Editorial: Voters must keep the circus from returning
The New Hampshire Legislature may have wrapped up its session last week, but the battle to shape next year’s session is already under way.
Political insiders suggest that Republicans are on course to take over the House of Representatives, after having held onto the Senate in 2012’s Democratic wave. The midterm elections draw a smaller, older, more conservative group of voters, and criticism of the Obama administration will be loud and widespread. But it would be a shame if the electorate allowed itself to be distracted from what’s at stake locally.
We’ve seen a recent and vivid example of what happens when one party controls both the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate. Republicans swept into power in 2010 and promptly pursued a hardline conservative agenda. Planned Parenthood and insurance coverage for contraception were targeted. The rights of gay people to be married were put up for a vote. Guns were allowed inside the State House. And those were just the side issues.
The Republican super majority’s signature achievement was a state budget that slashed spending on the most vulnerable people in the state – those in the mental health system – while halving aid to higher education. Meanwhile, House Speaker Bill O’Brien somehow found the time to cut the state cigarette tax and wage a petty war against the Monitor itself.
New Hampshire can ill afford two further years with like-minded majorities in the House and Senate.
We trust that state Republicans have learned their lesson and will avoid the zanier antics that brought their predecessors national mockery (two words: Magna Carta). But the stakes are still high. The restoration – and enhancement – of funding to the mental health system and state universities must continue. The saga of the Medicaid Enhancement Tax must be truly resolved. Further attempts to legalize casino gambling must be thwarted. And our state’s structural deficit, the cause of so much of this misery, must be addressed.
Not all Republicans stand in the way of such progress. Indeed, there are many responsible, smart conservatives who have much to contribute to our state. Likewise, there are many Democrats who are willing to make the difficult choices necessary for long-term stability and growth. It’s the job of voters to pick their candidates carefully this fall, and to think about the kind of majorities they want representing their interests for the next two years.
Above all, New Hampshire should avoid the whiplash of repeated, radical changes of government direction. State agencies find it difficult to plan when their budgets are constantly on the bubble. State businesses find it difficult to grow and recruit talent when the political landscape shifts violently. State residents end up wondering whether their representatives are truly thinking of them or some ideological agenda.
The work of state government is messy and thankless. But we ignore or discount its importance at our peril.