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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: In old academic paper, a less-than-flattering portrait of the N.H. Legislature of 1913

Granite State politicos this year celebrated the 100th birthday of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, and honored the 1913 Legislature that a century ago passed the law creating it.

But a less flattering – and strikingly sarcastic – portrait of that year’s lawmaking emerges from a 90-page document long tucked away in Dartmouth College’s Rauner Special Collections Library: “A Study of the New Hampshire Legislature of 1913,” by Leonard Dupee White.

White would go on to become a historian and political science professor at the University of Chicago, posthumously winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for his book The Republican Era, 1869-1901.

But in September 1914, while studying at Dartmouth, he submitted a master’s thesis analyzing the previous year’s session of the state Legislature.

He was not impressed.

“It was well nigh universally agreed,” White wrote, “that the legislative session had profited the state little and had raised the standard of legislative efficiency still less.”

There were some accomplishments, White acknowledged: $300,000 appropriated to build new highways, a law raising the child labor age from 12 to 14, a limitation on the workweek of women in “certain industries” to 55 hours – not to mention the presidential primary law that White, in fact, does not mention.

But in general, according to White, 1913 was marked by bickering and political maneuvering that left all angry and many disgusted.

He found blame in many places: the relatively small size of the 24-member Senate; partisanship on the part of Democrats, who with help from progressive Republicans gained control of the state government following the 1912 election after nearly 40 years out of power; the active politicking of Gov. Samuel Felker, which was often resented by legislators.

But he saved his harshest barbs for the House, crediting its extremely large size for many, if not most, of the Legislature’s woes.

He described House sessions as disorderly, unwieldy (a roll-call vote took at least 35 minutes) and poorly attended (“during the closing days attendance was so poor . . . that the speaker locked the doors to prevent members from leaving”).

He showed that a relatively small number of House members wrote its bills and conducted its floor debates – 30.2 percent of members introduced 82 percent of the legislation, and on the floor, “quite likely not more than thirty or forty ever spoke.”

As for the representatives themselves, White dismissed many as “non-descript political misfits” and “useless material.”

White estimated that half the House had only a common school education, while 10 percent had attended college and 40 percent had attended business colleges, academies or high schools.

As for occupation, 108 members of the House were farmers, while 69 were businessmen and 16 were lawyers. Also represented, among many others: clerks (14), shoemakers (12), lumbermen (12), stable keepers (four), undertakers (three), meat cutters (two), teachers (two) and a glove cutter.

“Truly a bewildering array!” snarked White, who added, “we may conclude that the New Hampshire House contains men representing probably a larger range of occupations and professions than any similar body of men in the country.

“Furthermore,” he continued, “these occupations are such, in many instances, as to fit men in no way to take part in legislative proceedings. We wonder, for instance, what may be brought of advantage to the business of legislation from the business of cemetery superintendent, or station agent, meat cutters and brick layers, hair dressers and cooks, to say nothing of the venturesome peddler.”

(And they were all men – women wouldn’t be able to vote or hold office in New Hampshire until 1920.)

White concedes, in the end, that it wasn’t all bad – “it should not be inferred from the proceeding pages that the General Court is either a vicious or even an entirely inefficient body.” He notes a number of legislators were “very able men,” and acknowledges some of the laws passed in 1913 were “beneficial.”

But when it came to the House, White insisted, again and again, that it must be reduced in size.

“The legislative procedure is clogged by the presence of many who take no active part in the work of the General Court,” he concluded. “The more active members are delayed by having to drag along their more or less supine, sluggish or uninterested colleagues. There is too much dead wood in the Legislature.”

If White were alive today, though, he wouldn’t be able to say that nothing has changed. After all, in 1913 there were 405 seats in the House. Today, it’s a mere 400.

District 1 rumble

The special election for the District 1 seat on the Executive Council is taking shape, and it should be a good one.

Democrat Michael Cryans, a Grafton County commissioner from Hanover, is running for the seat. On the Republican side are Mark Aldrich of Lebanon, a former aide to U.S. senators Gordon Humphrey and Bob Smith; Christopher Boothby, a former Belknap County commissioner from Meredith; and Joe Kenney of Wakefield, the 2008 GOP gubernatorial nominee.

The field isn’t quite set – tomorrow is the last day to file for the race.

Republican Ray Burton, who died Nov. 12 after 35 years in office, won a comfortable 57 percent in the 2012 election. But that’s far from a guarantee that the GOP will retain the seat.

The huge district comprises 108 towns and four cities, from the Canadian border to the Lakes Region. It includes all or most of four state Senate districts – Districts 1, 2, 3 and 5 – and parts of three more: Districts 6, 7 and 8.

In the four “core” districts, there were 56,973 votes cast for Democrats versus 53,383 for Republicans in last year’s Senate races. In the other three districts, Republicans led Democrats, 41,241 to 38,838, but overall Democrats had an edge in the seven districts, 95,811 to 94,624.

That’s an imperfect metric, for sure. Turnout will be down considerably from the 2012 presidential election.

Even so, it looks like it should be a competitive campaign.

The special election will be held March 11, with a primary on Jan. 21.

Push poll progress

A bipartisan bill to reform New Hampshire’s push-poll ban is a step closer to becoming law.

The 1998 state law banning push polls – calls masquerading as an opinion survey, but actually intended to convey negative information about a candidate – has been described by national pollsters as overly broad, with the potential to restrict even legitimate polls.

So Democratic Sen. David Pierce and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Republican, introduced legislation this year to tighten the definition of a push poll” under the ban.

It passed the Senate in April, but the House Election Law Committee voted in May to retain the bill for more work.

Now it’s headed to the House floor with the committee’s endorsement. The panel voted, 17-0, to recommend the full House pass a slightly amended version of the bill.

If it passes the House in January, the bill would head back to the Senate.

The Medicaid divide

The party-line vote in the Senate a couple weeks ago was 13-11 against the Democratic plan to accept federal money and expand New Hampshire’s Medicaid program.

That plan, though, remains fairly popular among the public.

A New England College poll released last week showed 52 percent of New Hampshire voters support expanding Medicaid, while 33 percent oppose the idea. The survey of 675 registered voters was taken Nov. 23-24 and had a 3.8 percent margin of error.

The House Democrats’ expansion bill got just four GOP votes in the House, and none in the Senate. Among voters, 84 percent of Democrats support expansion, while 52 percent of Republicans oppose it; unaffiliated voters favor it, 51 percent to 33 percent.

Hopes for a deal may have dimmed since the end of the special session called by Gov. Maggie Hassan, but legislative leaders have said they hope to continue talks as the Legislature prepares to return in January.

Call and response

“Bill O’Brien + Kim Kardashian = Marilinda Garcia”

That was a tweet from state Rep. Peter Sullivan, a Manchester Democrat, after Garcia, a Republican representative from Salem, announced last week she would run for Congress in the 2nd District, now represented by Democrat Annie Kuster.

He was quickly condemned, by Garcia and other Republicans.

“For too long women in our society have been judged by their appearance rather than their accomplishments and made subject to the ignorant assaults of men like Peter Sullivan,” state GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said in a statement.

“If our daughters are to have any chance of pursuing their dreams in a society that is free of fabricated limitations and unjust personal assaults then so-called leaders like Rep. Annie Kuster must call upon her fellow Democrats to put an end to their offensive and chauvinistic rhetoric.”

Sullivan wasn’t apologizing as his remarks drew fire.

“After careful considera- ti(o)n, I want to apologize to Kim Kardashian for comparing her to a right-wing extremist like Marilinda Garcia,” he tweeted, before making his account private.

News of record

∎ Happy birthday to U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (tomorrow).

∎ The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice will award its 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton at a Friday ceremony in Washington, D.C. Katrina Swett, who ran for Congress in 2010, is the Concord-based foundation’s president.

∎ John Heilemann and Mark Halperin will be at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on Dec. 12, 7 p.m., to discuss their book Double Down: Game Change 2012. The event is free, but pre-registration is required.

∎ The Business and Industry Association will hold its “Meet the Commissioners” networking event Dec. 17 at the Holiday Inn in Concord. Tickets are $20 for BIA members, and $40 for non-members.

∎ The latest clue in Scott Brown’s will-he-or-won’t-he flirtation with next year’s Senate race in New Hampshire: He changed his Twitter handle from @ScottBrownMA to the state-neutral @SenScottBrown.

∎ Republican Brad Cook announced Friday he won’t run for governor next year. The Manchester attorney had said in September he was considering a run, and wouldn’t sign “The Pledge” against an income or sales tax, a staple of state politics.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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