Don't stifle the North Country's voice in government



Published:

With a seemingly minor slice of the redistricting knife, an important Senate committee has cut the heart of rural representation in the State House and, if this plan holds, will decidedly quiet the voice of rural values and culture in this increasingly metropolitan state.Earlier in April, the Senate's Internal Affairs Committee voted for a redistricting plan for the state's five Executive Council districts that cuts nearly half of the most northern district and merges it with a large slice of heavily populated Strafford County. This leaves District 1, which has been represented by Councilor Ray Burton since 1977, dominated by Strafford County - a county whose population would be nearly half of the remaining district.It's hard to think of this North Country district as anything but Ray Burton's - he has, after all, become an icon for aggressive, yet folksy representation. But this isn't about protecting his political turf. This is "beyond me," he said - he is after all turning 73 in this year. "The North Country is different" and "the three northern counties kind of go together socially, politically and economically."What's at stake is the future of our rural culture, landscape and essential way of life as the state becomes ever more metropolitan. The contrast between the rural north and the suburban south is widening. Laws that work in Dover, with its nearly 30,000 population, don't necessarily work as well in Stark, with only 500-plus.Regionalizing schools was one of those grand ''one-size-fits-all'' ideas - yet almost always, The New York Times reports, smaller schools outperform bigger ones. Locally, we know this to be true -- the tiny Lisbon school consistently outshines its larger contemporaries. There are many others issues, too - like the way we manage our vast protected lands, fund state parks and Fish and Game, conserve energy, protect the environment, deliver health care and a whole host of taxes and regulations that spread across large and small businesses equally.By every national measure, New Hampshire - meaning southern and central New Hampshire - is smothering itself in excess. The statistics are dazzling - the highest median income, most retail sales and roller coasters per capita. Yet with this largesse, the state leads the nation in prescription pill-popping to solve anxiety and depression.Here in the north, we have our own statistics - grinding poverty, a plethora of poor health habits, and a persistent brain drain. Yet we have a unique, authentic natural landscape, small-town connectedness and plenty of elbow room.Most politicians see growth, money and good jobs as the silver bullet, but they miss an important point, perfectly illustrated by the region's nearly unanimous opposition to the Northern Pass project.Most people who live or move north accept a certain amount of economic sacrifice as the price for our wholesome lifestyle. At best, the state's growing metropolitan mindset leaves us isolated and misunderstood or, at worst, ridiculed or forced to live under laws designed for more urban places.My larger fear though is that our well-meaning southern New Hampshire leaders will succeed and transform our region into something similar to their own.The North Country, which prominently defines our state's identity, also needs a voice in our government.Jeff Woodburn of Dalton is a frequent contributor to this publication as well as a teacher and former state representative from Coos County. Edit ModuleShow Tags