Sweeping Change

The next political wave could reshape things

Illustration by Peter Noonan

Here is a stunning fact that people can’t get their heads around: In the history of the United States, there have never been as many members of Congress who have decided not to seek reelection as there are in 2018.

When all the new faces are sworn in next year, by definition, American politics will look much different. Now, as the June filing period for New Hampshire candidates is upon us, a pressing question is whether those in Concord will decide to walk away as well.

There is no one reason this year why someone might decide to walk away from a job they’ve spent years trying to get. Yes, some Republicans in swing districts might calculate they are likely to lose anyway, in what is expected to be a Democratic wave, so why bother? But the changing nature of politics since the Trump election provides other reasons. For example, for all the talk about how the Republican Party is split, the Democrats enter the midterm elections even more fundamentally split in terms of which direction it needs to take in the future.

That’s why a number of longstanding incumbents are leaving — they can see there is a hunger among their base to support candidates who are younger, more diverse and more progressive than the old guard. Expect to see some of the “older guard” depart for the same reasons.

Also, in the era of the Trump presidency, public discourse has become mean and intense. If you need proof, take a look at your social media feed these days and just imagine what it must be like to have people saying the worst things about you — and often threatening your family — every day and nearly every hour. No one would be surprised if even the most thick-skinned politician who generally ignores the comments would decide the vitriolic nature of the business just isn’t worth it any longer.

And, as always, there are personal reasons for why someone may leave a job. Such reasons were behind New Hampshire’s most prominent political retirement this year, US Representative Carol Shea-Porter, who almost certainly would have won reelection.

During the June filing period, we will find out how many at the Statehouse will join her. The New Hampshire Legislature is the largest  — and most volunteer-filled — legislature in the country. While no one officially tracks this statistic, it most assuredly has the highest turnover rate in the country as well. Certainly the long hours involved and the pay of $100 a year doesn’t inspire sticking around for long periods of time.

The rule of thumb in any year is that about a third of the New Hampshire House and Senate decide not to seek reelection. If the national trends hold up, it’s possible that the turnover rate this election year may rise to as high as 50 percent.

What does all of this mean for New Hampshire voters? It could mean that there will be new leaders from each party. It could mean that when it comes to bills that have been close to passing — such as expanded gambling, repealing the death penalty or legalizing marijuana — there could be breakthroughs.
But maybe more importantly, no matter your political persuasion, it will mean that a new group of people will engage their communities and step up for public service, even in such intense times.

That fact should be celebrated.

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