Cook On Concord: Assorted thoughts while waiting for voters to act

Writing a column five days before an election which will be published four days after the results are known is a tough assignment. Therefore, this will not be about the winners and losers or about predictions that are guaranteed to be stale upon reading. Rather, a few observations on the campaigns just ended and a little New Hampshire history might be of interest.

First, the recent campaign was full of spirit and vigor and the results will tell whether the voters were watching. In 2006, as in past elections, one disturbing trend was the appearance in mailboxes of virtually anonymous mailings. In Senate District 16, where incumbent Senate President Ted Gatsas faced Democrat Bob Backus, the following piece appeared: “Ted Gatsas’ Votes Hurt Working Families. Ted Gatsas has consistently opposed efforts to help working families.”

The piece then recited Gatsas’ vote against raising the minimum wage, for tax-funded school vouchers and against the statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants. While all of those issues can be cited as reasons to support or oppose Senator Gatsas, linking them to a headline accusing him of opposing “working families” is curious. This happened in many other districts as well and on both sides.

While not overwhelmingly important, relatively anonymous pieces making emotion and general attacks do not help the process.

Of course, Gatsas probably liked that one more than the one that showed him with polo ponies in the background, money raining down from the sky, a Mercedes awaiting him and the words, “While Ted Gatsas lives in luxury … he votes against raising the minimum wage.” That one was sent out by the Backus campaign.

Sticking to issues in some detail might be a better way to advance the political discourse. Of course, by the time you read this, such mailings have ceased.


Whether 2006 was a watershed year or not, pre-election predictions of significant Democratic advances bring to mind two other elections in New Hampshire history.

In 1962, the Republican Party was in shambles when Perkins Bass (father of Charles) the then-congressman from the 2nd District, defeated Delores Bridges, widow of the late Senator Styles Bridges, for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate. Coupled with the loss by Republican Gov. Wesley Powell to John Pillsbury in the gubernatorial primary, havoc resulted when the Union Leader attacked Bass and Powell took a hike from the GOP.

The result was the election of Thomas McIntyre to the Senate, the first Democrat in decades, and John King as governor, again the first Democrat in memory.

That year marked the resurgence of the modern Democratic Party in New Hampshire, but was probably more due to idiosyncratic New Hampshire issues than to national trends.

In 1974, with Richard Nixon mired in Watergate, the Democrats made significant gains, part of a national trend, including John Durkin’s eventual win (it took two tries) to win election to the U.S. Senate over Louis Wyman.

Both were years of significant changes. Whether 2006 is one as well, is something you will know by the time you read this.


Also in the category of New Hampshire history, but not political, was the recent passing of Philip G. Peters of Auburn.

He died at age 84 in late October. A leading litigator and senior partner at the law firm Wadleigh Starr & Peters, Phil Peters also served as the Auburn District Court judge for many years.

Peters was outstanding in the courtroom, kind and cheerful individually and a mentor and example to generations of New Hampshire lawyers. His passing was a significant loss.

I spent six weeks in 1975 with Phil Peters and other notable New Hampshire lawyers, including the late Matthias Reynolds of Devine Millimet & Branch (who also passed away recently) and Joseph Devan of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, in a complex products liability case, Faust v. Leighton Chevrolet, et al. My firm, Sheehan Phinney, represented Leighton Chevrolet, the auto dealer which had sold the automobile in question.

The case involved an automobile accident in which three young women from Portsmouth were riding and one was severely injured. The automobile was a Corvair. Defendants other than the car dealer were General Motors, the tire manufacturer and tire dealer.

After newly minted Superior Court Judge Charles G. Douglas charged the jury, it then deliberated for several days. This was a harrowing experience for a young lawyer waiting for the jury and playing cards with Reynolds and Robert Chiesa, co-counsel with Phil Peters for the tire manufacturer defendant. Reynolds represented General Motors.

The jury returned and found in favor of all of the defendants. The plaintiffs urged the judge to overturn the verdict notwithstanding the finding of the jury, which Douglas did, much to the consternation of the defense attorneys.

The case was appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which ultimately reversed Douglas, interestingly doing so when he was a member of that court, although he, of course, recused himself from the deliberations.

Philip G. Peters and Matt Reynolds were significant lawyers in New Hampshire and their loss has been felt by the profession, even though they both had been retired for some years. nhbr

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

Categories: News