From ‘A Book, an Idea and a Goat,’ Andru Volinsky’s weekly newsletter on Substack that is primarily devoted to writing about the national movement for fair school funding and other means of effecting social change. Here’s the link: https://substack.com/@andruvolinsky?utm_source=profile-page
By ANDRU VOLINSKY
This column was first published in Volinsky’s Substack ” A Book, an Idea and a Goat”
In last week’s installment of A Book, an Idea and a Goat, we talked about the consequence for public education of the lack economic development when a major business fails. This post is about a second factor, the need to protect privilege; whether it’s class, race or both.
It is interesting to contrast what happened in Berlin and Claremont when their mills failed with Salem, New Hampshire. Salem is in New Hampshire’s southern tier, 39 miles from Boston via Interstate 93. In 1950, the population of Salem, New Hampshire was 4,750. 50 years later, Salem’s population was 28,112. Today’s population in Salem tops 30,000 and its median household income exceeds that of the state by almost ten percent at $91,276. This figure is likely influenced by Boston-area jobs that pay better than New Hampshire work.
Salem is among the reddest towns in the most conservative and wealthy county in the state. In a state where there are 400 state representatives elected every two years, except for one stray representative elected when Salem was combined with another town for voting purposes, Salem hasn’t elected a Democratic or Independent state rep for almost 25 years, and it elects 10 reps at a time.
There likely was also something else that explains Salem’s growth besides its physical proximity to Boston and its strong Republican leanings. The I-93 route between Salem, New Hampshire and Boston opened in the summer of 1961. Through the 1960s and 1970s, efforts were made to desegregate Boston schools through busing. Boston was one of the most segregated school systems in the nation. The Massachusetts legislature passed the Racial Imbalance Act in 1965 and Judge Arthur Garrity, beginning in 1974, ordered busing within the city of Boston to respond to segregation. The reaction to Garrity’s order was immediate and violent. An iconic photo by Stanley Forman of the Boston Herald American, called “The Soiling of Old Glory” cemented Boston’s image as a racist city. The photo depicted a White anti-busing activist using a U.S. flag on a pole to attack a Black attorney heading to court. Many Boston area families fled Boston to avoid busing and the related violence, with many moving to southern New Hampshire. Salem was likely one of the primary beneficiaries of this white flight.
Salem is also the stronghold of the conservative Republican Sununu political family that has stymied the interests of public education for years and is opposed to the concept of government for the public good. John H. Sununu, the patriarch, was a three-term New Hampshire governor from 1983-1989. He then became, for a very short time, the chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush. He is personally responsible for putting into place a mid-1980s statutory school finance structure that kept school funding untethered to any finance goal related to adequacy of funding for a child’s education or equity for the taxpayers who live in communities with low property values. His son, John E. Sununu, was New Hampshire’s U.S. Senator from 2003 to 2009. Before that, he served two terms as one of New Hampshire’s two members of Congress and was regularly recognized for his libertarian conservatism by organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. John E. Sununu defeated Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen in his first race for the Senate.
Shaheen returned to defeat Sununu in 2008, but she lost Rockingham County in which Salem is located. Sununu’s son, Chris Sununu, was elected New Hampshire’s governor in 2016 and will complete his fourth term as a very popular governor in 2024. He appointed New Hampshire’s worst ever education commissioner, Frank Edelblut, who, as an unknown candidate came within 4 points of Sununu in the gubernatorial primary in 2016. I served on New Hampshire’s Executive Council, which is designed to be a check on our governors’ powers, during Chris Sununu’s first two terms, from 2017-2020. The Republicans on the Executive Council out voted Chris Pappas and me in 2017 and confirmed Edelblut as education commissioner even though he never was elected to a school board, never joined a PTA, never worked as an educator, or even visited a public school during his campaign for governor. A Union Leader editorial called me a “bigot” because I questioned Edelblut about forcing his brand of religious conservatism on public schools. The bigot editorial just happened to run under a “quote of the day” that featured a famous rabbi.
Under Edelblut, the number of charter schools has grown, the use of private school vouchers was instituted and teachers are now subject to bounties for violating culture war norms with NH’s divisive concepts law. Chris Sununu signed off on all of these efforts.
John H. Sununu’s third son, Michael, like his father, is a climate change denier. In 2019, Michael, through a front group called the New England Rate Payers Association (NERA), attempted to have federal energy regulators seize control of net metering from state governments. Net metering is the process by which utilities are required to purchase excess energy from alternative energy producers. The proposal was unanimously rejected in 2020.
Before New Hampshire readers protest my characterizations about Salem and New Hampshire’s southern tier, they should consider New Hampshire’s statewide newspaper and its publisher, William Loeb, whose heyday was also in the mid-1970s. Loeb’s influence was most prominent and enduring in Manchester, its home base, but it was made for blood red Salem and southern Rockingham County.
After an especially horrible murder in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Loeb wrote and published a front-page editorial that claimed the murder was “typical of the savagery of some of the Blacks in this country. They hate whites…It is because this newspaper wants to avoid this kind of thing happening in New Hampshire that we are hopeful that the Black population will never increase from its present minimal level.” When questioned about this editorial during an interview with Bill Moyers, Loeb dug in deeper: “I wouldn’t back off one inch…Many of them are just like children…This is not an environmental problem. This is really genetic. They’re years back in evolution.”
On September 11, 1975, Loeb wrote a front-page editorial addressed “to newcomers only.” He noted, “[i]n the last few years, New Hampshire has been blessed by having a great many people from other states in the Union, especially Massachusetts, come to live in the Granite State. Many of these people have crossed the border into New Hampshire for the purpose of escaping from excessive burdens of taxation, political corruption and unpleasant conditions which surrounded them in the states from which they came.” The reference to “unpleasant conditions” is not much of a code given this editorial was written the year after Judge Garrity’s order. A few days earlier, the Union Leader editorialists wrote: “If Shakespeare were alive today, he would have been able to write a tragedy based on the busing situation to equal any tragedy every written.” Loeb also thought the television series Roots was “a Russian plot.” (Feb 23, 1977).
Loeb went after gay people, too, calling “homosexuality” a disease (June 24, 1977) and repeatedly using the term, “sodomites.” (June 10, 1977).
When interviewed about Loeb, Peter Powell, the son of late Governor Wesley Powell, said that although people were critical of Loeb, they need to come to terms with the fact that Loeb flourished in New Hampshire after failing in Vermont and Massachusetts. “That’s something New Hampshire needs to understand about itself because you have to admit to it in order to deal with it…There’s something about the history and culture of politics in New Hampshire that were not so much a result of [Loeb’s] being who he was as a result of our being who we were.”
Loeb’s third wife, Nackey Scripps Loeb, took over as publisher after her husband died in 1981. Mrs. Loeb was heir to the Scripps newspaper fortune. Although less bombastic than her husband, her signed editorials were just as offensive. Former Concord Monitor reporter and now Northeastern University journalism professor, Meg Heckman, wrote about Nackey Loeb in her book, Political Godmother. Heckman documented the Loebs’ connection to the White Citizens Council in Mississippi that fought to maintain segregation through economic reprisals and boycotts. Heckman uncovered that the Citizens Council published a political cartoon drawn by Nackey Loeb denouncing the federal troops who protected the Little Rock Nine students who enrolled at the previously all White Little Rock High School in the 1950s and republished the cartoon in 1972 when William Loeb spoke at the Citizen Council’s leadership retreat and still again in 1981 when Loeb died. The White Citizen Council’s paper praised Nackey Loeb as late as 1983. Heckman wrote, “William Loeb saw supporting segregationists as a strategic move that might benefit conservatives by driving away African Americans and turning the GOP into ‘the white man’s party.’”
Perhaps the saddest chapter of the Loebs’ influence on New Hampshire, or New Hampshire’s acceptance of the Loebs, involves their editorializing against a state holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which followed the federal effort. Although King was assassinated in April of 1968, a federal holiday was not adopted until November of 1983. It took 17 more years for all 50 states to adopt state holidays and New Hampshire was the last to do so, in 2000.
Manchester’s first Black school board member, Vanessa L. Washington Johnson, was elected in 1988. Her father, Lionel Washington Johnson, served in the NH House and was a founding member of the MLK Day Coalition. Shortly after her election, Johnson convinced the Manchester School Board to honor Dr. King with a local holiday. The Union Leader, under publisher Nackey Loeb and editor James Finnegan, missed the original vote and so organized a reconsideration motion a few weeks later. According to Arnie Alpert, the then executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, “The Union Leader used its editorial page much as advocacy groups now use their web sites and social media, informing readers about the time and place of the hearing, providing talking points, and listing the names and phone numbers of school board members.” Fortunately, the reconsideration vote failed, but according to Alpert, the Union Leader published 100 editorials or editorial cartoons vilifying Dr. King or opposing a holiday in his name. Eventually, the New Hampshire legislature agreed to recognize Dr. King with a state holiday in 1999 and Governor Shaheen signed the bill into law, effective in 2000.
My friend, Marisa Bono, the executive director of EveryTexan.org, and a former school funding litigator in New Mexico and Texas, says, when it comes to unequal education funding, “it’s always about race.” Maybe she’s right. The idea of protecting privilege and providing even limited resources to educate the children of “others” is likely the second motivating factor that drives school funding decisions.
Stay tuned for the third factor, “tax avoidance that drives political decision making,” or, in NH parlance, “the Pledge.”
Andru Volinsky is a former NH Executive Councilor who is currently flunking retirement by writing his first book, teaching a graduate course in public policy, practicing law on a limited basis and now writing “A Book, an Idea and a Goat,” a weekly newsletter on Substack. Volinsky was the lead lawyer in the Claremont School Funding case. He lives with his wife, Amy, in East Concord.