As I've watched New Hampshire Democrats abandon the center and lurch to the left this year, going too far, too fast on fiscal issues and social issues, and advancing the Nanny State, I have struggled to come up with a rational political explanation for their behavior. What would make a party ignore its instinct for political self-preservation and flirt with political suicide?
Call it the Carol Shea-Porter Gravitational Effect. For the past decade, conventional wisdom held that New Hampshire Democrats had to position themselves as moderate centrists to win elections. Former governor Jeanne Shaheen taught her party that lesson. Mark Fernald ignored it to his peril. John Lynch absorbed it and, for a time, prospered.
Then in last fall's congressional primary, war protester and unabashed left-wing activist Shea-Porter trounced the Shaheen School's candidate, a play-it-safe political vegetarian who avoided the rhetorical red meat the Democratic base starved for in an effort to preserve his electablity. Shea-Porter went on to edge an incumbent Republican in one of the nation's biggest upsets of 2006.
Shea-Porter's victories were watershed moments that emboldened and empowered the left wing of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Democratic activists looked at her successes and concluded that no longer do New Hampshire Democrats need to pose or act as centrists. Why go slow? Why seek incremental change? Why compromise for half a loaf when they want the whole thing? The party defined for a decade by Shaheen's cautious centrism gave way to a party embracing Shea-Porter's liberalism.In Washington, Shea-Porter settled immediately on her party's left flank, even voting against funding New Hampshire soldiers serving in harm's way overseas while moderate Democrats from other states voted to support the troops.
Fellow freshman Rep. Paul Hodes, given cover by Shea-Porter, has tallied a virtually identical liberal voting record. No politically expedient rush to the middle for either of these two.
In Concord, Gov. John Lynch and the seasoned Democratic legislators who lead both houses found the tail wagging the dog as more than 100 freshmen Democrats who have never known life in the minority voted for every left-wing bill introduced. The Democrats increased state spending by 16 percent while raising taxes. They redefined marriage by adopting civil unions and allowed minor children to have abortions without their parents ever finding out their daughter became pregnant.
House Democrats passed a $250 fine on the release of helium balloons, voted to legalize hemp, nearly legalized marijuana, and voted to require seatbelt use. They told private businesses what their smoking policy must be and attempted to regulate how food is cooked in their kitchens. (These measures failed to pass the Senate.)
When given a chance to strike moderate compromises, the Concord Democrats refused. On parental notification, a compromise would have been to amend the old law to address the court's concerns, not repeal it. On civil unions, a compromise would have been to study the issue and hold hearings, then campaign on the issue next year and let the voters decide. And of course House Democrats shot down a compromise education funding amendment, ignoring the pleas of their party's governor and the good-faith efforts of Republican leaders.
Continue reading, " Shea-Porter's gravitational pull on Democrats" online at the Concord Monitor.
Paid for by the New Hampshire Republican State Committee.