Charlie Arlinghaus

August 20, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

Though we all pretend to care about state and local affairs, few of us actually can be bothered to pay attention. A tiny sliver of the population votes, participates, or even seems to care. Despite that epidemic of apathy, people can always be counted on to be annoyed by changes they themselves helped cause. Changes to journalism are one example of this trend.

There has been a great deal of angst lately as the Nashua Telegraph closed their State House bureau and released veteran reporter Kevin Landrigan. Following the retirement of longtime Associated Press reporter Norma Love, observers worried that no one in an increasingly lonely press room had any historical knowledge and that the public would be poorer because of it. The concern is real but exaggerated and sometimes expressed by people who helped cause it.

In a small press corps, losing two reporters who have witnessed so much definitely lessens the knowledge base but they weren’t the only veterans around. The Union Leader has a strong presence at the State House with Gary Rayno, a veteran of three decades and multiple newspapers, whose knowledge of the inner workings of the State House is equal to that of any current or former reporters.

Though a paper or two no longer has a full-time reporter, few of them will stop covering the State House. The Associated Press made a strong move by hiring the well regarded Kathleen Ronayne to replace Norma Love. In addition, the much lamented Mr. Landrigan didn’t miss a step as he was picked up immediately by a broadcast and internet concern.

Without question though, there is less coverage of everything local than there once was. A decade ago, the State House considered doubling the size of an overcrowded press room. More recently, they removed unused desks from a less utilized room. There are fewer newspaper reporters. That fact is often lamented by people who can’t be bothered to subscribe to newspapers themselves. It is a little disingenuous to complain about coverage while refusing to help pay the salaries of the reporters who provide said coverage.

The decline is not limited to print. Veteran radio man Ken Cail told me that when he first came to New Hampshire radio in the 1970s, a large Manchester station had a six person news room. Into the 1980s and 1990s multiple radio stations had news staffs of various sizes. Today, I’m not aware of any commercial station with dedicated news staff. Dedicated reporters exist at New Hampshire Public Radio but not elsewhere on the radio dial.

We all know some blowhard or another who insists to us that he only gets his news “from twitter and the internet.” Somehow, a friend of yours making a smart aleck comment in the 15 words twitter allows counts as news. A Facebook link to a newspaper story or a blog which recasts information gathered by a reporter grants the feeble minded the illusion that somehow the nebulous monolith of the internet created news from ether.

The truth is that fewer people care anymore. Things like the internet have disassociated us from each other. We are less likely to know our neighbors, participate in anything like a community, or have a social network that includes living beings. A sociological analysis our growing independence from human contact was called “Bowling Alone.” Bridge clubs, bowling leagues, discussion groups, church suppers and the like decline in favor of social media memes and something called “tweet-ups.”

The result in a civic sense is that we don’t care. New Hampshire’s noble and Norman Rockwellish institution of town meeting is a museum piece rolled out for people from away to see. The truth is that 90% of the people aren’t there. Controversies increase turnout but otherwise most of us stay home. Local elections are not much better. State primary elections next month will see between 10 and 15% of the population of the state actually cast a ballot. For the vast overwhelming majority, elections and public policy are just a nuisance or a slightly annoying background noise.

Most of us are less engaged in our geographic community or other communities of interest. As our civic engagement declines so too does our interest in local affairs. A decline in local news coverage – or at least our interest in it – is a reflection of that decline not a cause of it.

Josh Elliott-Traficante

September, 2013

While the unemployment rate in New Hampshire dropped to 5.0% in August, the decline was not caused by an increase in employment, but by a decrease in the size of the workforce. According to the Household Survey, the number of employed residents dropped by 120, the number of unemployed residents dropped by 650, while the labor force as a whole shrank by 770.

The August data continues a trend, seen in the New Hampshire labor market over the last few months, of declining unemployment coupled with a shrinking labor force. This is not unique to the state however; this trend is seen in the national data as well.

This means that discouraged workers are still dropping out of the labor force largely accounting for recent “improvements” in the unemployment rate.

Turning to the Establishment Survey Data, the state had a net loss of 1,000 jobs. The total number of private sector jobs declined by 3,200 and the public sector grew by 2,200.  Areas seeing the biggest losses were Construction (-500), Professional and Business Services (-1,100) and Leisure and Hospitality (-1,100). Sectors seeing the most growth were Local Government (+2,400) and Wholesale Trade (+300).

The Manchester area saw no change in employment in the month of August, while Nashua added 700 jobs, Rochester-Dover: 200 and Portsmouth lost 700.

 Charlie Arlinghaus

June 6, 2012

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

 

The debate over education funding in New Hampshire has always had an element of fear in it ever since the original Claremont rulings. Some fears are well founded, but many are exaggerations not necessarily based in fact or actual history. Fears of the constitutional amendment being considered today are no different. The actual amendment is a tempered response to Claremont that will allow sensible lawmaking and forestall nothing of importance.

While most conservatives support an amendment and have supported one for decades, the current version finds one subset of conservatives still skeptical. This group worries most of all about local control and posits the amendment as a state takeover of education, an elimination of local rights, and suggests instead the Legislature simply ignore the court decision.

The court’s original decision was certainly a contorted definition of the ambiguous phrase “cherish the interests of arts and sciences, and all seminaries and public schools.” Beginning with his “Letters to Educators,” my colleague Eugene Van Loan has continually demonstrated the over-reach of the court interpretation.

Ignoring the decision has been one option available to lawmakers, but not one with any hope of success. Each Legislature has a few dozen politicians willing to tell the court that it wrongly decided Claremont and they choose not to be bound by that decision. In the absence of that possibility, an amendment must be considered.

Critics are in fact correct that the current amendment does limit the Legislature’s options. In fact, the language of the amendment would not allow the Legislature to abandon the funding of education entirely. Today, state aid to education amounts to $1.03 billion over 10 different aid programs. The current amendment would not allow the Legislature to spend zero dollars. Then again, no one seriously proposes that the state do nothing (not that the fear of such an outcome isn’t regularly raised by the left) so that concession forestalls nothing in reality.

Some wrongly worry that the amendment would eliminate local control of education decisions. They worry the amendment will “centralize control” of education decisions, not just funding, and move authority from the towns to the state. In fact, the amendment clarifies that the state may in fact delegate authority it has and has always had down to the towns.

From the beginning, the state has controlled education. For our entire history, the state has mandated curricula and teaching credentials. The very first education laws of the state stipulated the credentials required to be allowed to teach, and they mandated curricula — one curriculum in most towns, a different curriculum in shire towns. In the first few years, curricula were loosened, credentials were tightened.

The misunderstanding stems from language in our constitution, borrowed like most of it from Massachusetts, that gives towns the “right of electing their own teachers.” The basis and understanding of that right is at the center of a group’s opposition to the amendment.

That right never allowed towns to elect absolutely anyone for any reason with any credential. From the beginning, the state specified minimum standards to be eligible to be selected and requirements for what that person could teach. To the modern mind, we might ask what good that right was if the state nonetheless dictated who might be eligible for election.

Remember that under the original constitution that right was for “Protestant Teachers of Morality and Piety.” The phrasing was not simply anti-Catholic bigotry. It reminds us that the line between teacher and minister was not so clear as we see it today. The former colonists did not want ministers or teachers imposed on them by an Anglican Bishop and instead wanted the right to elect a minister they chose — low church, not high church, Congregational not Anglican. They liberalized the laws so the town could choose and the teachers would not necessarily have to possess a credential from a bishop in England.

Regulation of teachers’ credentials was done by the state before, during and after the constitution. Curriculum requirements were established before, during and after the constitution. However, the good Congregationalists across New England made it clear that they wanted the right to pick the specific, qualified individual lest some community with dissenting sympathies have a Church of England teacher forced on them.

We should all work to oppose laws dictating every detail of education in local public schools. But the state has had that power for 230 years, and the fact that this amendment does not radically undo that original understanding of the state’s authority is no reason to avoid doing the sensible thing.

 

By Charlie Arlinghaus

November 2011
As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

In many ways, most of what those of us on the right are trying to achieve today is just recycling the efforts of John Sununu from thirty years ago. It is fitting that he is being honored next week as an example of the kind of public service that focuses not on winning the right office but on achieving the right policy.

Next week, my organization, the Josiah Bartlett Center, will honor former Governor Sununu with our Libertas Award. Named after the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas is meant to serve as shorthand for a dedication to individual and economic freedom in preference to the heavy hand of the state. It is the word Jefferson used when he wrote to Madison that he preferred to the tumult of liberty to the quiet of servitude.

Those of us with a belief in economic freedom and limited government are honoring Governor Sununu not because of an election or a title but because of what he did with those titles and those offices. His experience is a model for those who would be governor and his actions a useful roadmap for the next few years.

Sununu came to New Hampshire not by accident but as an entrepreneur with a startup business. He reached the conclusion that so many entrepreneurs in the high tech field do: New Hampshire has a more favorable business climate than their home state. Sununu experienced first hand the economic advantages of New Hampshire and tried throughout his career to preserve them up to and including last year’s fight against the LLC tax that would have reversed the flow of jobs.

He took office in 1983 during a fiscal crisis remarkably similar to the one face today. He first balanced a budget that was in crisis. Stopping the bleeding was critical before moving to adopt pro-growth policies.

Once the bleeding was stopped, the budget balanced, and the deficit paid off, Sununu focused on adopting pro-growth policies to send a signal to job creators that the jobs they would create coming out of a recession should be in New Hampshire. He made significant cuts the Business Profits Tax, the clearest sign to businesses that we wanted them here. That focus on pro-growth tax cuts is echoed in the legislative debates about how to attract jobs coming out of the most recent recession.

During the boom that followed, Sununu focused on modernization and infrastructure. Rather than build up a bureaucracy, he focused any windfall from the business and population boom on rebuilding the state’s dilapidated infrastructure – one-time spending rather than an inexorable boom in the scope of government.

Three reforms stand out. Sununu brought the state into the modern world with computerized management and a landmark integrated financial system, all leading Time magazine to write a national story on how “a computer buff is transforming New Hampshire.”

Today, we regard the internet as a revolutionary tool for making government transparent, open, and accountable. The transparency movement seems to be a recent thing but Sununu was touting the details of government as a key to efficiency more than 20 years before we even conceived of the idea of an NH OpenGov website. He channeled all spending and revenue information into the state’s computer down to “the lowest source to get intimate, unbiased data.” The need for computerized information is the obvious forefather of our current work putting every transaction of state government in a public internet database.

The level of detail available made New Hampshire a leader in privatization before that concept was commonplace. Some government functions were done more efficiently on the outside so they were contracted out. For example, psychiatric services were performed not by state employees but by professionals from Dartmouth providing better service more efficiently.

One of the most lasting reforms was one we talk about today – the ten year highway plan. Bridges and highways don’t suddenly fail, they are or ought to be managed over time. Rather than manage the major infrastructure projects of the state on a piecemeal basis like many states did, Sununu issued an executive order requiring the state to adopt a ten year plan to systematically order this long-term spending.

Perhaps the best example of the Sununu focus on policy not just election is the state’s pension system. When he left office, the state’s retirement system was fully funded and had paid off previous liabilities. That’s not the case today.

Although focused last year on elections as party chairman, Governor Sununu and I talked regularly about the state’s current unfunded liabilities and finding the right solution to them. The pensions would never be an issue in the election but they impacted the long term health of the state and so he was focused out of the public eye on the right policy.

A good lesson for would be policymakers: often things that aren’t about getting elected are still the right thing to do.