By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
A quick look at the House and Senate calendars for this week will convince even those with casual political interests that the culture wars have come to New Hampshire.
Lawmakers will spend hours debating the war on public education, parental rights, abortion rights, voting rights, vaccines and medical care, firearms, drugs and governmental power to name about half the debates to grace Representatives Hall and the Senate Chamber.
Not that long ago, these more global issues were not front and center in every session of the General Court.
Instead it was the state’s support for institutions like nursing homes and higher education, reducing the uncompensated care for hospitals, tax credits to attract businesses and yes how the state funds education.
It was not about furries and cat litter boxes, drag shows and grooming, or face masks and lockdowns.
How did the state get from dealing with its own issues to making New Hampshire deal with the same issues as Texas or Florida or any of the other states undergoing the same forced “rehabilitations.”
It is easy to blame social media for the universalization of issues and concerns, but it is just the vehicle. What has caused the manipulation of this country’s consciousness is the information or misinformation that has been spread over the electronic infrastructure.
Very sophisticated networks are doing damage to this country that could not have happened in a war or limited military conflict.
During the Vietnam War the conflict was often described as a war for the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people.
And now the war for the hearts and minds has come home 50 years later.
The polarization between red and blue and the resulting cultural wars intended to energize “the base,” has created a country with little use for compromise and that is apparent in the New Hampshire legislature as well.
Much of what has been passed in the last three years is unpopular, some very unpopular with the general public if you read the polls, but lawmakers who push these agendas or proposals that serve a small portion of the state continue to be elected.
In New Hampshire it is easy to see how Republicans gerrymandered the Senate and Executive Council and to some extent the House, to have control of all three although Democratic candidates received more votes than Republican candidates in all three bodies.
The state has an all Democratic Congressional delegation, and until Gov. Chris Sununu won in 2016, controlled the governor’s office for 16 of the previous 18 years.
New Hampshire is truly a purple state but you would not know that looking at the legislation approved and proposed in the last three years by the House and Senate.
The public has not given the lawmakers a mandate to turn New Hampshire into a Libertarian Shangri-La but that is what is happening.
Money is being drained out of the public school system, taxes are cut and some eliminated like the interest and dividends tax which benefits the wealthy not the poor, regulations are eliminated, and personal freedoms are emphasized to the detriment of a safe society.
The one thing that has really not worked out “as planned” for the Libertarians is Gov. Chris Sununu’s power grab of federal money that he used to concentrate power in the executive branch.
And ironically it is the flow of money into politics that has driven what is happening in New Hampshire, and other states like Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Florida and in the Midwest.
Extreme school voucher programs, attacks on reproductive rights and the gay and transgender communities, all similar if not identical in legislation that is intended to reduce the power of government, its reach and return to a time that never was in our lifetimes, but did exist before the Civil War or at least before Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January 2010 struck down restrictions on corporate contributions saying they violated First Amendment rights.
It not only gave corporations the same rights as citizens it opened the floodgates for corporate money into campaigns and allowed them to influence elections like they never had before.
It also allowed that corporate money to operate in the dark money universe where super PACs do not disclose where the money comes from.
The decision essentially took government out of the hands of voters and put it into the hands of the mega donors.
And it trickled down to New Hampshire as well.
In each of the last two elections about $1 million was spent on House seats alone, while the Senate PACs received about an equal amount with spending on a senate seat often over $100,000 and some over $200,000.
That is a lot of money for a position that pays $100 a year and you know whoever gave big money will expect a return.
That was clear in the House debate last week on five bills from the Science, Technology and Science Committee that split 10-10 down party lines failing to reach recommendations on the bills.
The bills would have encouraged renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reduced carbon emissions goals to bring the state in line with its New England neighbors.
But all five were voted down by between five and 10 votes.
One speaker noted he received a letter from the oil lobby, Americans For Prosperity, alluding to the “education arm” of the Koch Foundation, one of the big players in major money flowing into the stage legislative races.
The company is one of the largest fossil fuel producers and refiners in the world and like all the others wants to maintain its livelihood or at least its considerable profits and works to ensure renewable energy, energy efficiency and other things to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels do not impact their profits.
The foundation is but one of a number of industries that have been turned loose to spend freely on buying the New Hampshire legislature and many others all the way up to Congress.
They benefit from the culture wars because it helps to put the people they want into decision-making positions and to achieve their libertarian goals of doing away with public education, regulations, taxes and anything that looks like a functioning and efficient federal government or even state government.
And the culture wars create a distraction so people don’t realize what is really happening to end democracy as we know it and replace it with a government more like the one that existed before the New Deal instituted the social safety net, regulations and higher taxes to pay for it.
If you want a front row seat to watch this happen in real time, particularly the House, and to some extent the Senate sessions this week.
The House meets Wednesday and Thursday beginning at 9 a.m., while the Senate meets Thursday beginning at 10 a.m.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.