As a high school student with deep political aspirations, I served as a page in the New Hampshire Senate on as many occasions as opportunity would permit. I walked the hallowed halls of the State House running errands for the movers and the shakers. Fueled by the energy and promise of one day serving in a similar fashion of changing the world, one impassioned plea at a time, I romanticized the role that the politicians played, with good reason.
In the early '90s, State Representatives in New Hampshire were compensated just $100 per year for their service. Twenty years later, the compensation has risen to just $200 per year. As children, we were taught the honor and duty of public service. We were told this shockingly low annual compensation was in place to ensure people were serving for the right reasons, and not as a means of income. It wasn't until we were older, that we realized such a compensation model may limit the less upwardly-mobile from holding public office. However, the consensus remains that it is an effective model which inspires participation from residents of the state who are working for good.
I remember one of my first days serving in the New Hampshire Senate. The excitement and anticipation welling up within me was probably similar to how most of my friends at the time felt when they were at a Pearl Jam concert or getting ready for the prom. As I busied myself darting up and down the stairs to get coffees and make copies, my head swarmed with visions of one day sitting at those tables, listening to arguments, carefully considering each side's opinion, and helping to shape the future.
I wrote for several local newspapers at the time, and I had already enjoyed the opportunity of interviewing a number of politicians, including Bob Smith, who was a U.S. Senator at the time. I remember he gave me a piece of advice, to never spend beyond my means. That was the opportunity of growing up in a small state. A high school student could write for newspapers, interview U.S. Senators, and serve as a page in the State House, interacting with dozens of local representatives.
It was one such day that afforded me the opportunity to meet Jeanne Shaheen for the first time. As a budding feminist, I followed the careers of the up-and-coming women in politics, especially within my state, and State Senator Jeanne Shaheen was certainly that. She would soon go on to serve three terms as NH Governor before setting her sights for Washington. As I approached her to see if she needed anything, she smiled brightly at me, and complimented me on my necklace. I was star struck, but I had no idea that this day would soon and forever be etched in my mind.
In 1993, Baehr Vs. Lewin was being decided upon in Hawaii. Three same-sex couples were suing the Hawaii Director of Health for refusing to issue marriage licenses. It was the first case for same-sex marriage to hit the national spotlight, and people were panicking. Twenty years ago, we lived in a different world. At the time, it was okay, and possibly even expected to feel and openly express disdain against members of the LGBT community. Messages of fear were shouted from the pulpits. If gay people were to be married, civilization would end. People would marry donkeys. Next, they would try to marry their children, or a group of their friends. There would be no end to the madness! We were not discussing the fate of people we knew and loved, we were not seeing these people portrayed in a normal light on television... we were evaluating the fate of an unknown mass of people who had gone out of their way to choose an "unnatural", "sinful" path that would set the United States on a course for destruction.
It was this day that a State Senator from Wilton, New Hampshire introduced a bill that would ensure the State of New Hampshire would not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. One of the big concerns at the time, was that same-sex couples would fly to Hawaii to get married, and then expect their marriages to be legal in their home state. The Senator from Wilton made a fervent plea to preserve the sanctity of marriage. His view on the matter was certainly the popular opinion of the day, and as a student of a Christian high school and a daughter of Baptists, it was certainly the only position I had ever heard on the matter to that point.
Once the Senator had concluded his remarks, and it appeared as though he had easily captured consensus to proceed, Senator Shaheen spoke. She said that New Hampshire is a state that values individuality and fairness, and that the case in Hawaii had not even been decided yet. She compelled her fellow senators to not sprint to the finish in a race for exclusion, and challenged the group to evaluate whether New Hampshire truly wanted their first response to this sensitive issue to be a message of intolerance. Her recommendation was to simply wait to see what happened in Hawaii, and then determine whether or not New Hampshire needed to have a position on this matter. Almost shockingly, her fellow lawmakers quickly made an about face and agreed with Shaheen's remarks, and the matter was tabled. It took Hawaii 20 more years to pass marriage equality, while New Hampshire was the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009.
I left that day with, brimming with inspiration and pride in Senator Shaheen for having the courage to stand against such a divisive topic at the time, with an opinion that was very far from the norm. Beyond that, I was proud of my home state, for quickly taking a reasonable approach that was not fueled by fear as the original argument had hoped, but rather reason and consideration.
New Hampshire's state motto has amused the masses for many years. "Live free or die" is quite a statement, but it is one we Granite Staters cherish. While elections and votes are bought and sold in so many markets, New Hampshire has always been able to think for itself. New Hampshire is a purple state, which is one of the things that makes it so great. People do not pay lip service to identifying as independents or holding positions in the middle, they truly consider candidate by candidate, and issue by issue. Of course there are many who vote with their party no matter what, but as a state, we are moderate, and it has served us very well.
New Hampshire has one of the lowest crime and unemployment rates in the nation, the lowest teen pregnancy rates, the lowest overall sales tax burden in the country, and was rated the #1 state in the nation overall by Politico Magazine earlier this year. These diverse accomplishments would not be possible without shared ideals and bi-partisan agendas. Purple has been a great color for this state, indeed.
So in a state where so many things are going right, and where your residents are indoctrinated with the concept of death being preferable to a lack of freedom, why would you award your vote to a Wall Street darling who can measure his NH tenure in weeks, rather than years?
Admittedly, the GOP has great incentive to gain ground in every seat they can, and you will not easily unseat one of New Hampshire's most beloved and groundbreaking leaders without providing a big distraction. Scott Brown is that distraction. He is well-funded, well-connected, and let's be honest, he is pretty. He also appears to be willing to vote with the interests of those who put him into office. So if New Hampshire were a divisive state fueled by partisan discourse, it wouldn't much matter what his positions are on any issues, or how many weeks he has been a resident of the state, he would move the seat across the aisle, and that would be that.
However, New Hampshire is not such a state, and it is surprising that this Massachusetts candidate is just four points away from our beloved Senator Shaheen. In the 2012 election, New Hampshire made history electing the nation's first all-female delegation. At the same time, Scott Brown lost his bid for re-election in Massachusetts, largely due to the gender-gap that he was both unable and uninterested in closing. After losing that election, however, lessons were not learned. In a time when equal pay is gaining the greatest momentum in the history of the issue, Brown is still touting the message that equal pay and access to healthcare are not issues the voters care about. It almost seems as though he is purposefully courting a contingent that may actually oppose gender equality. If that is the case, he has most certainly brought that platform to the wrong state.
With an election just one month away, I am cautiously optimistic that New Hampshire will once again tell Wall Street to keep their money. Residents of the Granite State have survived and thrived due to their own hard work, ambition and opportunities. We take our votes, our freedom and our future very seriously, and I do not see that spirit of independence and moderation soon changing.