Sphere of Influence
Concord may be a tiny planet, but just try to escape its gravity.A few years ago the planet most of us grew up calling Pluto got in trouble with the international scientific community. Some argued rather forcefully that Pluto, the only planet discovered by an American, simply did not meet the criteria necessary for planet status.
A number of state legislatures, New Hampshire not among them, passed resolutions in protest of this reclassification. While Pluto will have to fight for itself, there is a strong argument to be made that New Hampshire has its own tiny planet: Planet Concord.
Planet Concord’s landmass does not include most of the state’s capital city nor even a fraction of its people. It consists of the most immediate blocks around the Statehouse and some state agencies. Most people of Planet Concord’s workforce do not live there, but all members of Planet Concord are subject to its gravity and know where its power lies.
But Planet Concord is more of a mindset than a place. It’s a shorthand term some use to describe what the conventional wisdom is within this insular political community. To its citizens, the biggest thing going on in the state is not our tourism or our families but the process of how a state budget is put together. To them, people like Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan is universally known as the next governor-in-waiting even though scarcely five percent of the state’s population even recognize her name.
Planet Concord’s parochial dynamics are not unlike what occurs among Little League parents where the universe can revolve around the outcome of a single game. But, unlike Little League, what is said and decided within Planet Concord can have a huge actual impact for the rest of the state.
In 2004 then-Gov. Craig Benson had huge problems with Planet Concord. He either never fundamentally understood its rules or he did and rejected them. Either way, before Benson even attempted re-election he was at war. He took his message outside of Concord and delivered the ceremonial State of the State address in Plymouth. Planet Concord responded to such slights by setting the stage for him to become the first governor in 78 years to be denied a second term.
Today Gov. John Lynch’s management style and personal likeability present him as the benevolent ruler of Planet Concord. But as his job approval ratings fall elsewhere in the state we wonder: does Planet Concord control attitudes statewide or does the state sometimes control attitudes inside Planet Concord?
This year’s midterm elections look grim for incumbents who orbit too closely to the nation’s capital or their own state capitals. In Washington lawmakers find incentives to become career politicians. The longer they stick around the more power they get, the more campaign money they can amass and the more political jobs they can control to hand out to folks who then want to keep them in power.
Concord doesn’t have enough money to host such political games and therefore most state senators and state representatives only stick around for about six years. But there is one perk they get that they can always take with them – membership in the exclusive club known as Planet Concord. And state legislators don’t even have to pay for the tolls on the way there. NH