Distant Dome: Rebuilding A Party Takes Time and a Strategic Plan

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


The last few weeks of any session is a constant reminder how the process works.

If you are not in the majority party, you are a bystander.

All the work you may have done to influence legislation may be lost once the committee of conferences began.

Traditionally there is at least one minority member on a conference committee, but that is not the case for many bills that will be decided in the next week or so.

This session and also last, many of the House conference committees do not have a Democratic member, while at least in the beginning of the negotiations all the Senate committee do.

The final versions of more than 40 bills will be decided by the Republican leadership in the House and Senate and Democrats will have little or not input.

Two years ago, the Democrats had a bigger majority in the House than the Republicans had this year, and the same advantage the Republicans have in the Senate, but were not able to put a solid stamp on the two-year session as Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a record number —- by a significant margin — of bills the legislature passed, but failed to muster the votes needed to override the governor’s actions.

Democrats in Washington DC although they control the US House, the US Senate and the presidency are likewise finding their agenda stalled if not stopped due to Senate’s supermajority requirement to pass most legislation and a couple straying members have only prolonged the gridlock that has plagued Washington for so long.

It used to be Republicans in Washington who were on the outside looking in as Democrats controlled both the House and Senate for years, but no more.

Today’s Democrats ought to look at what the Republicans did to put themselves in the position they are in now.

Democrats after all have won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, but have not controlled Congress as much as Republicans during those years.

At their lowest point, Republicans developed a plan to become a major political force that could put its stamp on the country and drive the agenda for years.

The plan was not to become powerful overnight, but slowly build an infrastructure and foundation so that when they came to power it would be lasting.

The plan was fueled by some of the best strategic minds money could buy, and there was a lot of money involved from the early stages to today from some of the wealthiest industrialists and entrepreneurs who wanted to significantly change the country. 

A great deal of this work was done under the radar because what they sought was not what most citizens of the country would agree with, such as the elimination of regulations, significantly lower taxes for the wealthiest, doing away with the social safety net including Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, ending union influence and public education, and preventing many people from voting or at least making it more difficult for certain groups to vote.

The strategists did not start by trying to win Congress, but instead focused on turning the country’s majority Democratic state legislatures to Republican control.

They focused on winning a majority in legislatures the year after the US census when the political boundaries had to be redrawn to account for population changes.

With the GOP in control of State Houses, Congressional districts were gerrymandered to favor Republicans, along with local House and Senate seats.

The process received a significant boost when the US Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling paving the way for billions of dollars of dark money to flow into elections at all levels of government.

The outside money fueled the Tea Party movement as it now fuels the Libertarian/Free State uprising. Nothing like a little chaos and violence to upset the general public and create fear.

That was part of the playbook Nazis used to undermine the fledgling democracy in Germany after World War I that led to World War II.

The growth of the Libertarian movement in the United States has been a long, slow process to where it stands now with an extremely conservative US Supreme Court, and the ability to pour enough money into key races to tip the partisan balance in favor of Republicans most of the time.

The plan worked as Republicans won in the traditional Democratic strongholds of the industrial and agricultural Midwest over the last two-and-a-half decades.

During the same period, Democrats focused on expanding the rights and opportunities for marginalized people. While it may be a worthy goal, the party’s old base slipped away feeling neglected.

Now Democrats can win the popular vote for president, but cannot firmly control either Congressional body or many state legislatures long term except in states like Massachusetts, New York and California.

In New Hampshire, the last election was a near sweep for Democrats at the top of the ticket with the exception of Sununu winning the governor’s race easily, but down the ballot was a disaster as Republicans flipped the Executive Council, and the state Senate and House.

How does this happen?

For one thing, the unified campaign which in the past was essentially non-existent in the 2020 elections as most party money went to electing Joe Biden President with the remaining money going to and maintaining US House seats and trying to win US Senate seats.

This was shortsighted heading into a redistricting year and the results have been horrendous for Democrats if the state plans are allowed to stand for Senate, Executive Council and Congress.

Like the Republicans of old, the Democrats need a long-range plan to reclaim many of the State Houses the party once controlled.

If they are successful, they can draw the political boundaries in the future and give themselves the advantage the Republicans worked so hard to achieve.

Focusing on state legislatures will also make the party more aware of citizens’ concerns and issues they care about.

State government has a far greater impact on people’s everyday lives than the federal government and local government has an even greater impact.

Focusing on more local races instead of federal races as Democratic leadership in New Hampshire has done, will build a better and deeper bench of candidates for the future, something both parties in New Hampshire currently lack.

But if Democrats want to be successful again, they need to take the long view and not bet the farm on a couple of key issues.

Democrats may be somewhat successful focusing on abortion for the upcoming election and the outrage and betrayal many feel, but the party cannot count on such a major issue for every election.

The road back is long and Republicans have done a good job of rigging the system in their favor, but democracy depends on at least two parties with the ability to influence the direction of the country.

The Republicans have carefully designed a system to favor their hold on power although they are the minority party in New Hampshire and the country and the demographics are not in their favor going forward.

But they have been very successful at obtaining and holding power and that was the goal of their long term strategy.

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.

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