Taking Folks Down to Size
In NH politics, what pops up gets whacked down
Illustration by Peter Noonan
It's an unspoken but well-enforced rule in New Hampshire politics: There are a few people who are widely accepted as hot stuff and there are the 1.3 million rest of us.
So, chances are you're not hot stuff politically, but if you ever aspire to be hot stuff then listen up. You can never, ever pretend to be hot stuff. You become hot stuff through hard work, focus, luck, personality and knowledge and, well, something else. The roll of hot stuff Granite State politicians includes US Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, former US Senators Warren Rudman and Judd Gregg, former Gov. John H. Sununu, current Gov. John Lynch, former Supreme Court Justice David Souter and Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
If you aren't on that list then I am sorry. It means you will have to answer and return your own calls. You will have to drive yourself. You should expect nothing. Putting on airs will just backfire. When Republican candidate for governor Ovide Lamontagne began to have national news outlets profiling him as some type of presidential primary "kingmaker," someone took to Twitter where they started an account mocking him with the name "King Ovide."
Or consider the state's presidential primary. During New York Gov. George Pataki's first visits to New Hampshire to explore a run for president back in 2006, he did what he probably had done every day for the decade he had been governor. He arrived with an entourage in three black SUVs. Unfortunately for him this occurred in sleepy Auburn in the middle of the afternoon.
Something of an entourage, maybe even a driver, is probably expected for a person who leads the second-largest state in the most powerful nation in the world. In Auburn, NH, the local reaction was more along the lines of "who is Mr. Fancy Pants over there."
After months of exploring and even setting up an office two years before the presidential primary, Pataki never came close to putting his name on the ballot here.
One of the people listed as hot stuff above is Gov. Lynch. He has staff to both ensure that his days are efficient and that only the right people meet with him. In natural disasters like floods or even social gatherings, even he freely hands out his personal cell phone number - probably the only governor in America to do so. That's why he has the highest approval ratings for any governor in state history.
Another person to learn from is Gardner. Every four years he engages in some of the most high profile and secretive negotiations in American politics when he jockeys to make sure the state's presidential primary is the first in the nation. He has a reputation nationally as a recluse, but locally everyone knows he is one of the most approachable people in the state. Given his revered status as "the godfather of the presidential primary" and the fact that he is technically elected by the Legislature, he has no reason to meet or talk with anyone other than the Legislature. Even if he personally thinks he is hot stuff he'll never let you know it.
That's why he is what he is.