A note on covering elections

Candidates are filing for office, and the November election is only a little over five months away. I’ll watch, report, opine, and otherwise keep an eye on what’s happening.

And I won’t think for one minute that politics is the most important pro-life work out there.

I know that the most basic pro-life work is love and personal ministry. Our lives – yours, mine, people who’ll never hear of this blog – are spent caring for and respecting kids and parents and partners and neighbors in ways that never make headlines.

I love meeting the people who provide direct support to women in crisis pregnancies and who continue to support families after the babies arrive. I am in awe of the post-abortive women who now counsel other women who regret abortions. I’ll continue to write about people who go to abortion facilities to give peaceful witness for life.

Even so, politics is going to get a lot of attention from me in the coming months. Longtime readers will not be surprised by this. New readers (welcome!) might wonder why I’m drawn to the messiness of public policy.

Political decisions affect lives, that’s why. The very right to life is in dispute among elected officials. The debates that helped inspire the creation of this blog are as sharp as ever.

So fair warning: I’m in election mode.

The filing period for state and federal offices in New Hampshire begins today and runs through June 10. The primary is scheduled for September 13; the general election will be November 8.

Let the campaigns begin.

Thinking of running? The time for discernment is now

New Hampshire State House
State House, Concord NH (Ellen Kolb photo)

Have you ever thought about running for state representative? Or senator, or councilor, or anything else beyond the local level? Now’s the time to get serious. The filing period for the fall elections is one month away, June 1 through June 10. This is when people formally declare their candidacies.

Is your state rep’s voting record on the life issues disappointing? Is your senator a buffer zone fan? Is your executive councilor determined to steer your money toward Planned Parenthood? Is one of your elected officials a real credit to the district but is ready to step down?

Perhaps you want to run, or you want to encourage someone else to run. Evaluate the political and practical landscape now, while you have time to consider everything thoughtfully.

You can’t govern if you don’t win. You can’t win unless you run.

Elective office is definitely not for everyone, and there are other ways to build a culture of life. To anyone who has ever thought about running, though, I say don’t yield the arena to the abortion advocates.

For state House and Senate, the pay is lousy ($200 per two-year term) and the hours can be very long during the regular session months, January to June. The party gamesmanship and the grudges that can go along with it are tiresome.  Despite all that, the chance to serve your town or ward is a wonderful thing. No other state legislature is as close to the people as New Hampshire’s, with 400 members in the House.

Executive councilors have a lot of power in New Hampshire. They approve or deny state contracts, and the governor cannot veto those decisions. Ditto for confirming or rejecting the governor’s nominees to executive departments. As for the pay, it’s much higher than for reps and senators, but that’s not saying much. The job is about service.

Running can get expensive in competitive districts. Talk to the incumbents and former candidates for a reality check. Are you prepared to raise money? This is less of a concern for state rep than for higher offices.

How secure are your incumbent reps? Check out the results of the 2014 election for your district (primary as well as general election). You might detect vulnerabilities. Is your town weighted toward one party? Winning the primary might be tantamount to winning the general election.

You can learn more about the process on the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s web site. 

Unsure about running? You have a month to do your homework.

Learning math, the Ray Burton way

Longtime New Hampshire Executive Councilor Raymond Burton passed away on this date in 2013. I’m re-posting what I wrote at that time about the most important lesson I learned from him.

A visitor to my home state of New Hampshire could be forgiven this week for wondering about the flags at half-staff. An extended observance of Veterans’ Day? The loss of another Granite Stater on an overseas battlefield? No. Ray Burton has died, after 18 terms on the Executive Council, representing the northern two-thirds of New Hampshire.

Think about that: he won eighteen state-level elections. He was a county commissioner for good measure. He knew how to run and win and serve.

I learned from watching him. The principal lesson: if you can’t do math, don’t bother making noise about how much you want to be elected in order to … fill in the blank: enact pro-life legislation, get that road built, raise or cut that tax, fight to keep a piece of land open for recreation. Obvious? Not to me, when I was a younger and less seasoned activist. I thought just Doing the Right Thing would sweep all political considerations before it.

Twenty-some-odd years ago, I was working in a certain organization with legislative goals we pursued with equal parts passion and naïveté. Some policy initiative we favored – I forget which one – was shot down in the Executive Council. One of the offending votes had been cast by that darn Ray Burton, before he was a legend. We grumbled to each other and said, ”Why can’t we find someone to run against him?” I can only plead youth and inexperience. A less charitable observer might simply say to me “you were an idiot.”

  • With one exception, no one at that meeting lived in the North Country, which to us meant anything north of Concord. Come to think of it, Burton’s district stretched almost that far south, while extending northward clear to the Canadian border.
  • No one in the room knew how many votes had been cast in Burton’s district in the previous election. We didn’t know who his opponents had been, in either the primary or the general.
  • None of us, including the sole Grafton County resident among us (who was a relative newcomer to New Hampshire), knew anything about why voters supported Burton.
  • None of us had met Ray Burton.

Needless to say, Councilor Burton had nothing to fear from us. Quite apart from our collective ignorance of his district, we had no math skills. We didn’t know how many votes he had garnered or how many votes it would take to get all that, plus one. After that, I learned how to study election results and do the arithmetic.

All of you who are passionately pro-life and yearn for more pro-life elected representatives, trust me on this, because each generation has to learn it anew: Understanding the absolute fundamental dignity of each human life is basic – but to translate that into public policy, learn to count.

I said that math was the principal thing I learned from the Councilor. That was a couple of decades before I actually met him. Then, I learned more, starting with this: he was pro-North Country. It didn’t matter to the vast majority of his constituents whether he was pro-anything else. He knew his people, and he covered an astounding distance every year to stay familiar with his district. His constituent service was second to none. Moreover, he liked people in a way few officeholders can honestly claim to do.

I worked on my first statewide campaign in 2010 for gubernatorial candidate John Stephen. I remember the first time I was sent to a meeting as the sole representative of the campaign –  a GOP meeting in Wolfeboro. Every face in the room was new to me. I was beyond nervous. I was shaking in my shoes, notwithstanding the fact that I was about the same age as most of the people at the meeting. (In fact, I was a generation older than most of my co-workers.)

Ray Burton was the evening’s featured speaker. When he arrived, he made the rounds of all the party regulars in the room, all very familiar to him. Then he approached me, offering a greeting and a handshake, seeing I was new in town.

In those few moments of conversation, he put me at ease and managed to treat me as though I were the only person in the room. Since his death, I have heard other people talk about similar encounters. When Councilor Burton spoke with you, he spoke with you.Amazingly to me, after that first meeting in Wolfeboro, he remembered my name every time we ran into each other during the campaign.

Campaign staff members put up with all kinds of attitudes from all kinds of people when we’re on the road for our candidate. That’s part of the job, and we know it, and we take it in stride. The only thing I ever had to take in stride on the campaign trail from Councilor Burton was the same courtesy he showed everyone. He always, and I mean always, had a cheerful greeting and a kind word for me and my colleagues. He kept a gimlet eye on how we were doing our jobs, mind you, but he was always gracious at the same time.

Councilor Burton had challengers, of course. He liked to say that he always ran as though he were five votes behind. Other Republicans were sometimes moved to run against him in the primaries. Some of them even managed to hold him to under 80% of the vote.

Yup, he was pretty good at math.

Some of his votes drove me nuts. He never voted thoughtlessly, though. The interests of the people of District One were his only concerns, for more than thirty years. I should have known that all along – even twenty years ago.

Today’s civics lesson

Somewhere in Manchester, New Hampshire are a few dozen voters who stayed away from the polls yesterday and could have tipped the mayoral election. Seen on Twitter Tuesday evening:


Challenger Joyce Craig was endorsed by EMILY’s List.

Get to the polls when there’s an election. Your vote counts.

Life and Liberty, in that order


memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777
Declaration of Independence, memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777

Karen Testerman’s recent Facebook post, in reply to supporters who are reluctant to follow her into Bob Smith’s camp, includes this: “Friends, it is about life, liberty and property and adherence to the Constitution. Without life, we cannot have liberty or property. Neither of the other two candidates will promote a culture of life. Life is not an issue. It is a fundamental principle that is foundational to America.”

That’s a good point that becomes more important as self-identified libertarians or liberty Republicans step up to run for office. There will be primaries this year in New Hampshire, several of them against Republican state senate incumbents who cast ill-advised votes on taxation, education and Medicaid expansion. Fair enough. I love primaries. They tend to discourage complacency.

But for the sake of all I hold dear, I don’t assume that every challenger is pro-life, particularly at the state representative and state senate level where so many important decisions are made. I want to ask the candidates some questions, read their literature, and look at how they’ve voted in other offices. What would they do if there were an attempt to repeal parental notification? Ask what they’ll do about the state’s buffer zone law. If the Supreme Court OKs the 35-foot zone in Massachusetts, will they support extending New Hampshire’s “up to 25 feet” provision? Are they favorably disposed to regulating the abortion industry, even in the limited manner currently acceptable to the Supreme Court? Do they know who Kermit Gosnell is?

Beware of candidates who put liberty ahead of life. As the campaign season goes forward, we’ll learn if such candidates are out there.

More on primaries: 

Senator David Boutin is on the hot seat for his Medicaid expansion vote. He’s being primaried by an impeccably pro-life state rep, Jane Cormier. Good – but it would be grossly unfair to forget that Boutin was the one and only Manchester senator who stood fast against the buffer zone. Voters in District 16, including the ones who will vote for Cormier, ought to thank him face-to-face for that. He was under a lot of pressure to cave in, and he did the right thing. He and Cormier were on the same side in that battle. He voted for effective language in Griffin’s Law, too, before voting to table the bill. You don’t hear much about that nowadays, as his district is being flooded with mailers pointing out his more egregious votes.

Two other state senators who opposed the buffer zone (although one of them took his time about it) and supported Griffin’s Law are being primaried as well. Where do the challengers stand on the right to life? I’ll be asking them, and until I hear their answers, I won’t be leading any cheers for change.