity.

Listening to presidential candidates is a great deal more exciting and rewarding, but the local town or school meeting is where the rubber meets the road and “do we really need to pave that street this year?”

But whatever you do, vote Tuesday and vote at your town and school meetings because democracy is depending on your participation.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

 InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.

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