Fifteen years ago, I was almost giddy about the news of a fight inside the Strafford County jail. The pair trading words and blows were two people well known in the New Hampshire political circle at the time.
Gary Dodds violated bail conditions after he faked his own disappearance during a run for Congress. Leeland Eisenberg walked into Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign office in Rochester with a fake bomb strapped to his chest and held five staffers hostage and was serving three years.
The fight was about an argument over the role of county government.
Because, in the Granite State, well, of course THAT was the topic of the fight.
With that, I walked into the office of New Hampshire Magazine in the Manchester Millyard and pitched an idea to the editor at the time, Rick Broussard. What if we did a monthly column that explored the cultural, sociological and trends of New Hampshire politics as well as the characters?
He agreed to let me try one. Roughly 180 columns later, this one is my last. A new editor, with a new vision, deserves a chance for new voices. And so do you, the readers.
But I want to go back to the original premise of the column, because I am concerned the state is slowly losing something core to its identity.
The scene above simply wouldn’t happen anymore.
In 2023, the Democratic National Committee effectively killed the New Hampshire primary as we know it and might keep doing it for years to come. Sure, New Hampshire will technically be the first primary due to the state law, but President Joe Biden refuses to campaign or hire staff.
It’s not much better among Republicans. While they are still on board with New Hampshire having the first primary, they nationalized the process by using national
metrics for a person to get on a debate stage. Serious candidates only have maybe five staffers in the state. That’s a long way from the hundreds of staffers most major candidates would have at that point, enough to have a Rochester office and five staffers in Clinton’s case.
In other words, there is no Rochester presidential campaign office. And the sheer crazy numbers people raise for Congress these days nationally means there aren’t quirky candidates like Dodds. They don’t even bother running. Even if they did, they wouldn’t generate press coverage since there is basically no local press anymore anyway.
The participatory, small-town nature of the State House is also gone. It used to be a point of pride that State House members listed their personal home or cellphone numbers on the state website. Now that it is an invitation to crazy people to bother them and they don’t. School boards used to be places for civic engagement, and now they are a place for national culture wars to play out, even if they have really nothing to do with the local community.
It has been an honor to explore all these issues with you for this long. I always knew I wanted to be a political journalist from the time I was a kid from a small town in the Midwest. For most like me, Washington was their dream destination. For me it was New Hampshire, because I found it to be the most interesting and consequential political culture in the country.
It still is to a degree, even if less so. I do hope it comes back. Until then, check out what your county government is up to. It might be something worth fighting over.