It has been said that money and success don't change people; they merely amplify what is already there. Regardless of whether this is true or not, here in New Hampshire, we have firsthand proof of how radically the power and financial gains of Washington D.C. can alter someone. For us Granite Staters, there is no better example than Carol Shea-Porter. Carol's transformation has been so dramatic that it is now fair to ask whether the 2006 populist version of Carol Shea-Porter would actually primary the elitist establishment Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of 2014.
Carol was first elected to Congress about eight years ago. Then, she was an outsider, even within her own party. She was an ultra-liberal community activist in Strafford County who had never held public office before. Other than some local fame for being escorted by law enforcement out of a George W. Bush rally adorning a "Turn Your Back On Bush" T-shirt, few New Hampshire politicos had heard much about her. Regardless, Shea-Porter bucked her own party's establishment, and while I vehemently disagreed with her on many of her beliefs, I respected the fact that she was a renegade. In order to win the Democratic Party's primary in 2006, she harnessed support from the grassroots of her party, and despite being outspent by her Democratic opponent and Washington power brokers by a 10-1 radio, she beat the front-runner by 20 points on election night. Months later, Carol rode a national Democratic wave and went on to win the general election in November of that year.
Once Carol's ticket to Washington D.C. was stamped, during her first two terms in Congress, the anti-elitist who once bucked her own party slowly began her transition into just another puppet of the Washington establishment. She quickly became a loyal foot soldier for then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, voting with her agenda on almost every occasion. When asked about her blind allegiance to her party's ruling class by a Concord Monitor reporter in 2007, she actually said "and so far, I have voted I think, 100 percent of the time with (Democratic leaders) because frankly, I think they're 100 percent right." Her new devotion was quickly repaid. Despite originally promising to not accept money from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Carol reneged on that pledge, and nearly $2.4 million in ads where used to bolster her campaign during her first reelection. After one term in D.C., it was clear: Potomac Fever had hit Mrs. Shea-Porter. Unless her campaign slogan, "for the rest of us," referred to her and new buddies in on Capitol Hill, the days of Carol as gritty populist were starting to fade in the rearview mirror.
When it came to town halls, the liberal activist also began her metamorphosis. Carol once made a career out of relentlessly following former Congressman Jeb Bradley to his many public forums, but as congresswoman, she made a political calculation to become far more isolated. She did decide to hold some town hall meetings in 2010 after incessant pressure from the local and national media, and headlines in Politico such as, "Has Washington changed Carol Shea-Porter?" However, many of her forums were held in small rooms and were heavily controlled. Ironically enough, the woman who was once escorted from a Bush town hall began having those who disagreed with her thrown out of her own public forums. She even had her security toss an elderly retired police officer from one of her meetings in Manchester.
After Carol Shea-Porter lost the congressional seat in 2010 and regained it in 2012 due to the Obama re-election wave, one might have thought she would have returned to her populist roots, but that wasn't the case. In fact, Carol went further in the opposite direction. During the 113th Congress, Mrs. Shea-Porter has continued to vote lock step with her party on almost every issue. Her office hasn't hosted a single real town hall meeting, and at the couple of events she advertised as "public," there is video proof of Congresswoman Shea-Porter banning cameras and removing those who disagree with her.
When it comes to fundraising, Shea-Porter continues to embrace the millions of dollars she gets from the DCCC and their lobbyists, and she is quick to campaign or fundraise with Nancy Pelosi and party leaders at any opportunity. She even traveled all the way to Napa Valley, California last month to wine-and-dine with elites and mega-donors like billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer. That's right, she was one of only a handful of representatives chosen by Nancy Pelosi to join her at this swanky Villagio Inn and Spa to woo donors into investing in her re-election. I'm sure very few of Carol's grassroots primary supporters in 2006 would have been excited to join Team Shea-Porter if they had a crystal ball to see her bantering in a vineyard with the wealthiest individuals on the west coast in August of 2014.
It's no secret that I disagree with Carol Shea-Porter on many issues. However, that isn't the point. Regardless of party, Granite Staters, like most Americans, are fed up with elitist politicians. They are tired of dealing with elected officials who care more about their cushy careers and Washington power brokers than connecting with their constituents or representing their interests. Crazy as it sounds, I actually believe the populist Carol Shea-Porter of 2006 would agree with me on that point - so much so that she likely would primary the blind party puppet she has become today.
Derek Dufresne of Manchester is a partner and co-founder of RightOn Strategies, a national conservative political consulting firm.