Reaching across the aisle to affect meaningful change works. I learned that early in my political career. I was 29 and a new Portsmouth city councilor. The council was undergoing its annual acrimonious budgetary dance between those who favored higher spending (“If you care about the kids…”) and those who sought to limit budget increases (“If you care about the taxpayers…”).

I had audited cities for a living, and found that most people cared about both “the kids” and “the taxpayers”…but simply needed to get past their partisan positions to focus on identifying solutions.

A coalition of us came together – two young Democrats and two older Republicans – to advocate a fundamental reform: instead of staying with a traditional budget based on the prior year’s, we supported a brand new performance-based budget using outcome data to meet our community’s real needs.

It took a few years to get the working majority that was needed, but that unlikely coalition led to the passage of budgets, while I was mayor, that increased spending below the rate of inflation, while improving outcomes in education, public safety, and public works. Why? Because instead of starting with inflexible positions, we began with quantifiable outcomes that led to meaningful debate.

We need to see similar collaborations taking place on the national stage.

This Saturday, a group I’m part of called No Labels will be holding an event here in New Hampshire that will give the people of the Granite State a chance to show our national leaders what goal-setting, collaboration and problem-solving look like.

The objective of Saturday’s forum is to take a productive time-out from the divisiveness and the name-calling of the election season — a noise from which we, in New Hampshire, rarely get a break.

The No Labels meeting won’t help or hurt anyone’s election chances. No one will score political points or move the needle on any campaign poll.

Instead, we’ll talk about a future where a strategic, reasonable policy agenda based on widely-agreed-upon goals can be championed by a future president. We’ll start to plan for a near future where the people of New Hampshire offer a new kind of “primary” challenge to presidential candidates. Because we all know that presidential candidates will continue to tell New Hampshire that they will unite the country…but most of them won’t be able to tell us how. The No Labels plan is “the how,” and a commitment to it will be the new New Hampshire primary test.

Any candidate worthy of leading our great nation will have to show us that he or she is a problem-solver, committed to collaboration and the principled pursuit of agreed-upon goals. Candidates will have to show us they are willing to champion a National Strategic Agenda that includes at least some of the widely-agreed-upon goals that No Labels has established through a national survey:

• Create 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years.

• Secure Medicare and Social Security for another 75 years.

• Balance the federal budget by 2030.

• Make America energy-secure by 2024.

This doesn’t mean a candidate must, in any way, abandon the principles they hold dear. In fact, one of the things I appreciate about No Labels is that it’s a movement accepting of differences of opinion.

Starting with those four goals and meetings like the one that will take place on Saturday at St. Anselm College, No Labels will spend the coming year developing its National Strategic Agenda, then unveiling it right here in New Hampshire on Oct. 5, 2015 – just as the 2016 election campaign kicks off. By then, the agenda will be a complete plan that has already achieved substantive input and broad agreement from rank and file citizens and political leaders from across the nation… and across the political spectrum.

I look forward to sharing this new roadmap with presidential candidates who are serious about solving problems and uniting our country. I know that common sense works, and I know the people of New Hampshire can show Washington, D.C. how.

Advertisements

I was invited to make brief remarks on Saturday, September 24, 2011 to the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual convention, held in Concord, NH.  Several people have asked to see a written version of the remarks, which focus on the need in 2012 for leadership focused on education and entrepreneurship, delivered by people with a strong record of fiscal responsibility.  These are the remarks as prepared for delivery:

In 2012, for the first time in almost a generation, neither John Lynch nor Jeanne Shaheen will appear on our ballot. When we select a gubernatorial nominee, we are not just setting the tone for 2012. We’re setting it for a generation.
And in these few minutes, I want to give you my vision about who we, as Democrats, should be. Not just because it’s good politics, but because we have the once-in-a-generation opportunity to present a vision of what it means to lead New Hampshire from the perspective of the real world.

(more…)

I authored this recent editorial, which appeared in the July 24, 2011 edition of the Portsmouth Herald:

“We’ll create lots of new jobs! We’ll ease property taxes with lots of new taxable property! You’ll feel the savings of slashed electric bills, too!”

It’s quite a set of enticing claims, and for backers of the proposed Northern Pass project, it was a sales pitch designed to sail through a population anxious from underemployment and over-taxation. But the grassroots push-back in New Hampshire has been powerful — particularly in the North Country, where the need for jobs and local tax revenue is greatest — and where it is matched only by the power of the arguments against the Northern Pass project.

Northern Pass is a proposed project between Northeast Utilities (which owns PSNH) and Massachusetts-based NStar. They are planning to build an estimated $1.1 billion high-voltage line through 180 miles of New Hampshire. The conglomerate would then lease the line to Hydro-Quebec, who would theoretically sell its electricity to the regional power pool. Because of safety concerns, the lines would be roughly twice as high as standard power lines and higher than most trees. These lines also require right-of-way cuts of 150 feet. Perhaps most problematic for many, the path would likely require about 40 miles of right-of-way access not already used for existing, smaller power lines — sparking major concerns over the use of eminent domain to take private property for the benefit of a private entity.

There’s a lot there about which to be concerned — but the promise of new jobs, new revenue sources, lower utility bills…;that should make the people of New Hampshire at least consider it, yes? Well, consider this:

1) New local property tax revenue? While proponents of the Northern Pass say the poles and wires represent new property tax revenue for affected communities, this represents only a small piece of the impact. Every private residence impacted either directly (going through their property) or indirectly (impacting their view or desirability) sees its property value diminished. How much? A Dalton family that could be impacted had a thorough study done of its property in May, and was told the market value would be diminished 63 percent. PSNH had its own appraisal done, and claimed it was “only” a 10 percent to 26 percent decrease in value. Let’s say PSNH (rather than the homeowner) is correct. This is an argument in their favor? To raise the same amount of revenue to pay for local services, the town of Dalton will almost certainly have to raise taxes on those households not directly impacted by the line’s construction. This project is more likely to depress existing property values, and depress future development, by a greater amount than any new taxable property will generate revenues.

2) New jobs? Proponents claim up to 1,200 temporary jobs will be created from this project. Once the project is finished, virtually all the jobs are, too. And once the line is constructed, the ability of local governments to fund existing local government jobs (public safety, education, public works) will be diminished (see point #1) — costing a marginal number of long-term jobs in the impacted communities. Tourism industry-related jobs are also an important part of what remains of the economy in the proposed paths of the line. It is universally understood that this project will not enhance tourism in the North Country.

3) Lower utility bills? Not so much. The proposed line would bring about 1,200 megawatts of electricity to New England — a significant amount of additional supply. In theory, increased supply should mean lower prices for consumers across New England. There are two big problems, though. First, New England does not have a supply problem — we currently use less electricity than we are capable of generating. This means the market will respond less to additional supply — and prices will drop very little. Second, much of the electricity that Northern Pass delivers will never be consumed by New Hampshire residents, because Northeast Utilities and NStar will purchase these megawatts from Hydro Québec to satisfy their customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This means customers in those states are more likely to enjoy some price reductions. This creates an extremely unattractive scenario for New Hampshire — a Canadian private entity, making money, and producing electricity, for customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In effect, using New Hampshire as the equivalent of a power superhighway without exit ramps.

In a time of great economic anxiety, it would be understandable to see those arguably most impacted — residents of the north country — quickest to embrace this project. But in last spring’s North Country town meetings, overwhelming numbers of residents expressed disapproval for the project. And in so doing, they expressed their value of the long view over short-term gain, something I admire greatly. And as the nephew of a retired dairy farmer in Pittsburg, and the grandson of a grandfather who lived in West Stewartstown, I agree with them, too.

Steve Marchand is a former Portsmouth mayor and principal owner of The Marchand Group, a consulting firm.

In “Play It Again, Sam”, Woody Allen’s character tells Diane Keaton’s character his secret to success in life:  “Eighty percent of being successful in life is showing up.”  Allen’s character in the film, one could argue, may have needed to lower the definition of success, but he raised a valid point – at least, as it relates to political parties’ ability to win races.  You can’t beat somebody with nobody – and in the New Hampshire House, there are a lot of “nobodys”, literally, who filed for office by last Friday’s filing deadline.

While each state party will fill additional candidate vacancies in the New Hampshire House this week, the reality is that, for most House races, those candidates who will truly compete for a seat have already filed, and are officially in campaign mode (which is more enjoyable than the “Finding $295 Million Mode” the House just completed).  As the campaign season begins in earnest, though, and partisan control of the NH House and Senate are squarely in play, we can already begin to project what the “baseline” number of seats will be for each party, by looking at which districts have slots unfilled during the filing period. 

(more…)

In my last post, I focused on the 22 House Republicans who were “underwater” – that is, they were Republicans in districts with Democratic NHPVIs (see elsewhere on this blog for a description of the NHPVI).  As a teaser, I suggested that there were many more Democrats who were similarly underwater (about 68 of them, to be exact) than there were Republicans, mainly because Democrats have been winning virtually every seat within reach over the past four years.  The challenge Democrats in the New Hampshire House face in 2010 is relentless math – Dems currently hold about a 44-seat advantage, which means a net switch of 23 seats from Democrat to Republican would give the GOP a (nominal) majority. 

Later this week, we’ll review which of these underwater House members decided to retire vs. run again, and what those decisions mean for November.  For today, we’ll quickly review who these 68 Underwater Democrats are, and where they serve. 

Onto the list!

(more…)

In a recent post, I wrote that about 90 of the 400 Representatives currently in the State House are “politically underwater” – that is, they represent districts that have a partisan voting performance favoring the other political party, even if marginally so.  Of those 90, 68 of them are Democrats in Republican-performing House districts, and 22 of them are Republicans in Democratic-performing districts.  This is obviously generally not good news for Democrats, who will playing almost exclusively defense in New Hampshire (and in most places) in 2010. 

In this post, we’ll focus on the 22 Republican House members who are currently underwater.  To be a Republican in a Democratic-leaning district is rather remarkable, after the last four years.  The Republican brand has been savaged over the last two election cycles, and virtually any Republican who could lose, has lost, since 2006.  So, who are these 22 Reps, where do they serve, and is there anything we can learn about 2010 politics from this unusual list?

(more…)

Starting on Wedensday, June 2nd, candidates can file to run for office in New Hampshire.  While the top-of-the-ticket candidates tend to get all the attention, many of the most consequential results come from the winners of the 400 State Representative seats (representing 103 House districts).  Votes for gay marriage and against expanded gambling are just a few examples of recent House positions that carried the day – and yet, most of these Representatives toil in relative obscurity.  Even worse, most activists, operatives, and donors don’t know where to even start in prioritizing these races for recruitment and resources. 

One of the results of the work I’ve done over the last year with the New Hampshire Partisan Voter Index (NHPVI – see this for a recent post I wrote that briefly explains the methodology of the NHPVI) is that we can better quantify the partisan leanings of all 103 NH House districts in the state, and compare the expected makeup of each district’s delegation with the actual makeup.  We can also begin to identify which districts provide the greatest opportunities for gains and losses for each political party.

(more…)