New Hampshire outsiders v. natives A recent Nashua Telegraph story reported how a Brookline selectman was resigning his seat and moving five miles to the neighboring town of Hollis. The sentiments of those quoted were almost as if the selectman had died or was moving to Alaska. In his resignation letter he wrote: “While I will always proudly consider Brookline to be my hometown, I've always considered Hollis to be my second home. I want to emphasize that we're not moving from Brookline to Hollis because we like either town more than the other.” Noted. The episode represents an undercurrent of New Hampshire politics rarely examined: nativism. While small town distrust of outsiders is understood and nearly universal, it is especially prevalent here. Mayoral wannabees boast they are the “hometown candidate.” Politicians point to family lineage. But in New Hampshire, such nativism is downright ironic. Recent work by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows that only 37 percent of state residents over 18 were born here. Entire cities, especially Manchester, are patchworks of immigrant communities: French Canadian, Greek, Lebanese or Caribbean. Manchester Central High has students from 60 countries. The Upper Valley and Seacoast have highly transient populations that fuel their dynamic economies. Nor have appeals to nativism been all that successful. Just two of the last eight governors grew up in New Hampshire. Both of our U.S. Representatives were born in New York City. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is from Missouri. House Speaker Terie Norelli is from New Jersey. Senate President Sylvia Larsen is from Ohio. Even Republican Chairman and former Gov. John H. Sununu was born in Cuba. Most Granite Staters watch Boston TV and even the state's most influential newspaper was, for years, run by a guy living in Vermont. Perhaps the sentiment arises from not so much a distrust of outsiders as discomfort with those already inside. From the beginning New Hampshire has always been defined by the other. One state history book argues that one could only understand New Hampshire by first understanding Massachusetts. Founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony developed laws, structures and a bureaucratic organizational chart before they even landed on shore. New Hampshire founders simply looked at what Massachusetts was doing and decided to do everything the opposite. While that worked in the beginning, what does it say about the much more complex New Hampshire today? The state is directly linked to Boston commerce and sports teams and culture. The state's population growth, while slowing, is the biggest in New England. Politically, the once reliable Republican state is changing, but in an odd way where natives are voting more Democratic and it's the newbies settling on the southern border who are helping preserve the GOP tradition. All of these underlying feelings had the chance to emerge in our politics last year. The Republican candidate for governor felt there was a sense of fear that the state was changing as Democrats in charge of the Statehouse pushed for higher spending and more liberal social policies. He came up with the campaign theme: “Keep New Hampshire, New Hampshire.” He got crushed come election time. But, really, what does he know? He was born in Massachusetts.
This article appears in the February 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine