Cook On Concord: Thoughts on sausage-making, then and now

Among the notable books I received for Christmas was, “We Ain’t Making Sausage Here,” a memoir by Marshall Cobleigh, former New Hampshire House Speaker.

Starting with his exploits in the early 1960s, the book traces Cobleigh’s legislative career through the leadership of Stewart Lamprey (speaker and Senate president), Walter Peterson (majority leader, speaker, governor), as majority leader himself, and then speaker. In the process, Cobleigh ended up calling for many reforms, including the business profits tax to replace the regressive “stock in trade tax,” reducing the size of the Legislature and increasing the size of the Senate, adding professional staff to aid solons in their work, adding to what became the Community Technical College System, liquor stores on the highways, and many other achievements. When he called for a broad-based tax, he was slammed by the Union Leader — and all of the cartoons are in the book.

After he completed his legislative service, Cobleigh was hired by Meldrim Thomson, and he explains why these philosophical opposites attracted. From there to work in the executive branch and then as an aide to a congressman, Cobleigh spares no one — especially himself.

For those of us who witnessed a lot of the things he describes, it brings back memories, even if we don’t remember them quite the same way all of the time. One thing is sure, Marshall Cobleigh tells the truth here as he sees it.

Anyone who was in New Hampshire during the period, or who wants to get a new perspective on what preceded present New Hampshire politics, should read this book. The book is available at local bookstores and at


The Legislature has returned to Concord for the 2006 session, and issues arising early were those that were studied by last year’s committees. On Jan. 4, many of these reports were considered. Those that could not be handled then were to be considered on the House floor on Jan. 18.

On Jan. 4, a new executive branch ethics bill was debated for hours and passed. Republicans liked it, while Gov. John Lynch and the attorney general criticized its provisions as flawed. Also on the ethics front, new requirements for lobbyists are being considered.

There also are privacy matters, child protection laws, a proposal to raise the dropout age for high school students to 18, proposals to expand and eliminate capital punishment, and almost 1,000 other bills to be considered.

Legislative leadership initiatives include revisions to the eminent domain laws of the state to assure that New Hampshire citizens will not face the issues presented to the citizens of Connecticut in a case decided last year by the U.S. Supreme Court — even though there has never been a similar issue here.

Also, revisions to state law to attempt to deal with immigration issues abound.

The intricacies of immigration law pre-emption by the federal government and the difference between “illegal aliens,” asylum seekers and others from foreign lands here legally or illegally will surely present an educational opportunity to legislators. Observers wonder whether there is a real problem being addressed, or whether leaders are reading polls.

Other issues include fish and game matters, speed limits on lakes, taking large amounts of groundwater, how city charters can be amended and implemented, the Medicare prescription drug system and a revision to the state’s advance directives law.

It is generally assumed that the goal of legislative leaders in an even year is to get done and go home as soon as possible. However, with all of the proposals they have to consider this year, that may be an elusive goal.


As of this writing, political observers predict that first-term Governor Lynch will not face serious opposition in the fall. His public opinion ratings are high, he has done nothing to cause controversy, the state is running well, and the cost of campaigns are high. Traditionally, New Hampshire elects its chief executives to a second term, notwithstanding the fate of Craig Benson.

Republicans have not been able to attract any prominent candidates with substantial resources to challenge Lynch, and it is getting late in the season for those with little name recognition. Someone will be the Republican candidate, however, and the best political campaigns have two strong contenders.

Whether Lynch will run as a bipartisan leader or a Democrat trying to increase his party’s membership in the House and Senate will indicate whether pundits understand political reality and whether Lynch has ambitions beyond the Concord corner office.

In a state where everyone runs every two years — with the exception of U.S. senators and the mayor of Nashua — 2006 will be election year for two congressmen, five executive councilors, 24 senators and all 400 House members. There will be no shortage of political races for devotees to watch. However, their significance should be kept in context. All players are on stage for a brief time, to be replaced by others. It is what they do, and not who they are, that is remembered. All glory — or hard work — is fleeting!

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

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