Charlie Arlinghaus

December 28, 2011

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

As with any major event in America, much of the mythology of the New Hampshire primary either isn’t true or is only half true. Boosters of the primary, like most boosters, tell a tale full of legend and less than critical promotion of the home team.

Like anyone else who lives in New Hampshire, I am naturally fond of the New Hampshire primary. Nonetheless, I think some of the claims about the primary process are exaggerated. Perhaps no claim is quite as misleading as the insult “Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents.”

On its face, this claim is false. The last two presidents both won the Iowa caucus and lost the New Hampshire primary. But buried inside this claim is another more general falsehood. New Hampshire boosters will tell you that the New Hampshire primary stands on its own and we don’t generally care what happens in Iowa. It has little or no impact on the New Hampshire primary.

This claim too is just plain wrong. While it has been true that John McCain has been able to skip Iowa and still do well in New Hampshire, the Iowa results have been influential for most other candidates. As early as 1980, George Bush was able to use an upset victory in Iowa to consolidate a position as the chief moderate alternative to Ronald Reagan.

Since then, Iowa has changed our feelings about potential candidates. Phil Gramm’s 1996 candidacy ended after a fifth-place Iowa finish. It was seen as impossible to overcome that low a finish and remain competitive. In the same election, Lamar Alexander used a stronger than expected third place finish to catapult him into contention in New Hampshire.

Of course the publicity of an Iowa finish isn’t everything. Alexander and Gramm both had remarkably strong New Hampshire operations. For one candidate, it wasn’t enough to overcome a poor finish. For the other it allowed him a chance to turn unexpected good news into contention. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee had a much weaker operation in New Hampshire leaving him only able to translate a big Iowa win into a distant third place finish.

Primaries in America are a sequential process. One happens after another and not in a vacuum. The Iowa caucus results will see the equivalent of a few billion dollars worth of publicity and be watched by millions more people than any early debate. The New Hampshire primary adds a few more billions of dollars in publicity dwarfing the amount a campaign can spend itself. Whoever wins Iowa and whoever does better than people expected him to do will receive a boost in New Hampshire. Iowa will narrow the field just as New Hampshire narrows it further.

The transfer isn’t perfect because each state is different. New Hampshire and Iowa have very different Republican electorates. In 2008, 88% of Iowa GOP caucus-goers described themselves as conservative, the most conservative of any primary electorate. In New Hampshire, only 55% self-identified as conservative – among the lowest of any state. In addition, while 60% of Iowa GOP voters described themselves as evangelical, only 23% did in New Hampshire – a state which unfortunately has the lowest church attendance in the nation.

Another myth is the notion that we like to meet the candidate: “I don’t know if I like him, I’ve only met him three times.” In reality, a significant majority of the voters will never go to see a candidate in person and almost none will go see all the candidates. Most voters want to know they could have seen every candidate but on a typical evening or weekend, we’re tired from work or have other family priorities which come ahead of a candidate rally.

That’s not to say that grass roots campaigning doesn’t matter. Voters check the newspapers and television. As an aside, as much as we’re told that newspapers are struggling, there is a significant overlap between newspaper subscription lists and primary voters. Voters checking the coverage in the paper and watching television want a campaign that has the appearance of a grass roots campaign regardless of how many town chairmen and county captains it may have. It’s one reason every candidate calls every appearance it can get away with a “town hall meeting.”

I don’t mean to imply that campaigns are just a Potemkin village eagerly awaiting the results in Iowa. Grass roots can make a difference but they’re like sweeping in curling. It looks impressive with a lot of motion and activity. The sweeping can change things at the margins but only so much. The rock has to be on a good trajectory to begin with.

The New Hampshire primary is an important and valuable process in concert with other states. But the racing form will look very different a week from today after actual voters render judgment on more than just corn.


By Charlie Arlinghaus

July 2011

Originally Published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Politicians are incapable of doing the right thing on their own. Without some sort of artificially imposed rules, they will continue along in their hapless way on the road to destroying the country. The federal budget is a problem that can only be solved by going back to the 1980s.

The broad outlines of the country’s fiscal policy are well known. Federal politicians almost never balance the budget. Instead they borrow money from our children (and, at this point, grandchildren) to pay for the things they want to spend money on today. There is not a realistic hope of ever paying off all the debt they are accumulating.

The federal budget has been balanced in only four of the last 50 years and then only nominally (actually they used the excess of social security contributions over payments to improve cashflow). The last four Clinton budgets achieved a nominal balance but none of the budgets since then have.

Under the president’s proposed budget, debt held by the public would double to 87% of the gross domestic product. Total debt is already about 100% of the size of the economy.

Since World War I, the country has had a statutory limit on the amount of debt allowed. In a debate over raising that limit for the eleventh time in the last ten years, politicians have been able to posture about the need for so-called spending cuts.

Like almost every other debate in Washington, the debate and cuts are fake. No one in Washington on either side of the aisle has actually proposed a spending cut. What they propose is spending a lot more money but not quite as much more as they were planning.

In New Hampshire, we use normal math. The state just cut spending by more than 10%. We passed a budget that is 10% lower than the prior two-years.

The federal government develops a “baseline” for official spending. They plan on increasing spending by 4.6% in each of the next ten years and spending a total of $46 trillion over those ten years. If they reduce the rate of increase to 4.1%, they will have, by their definition, cut spending by $2 trillion. By New Hampshire’s definition, what they call draconian cuts are an increase of 50% over ten years.

The problem is cultural. They don’t actually have to balance the budget so they don’t. The four years of quasi-balance in the 1990s came as a result of divided government (I hate your spending and you hate mine) and mild restraint during an economic boom.

The solution championed by our Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a balanced budget amendment to the constitution. I am generally reluctant to amend the constitution but this may be a case where the structure of government has failed us and has to be corrected. Regardless, an amendment will take years to go through the process and be ratified by the states.

More immediate action can and should be taken. The model for this action comes from the 1980s and former Sen. Warren Rudman. In the 1980s the annual budget deficit had grown to what was seen then as an obscene level. The annual budget deficit in 1983 was 6% of gross domestic product (in 2010, it was 9%).

Sen. Rudman along with Phil Gramm and Ernest Hollings recognized that the Congress needed to be prodded. They set up a path of lower deficit targets each year until the budget would be balanced in ten years. If Congress didn’t meet the target, an automatic sequester would cut every area of government by an equal amount to meet the target. The threat forced politicians of the 1980s to act and cut spending themselves.

From 1983-1989, the Gramm-Rudman bill lowered the annual deficit from 6% of GDP to 2.8%. Spending went up each year but grew slower than the economy as a whole. But Congress repealed the restraint in 1990.

A new Gramm-Rudman could be enacted by people who both support a constitutional amendment and those who don’t as part of a debt ceiling compromise. The advantage is it would go into effect immediately and force Congress to act. In addition, enforced deficit targets are policy neutral. The target must be met and the deficit gradually erased. The policy decisions to get there are still a matter for debate. Those who want to raise taxes can make that argument. Those who want to cut spending can make that argument.

An agreement over the debt ceiling issue will only be serious if it includes an enforcement mechanism not just feel good rhetoric. The model for action comes from right here in the Granite State. It worked when Sen. Rudman proposed it and will work again.

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank based in Concord, New Hampshire


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A public database isn’t just a tool for those of us strange enough to want to pore over budget data. It is the sunshine that disinfects the public square. Knowing that every detail is available, accessible, and searchable means there is no chance that any action, any contract, any expenditure, is going to stay hidden from the public.

The Josiah Bartlett Center’s open government project, has created an online, searchable database accessible to anyone and everyone. It will includes every check the government writes, every agency, every dollar, down to the penny and the person in an easily searchable format.

We currently have records of more than 4.5 Million individual state transactions from fiscal year 2009 to date. We are constantly receiving more data, so this number will only grow! As our database continues to grow, analytic tools such as year over year comparisons will allow you to create visuals that plainly layout trends in government spending. No hype, no spin, just the cold hard facts.

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Today RealtyTrac released its February foreclosure data, which showed a slow down in filings both here in New Hampshire as well as Nationally.  Foreclosure filings are the number of properties that either receive a default notice, a foreclosure auction notice or are repossessed by the bank.

New Hampshire saw filings drop from 1053 in January to 737 in February, a 30% drop. Nationally filings fell 2%. It should be noted that January was a exceptionally high month due to the end of the moratorium on foreclosure filings by many major banks as a result of the robo-signing scandal. With January excepted, February’s figures are only slightly higher than the monthly average over the last 12 months.

Sales of homes in some state of foreclosure fell as well, from 223 to 80.

In New Hampshire, 1 property in 834 has received a foreclosure filing. This puts us as the highest in New England and on par with Iowa and Minnesota. Nevada, one of the worst hit states in the nation, 1 in 278 properties has received a foreclosure filing.

The national average is 1 in 637.