Bidding Carol Shea-Porter Farewell

Carol Shea-Porter was ahead of her time

Illustration by Peter Noonan

Not all Democrats were enthralled with Carol Shea-Porter. Republicans vilified her. And everyone else? Well, the latest time a poll asked, only 39 percent of her constituents had a favorable opinion of her.

Yet somehow she kept winning. In fact, she won four times, something no one in her New Hampshire seat has done in a generation.
This fall, Shea-Porter announced that she would not seek re-election next year. The decision probably means she’s done with the political world for good. With this news, it’s a fitting time to look back at what she meant to Granite State politics. Love her or hate her, she was an important figure in the state’s political history — both a vanguard and the very embodiment of throwback political values that many thought disappeared from the state.

With her election in 2006, she became the first woman in history to represent the state in Washington. During her campaign that fact may have come up from time to time, but it was never what drove her.

Instead, she was one of the first candidates in the country in a century to seriously discuss income inequality. She argued that there was a nexus of the rich and the politically connected elite to keep the status quo at the expense of the little guy. She talked about going to Congress to represent the bottom 99 percent of wealth. She said this before the Occupy Wall Street movement existed, and long before Elizabeth Warren ever became a figure with a similar message. Shea-Porter ran a populist campaign a full decade before Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won their New Hampshire primaries by more than 20 points with similar campaigns.  

Shea-Porter was also ahead of her time regarding the deeply polarized politics that has taken over the nation. More than a stateswoman taking a measured approach, she was at heart a liberal activist. She protested President Bush when he came to the Seacoast, and she was ejected from the event. She hounded incumbent Republican US Representative Jeb Bradley at several of his town hall meetings before she decided to challenge him as a candidate. While she could point to bipartisan efforts, she was the most fired up when it came to liberal causes.  

This strain of activism is, in fact, a throwback to what many believe makes New Hampshire politics great. She was a human being who had passionate views, not some sort of political robot with the best words. She rebelled against her own party’s establishment, she thought there was too much money in politics, and she valued a vigorous grassroots style of campaigning instead of glossy television ads.

Because of this, she also became susceptible to the state’s yo-yo style of politics. Her wins only happened during strong Democratic years, such as 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2016. She lost in good Republican years. She passed on running statewide even when there was an open seat for US Senate.

Unlike, say, John Lynch or Judd Gregg, she doesn’t leave New Hampshire politics as some giant to measure against or name buildings after. That said, her style of politics ushered in a new era of partisanship and activism that everyone followed, no matter their party or state. She was 100 percent authentic before the age of political authenticity that most thought began with Barack Obama, two years after she came to the stage.

And six years after she became the first woman to represent New Hampshire in Washington, all the members of the federal delegation were women.

Categories: Politics