Preliminary situation report: N.H. House

Defense of pro-life seats in the New Hampshire House is underway, believe it or not. I have some numbers for you. No names yet; those will follow later. For now, here’s a quick look at the lay of the land.

I compared the list of candidates (available on the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s web site) with my list of some significant 2016 House votes. On this first pass, I looked only at candidates running for re-election to the House who scored what in my opinion was 100% positive OR 100% negative AND who showed up for every vote.  In other words, these results are subjective and incomplete.

Among candidates who got all the votes right (in my humble opinion), 25 are running for re-election. Fourteen of those face primaries just to get to the general election in November. That includes two reps who have chosen to run for state Senate.

Among candidates who went the other way, 45 are running for re-election. Seventeen of those have NO competition: no primary, and then no candidate from the other party in the general election.

So… at least seventeen people with awful voting records on the life issues are a lock for re-election. At least fourteen people with good voting records have to spend the summer campaigning just to stand out from the competitors on their own side of the ticket for the September primary. Both of those numbers will go up when I factor in the reps who missed some of the votes I tracked but whose life-issue leanings are apparent.

As the sign in my office says: No Whining Allowed. It’s time to get your game face on.

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.