Sacred Cow Hampshire

A few years ago I wrote a piece about the cash machine known as the New Hampshire presidential primary. The next thing I knew I was being told off by campaign consultants, high-level politicos and media people — the very folks who punch their PINs into the primary ATM every few years.

It made me realize that, for a state that takes pride in its purported rugged individualism and resilience, New Hampshire — or at least a number of people in New Hampshire — can have a pretty thin skin when it comes to certain beliefs or values: the sacred cows, if you will, that are at the core of our self-esteem.

The primary obviously has an untouchable status. But in recent years, as the threat to take away the status — or even share it — grows, the wagons have been circled and the Gatling guns are out. While proponents’ arguments run the gamut from “you need a place where you can still practice retail politics” to “we’ve always been first,” the one that’s convinced me of the primary defenders’ growing desperation is the claim that, essentially, New Hampshire voters are endowed with a special gift that puts them in a class by themselves when it comes to picking presidential candidates. Something like the Chosen People.

Then there’s the claim that New Hampshire has no taxes. There’s no sales tax, of course — except if you happen to be buying dinner or staying in a hotel room or buying a cup of coffee and a donut at the drive-thru, then you’re shelling out an extra 8 percent. Or if you’re a smoker, you’re coughing up 80 cents to the state for each pack of cigarettes. Or if you use a telephone, mobile or otherwise, your bill is padded by 7 percent to cover the state’s vigorish.

Ah, but there’s no income tax, you say. Indeed not, except if you own a business and you have to pay the business enterprise tax, which is 0.75 percent on the firm’s “tax base,” which includes all compensation paid — that’s wages, folks. Then there are the people who have the gall to earn money through the interest and dividends on their investments. Their income tax is 5 percent.

And don’t get me started on fees. There are hundreds of ’em, and whether you own a motor vehicle or a boat, go hunting or fishing, run a barber shop or are an electrician or a plumber or a doctor or a lawyer — but not an Indian chief, as far as I can tell — you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Then there’s the claim that New Hampshire worships at the altar of local control, especially when it comes to education. Does that mean the state Department of Education and the state assessment tests are only a figment of my imagination?

How about town meeting, the living symbol of grass-roots democracy — isn’t it alive and well in New Hampshire? Last I checked, towns all around the state don’t seem to cherish the tradition. They’ve been lining up for years to enact SB 2, the law that allows voters to decide budgets and all that stuff by ballot, without a town meeting, or even a potluck supper.

I could go on. From the confrontational motto, “Live Free or Die,” penned by a cranky old general, to the “New Hampshire Advantage,” which is chanted like a mantra intoned to keep evil spirits away, New Hampshire’s chock full of sacred cows, and probably as many people not willing to see them as otherwise.
I await your comments. NH

Jeff Feingold, editor of New Hampshire Business Review, can be reached at