It’s time for N.H. to enter the 21st century
Life can take some utterly surprising twists and turns. I have lived in New Hampshire for 28 years, and I fully expected to live in my beloved Wilmot a lot longer. But because of a job opportunity, I am packing up and heading west. I will be relocating to Anchorage, Alaska. I never expected to live in Alaska.In leaving, I want to reflect a little on New Hampshire. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, New Hampshire had a romantic quality to me. It was Mount Washington and the Great Outdoors. Hiking in the White Mountains when I was a teenager, I had a fantasy about living here long before I landed in the state. The fantasy was connected to the surpassing physical beauty of the state. The White Mountains remain routinely spectacular. Living in the North Country for three years in the late 1980s, I hiked and enjoyed many trails in the Whites.For the past 21 years, I have lived in North Wilmot. In the spring, approaching my neighborhood is like driving into a green tunnel. Whether walking my dogs on back roads or just sitting on my deck sipping a cup of coffee, it is hard to imagine a better place.Watching the tragedy of the Gulf of Mexico becoming an oil sewer, I appreciate more than ever a place like North Wilmot. Early in the morning, all you hear is the active chatter of innumerable birds. The morning I wrote this, I heard a loon. The oil spill is an object lesson in the critical importance of protecting New Hampshire’s environment.On the political front, I wanted to say a couple of things about the New Hampshire Legislature. Having been a New Hampshire Legal Assistance lobbyist for the last 14 years, I have had a very up-close-and-personal view of the Legislature’s workings. While things have been very painful lately due to the budget deliberations, I mostly wanted to offer praise about the openness of our Legislature.The public hearing process and the quality of discussion are often very good, considering the Legislature is all volunteer with no House staff.Any society with democratic aspirations would need a process where competing perspectives and interests could make their case. I do not have direct experience outside New Hampshire, but I think democracy is well-served here. And I say this even though public policy on behalf of poor and working people is a far cry from where I would like to see it.I particularly wanted to offer praise for House Speaker Terie Norelli and House Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner. Long before Norelli became speaker, she was in the trenches fighting for working people. Reaching out to Republicans and Democrats alike, she repeatedly and skillfully brought minimum-wage bills forward. She earned her speaker role by her history of principled leadership.As for Wallner, I watched her long ago when she spent many years in the minority on the House Finance Committee. Politically, she lost frequently, but she was always there articulately representing her side. She defined what a good legislator could be: smart, caring, and a dogged fighter for her beliefs. I tremendously respect her leadership. The Legislature is lucky to have her.New Hampshire now stands at a crossroads. The lack of revenue facing our state is a threat to our collective future. It is no longer possible to pretend New Hampshire can cobble together a responsible state budget based on a combination of spending cuts and quirky little taxes.Whatever the ultimate outcome this session, New Hampshire has played this game out. Without some new broad-based revenue source, two years from now, the budget situation will go from mere disaster to utter debacle. At issue is whether New Hampshire will assume the responsibilities of a modern state with a corresponding infrastructure.The people opposing change — the anti-taxers, the extreme conservatives and the purist libertarians — have no modern vision. They are reactionaries who want to go back to a good old days that never existed.Sorry, but New Hampshire cannot go back to one-room schoolhouses, poor farms and no government regulation. We have seen the results of the unregulated free market, whether in the form of payday loans or sub-prime mortgages. Thanks, but no thanks.A 21st century New Hampshire cannot be based on denial of responsibility to the elderly, the sick, the poor or the unemployed. Nor can it be based on pandering to the low-road economic development strategy of just saying no.It is time for New Hampshire to make some overdue changes. We need a high-road economic development strategy that is inclusive of all people. This will require an educated and skilled workforce where workers can earn high wages. We should be shooting for prosperity for the majority, not wealth for an elite few.I will miss New Hampshire. Please take good care of it.Jonathan P. Baird has taken a new position as an administrative law judge in Anchorage, Alaska.