At last, I had the chance to listen to Sarah Koenig's NPR report on the New Hampshire political scene. Entitled Red State, Blue State, it runs about 35 minutes and is well worth the listen.
As someone deeply involved in the happenings of the past two years, I didn't expect to learn much new, but in fact I did. For example, little did I know that during the "Sieg Heil" moment on the House floor, a press conference was being held in the lobby of the legislative office building. The goal was to introduce a new organization of Republican and Democratic moderates coming together. Apparently right in the middle of remarks from a former state senator, reporters left the press conference to witness the high drama on the House floor.
I never realized that.
Sarah Koenig allows me time to tell the "Sieg Heil" story although she doesn't seem to believe my contention that it was never meant as a reference to Hitler (IT WAS NOT!). She does mention that I lived in Berlin, Germany for a year. She doesn't get into what Sieg means most to me...the Siegesaulle which is the Victory (Sieg) column (Saulle) in the middle of the vast park, the Tiergarten in Berlin, the area by the way where candidate Obama gave his speech to hundreds of thousands of Berliners in the summer of 2008.
The great thing about Sarah's story is its structure. It builds momentum like a drama. Thus, it's more than a simple report on New Hampshire politics.
Another thing I didn't know was how Speaker Bill O'Brien, not liking the Criminal Justice Committee's vote to kill the bill terming TSA screeners sex offenders, actually came across the road and coerced Republicans into changing their votes. Former Representative and highly respected David Welch admits that he was rather ashamed at what he did.
In retrospect, it's really not surprising. The criminal justice committee was rather dysfunctional for most of the session, but it's clear now that it wasn't really the fault of committee members and chair former Rep Elaine Swinford, but rather Billy the Bully who time and again came between what the committee thought was right and what he wanted it to do.
Sarah's show runs the gamut from the ridiculously funny (Rep Tasker dropping his gun on the floor during a committee hearing) to the truly sad and near tragic (the treatment of Rep Susan Emerson and Concord Monitor reporters).
A bit of music carries the story along, and oh yes, O'Brien is given plenty of time to tell his side of the story.
Despite hours of taped interviews, Sarah mostly uses her own narrative, but you get the feeling that what she learned in the interviews allowed the story to proceed so well.
My only quibble is that in recounting some public opinion polls at the end, she contends the legislature was against the majority of the public on gay marriage. In fact, it was only the O'Brien faction of the legislature that went against public opinion. Let us never forget that a large majority of the Legislature (including a small majority of House Republicans) voted not to repeal gay marriage.
For that to be the only quibble with such a monumental undertaking, here's a big thumbs up to Sarah Koenig (Concord Monitor reporter back in the late nineties) and This American Life (number 478).
Here's some information I downloaded from google.
A portrait of what it looks like when politics gets polarized, and how hard it is for people in the middle to hang on. Producer Sarah Koenig explains what happened when a wave of Republican politicians swept to power with a three-to-one majority in 2010. New Hampshire’s a small state, and the shift to a more divisive in-your-face kind of politics happened very quickly, so it’s possible to see exactly what’s gained and lost when that happens. (30 1/2 minutes)
Update 11/7/12: Our story ended with a question: Is this an aberration, or is this the new New Hampshire? Yesterday we got an answer — and it demonstrates how the state's huge House of Representatives is so very representative, so responsive to shifts in public mood. After giving Republicans a three-to-one majority in the House and Senate in 2010, voters have swung the other way. Here's what we know so far: Early numbers have the Democrats taking 217 seats to the Republicans' 177, with six seats still undetermined. Speaker Bill O'Brien won his House seat, but he won't be speaker again, because Republicans not only lost their majority, they lost the House entirely. Reporters in New Hampshire are saying that Bill O'Brien won't be seeking any leadership position at all.