What Goes Around

Looking back or ahead, the same names keep turning up



Illustration by Peter Noonan

It's a new political year, with a new governor and a new legislature and their new take on age-old arguments over taxes and investments, social issues and education.

It's also a good time to look back and evaluate where we have been. In the fall, former US Sen. John Durkin, of Manchester, died. Durkin will forever be remembered as the Democrat who won the closest election for Senate in the nation's history in the mid-1970s. His death, and the death of Republican state Rep. Alf Jacobson in April, serve as reminders of the small size and historic depth of our state's political class.

Both Durkin and Jacobson had their political heydays in the 1970s, when the state was under the thumb of the controversial Governor Mel Thomson. The executive director of the state Democratic Party at the time when Durkin was in the Senate and Jacobson ran unsuccessfully for it was none other than John Lynch. Durkin's campaign manager was Joe Grandmaison, a Nashua native, who would end up running for Congress and later governor himself and is still active in state politics.

In the 1970s Jeanne Shaheen moved to the state and began her career in politics. Ned Helms ran for Congress in 1978 and was Barack Obama's state co-chair in 2008. At the same time David Souter and Tom Rath were working up the ranks at the state Attorney General's office. Current State Senator Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, was serving as an Executive Councilor then - as a Republican - along with now US Senator Judd Gregg. By the way, the eternal Bill Gardner was already serving as Secretary of State.

"For Bass it was his tenth time running for a seat his own father held for six years."

The Granite State is known nationally and internationally for embracing politics. This is due to our state's early presidential primary, but also because of a feisty political culture. New Hampshire holds more elections per capita than any other, even if it does seem like it's always the same people running.

Durkin ran for the Senate four times. Our two Congressional races this year were rematches from two years earlier. In 2014 we could see the third match-up between Shaheen and John E. Sununu for Senate. To that point 2010 was the first time since 1978 when Gregg or a Sununu wasn't on the ballot or in office. The Republican candidate for governor this year, Ovide Lamontagne, has run for major office now four times.

Not only did this year's Second Congressional District feature the same candidates - Republican Charlie Bass and Democrat Annie Kuster - running for the same job as two years ago, for Bass it was his tenth time running for a seat his own father held for six years. By the way, the first time Bass ran for Congress, in 1980, he ran against Gregg and Kuster's mother, Susan McLane. Now look way back to 1905 when John McLane, Annie Kuster's great grandfather, was elected governor and that same year, Robert Bass, Charlie's grandfather, was elected to his first term in the NH House.

There are some side benefits to this condition. Voters have a better sense of who they are voting for and the politicians themselves must be more careful about what they do or say in this election, knowing that they could likely run again next time.

Even with serial candidates and with the same names turning up again and again for elections, we have more variety than some states. Just look at Iowa which has had the same pair of US Senators since 1984.

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