Letter from New Hampshire

Alan Elsner Image
Alan Elsner
on November 2, 2016

J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.  

In this swing state, eight days before one of the most bitter presidential elections in living memory, you see two kinds of “Hillary” yard signs.

One kind simply states, Clinton, Kaine.” The other says, “Hillary for Prison, 2016.”

We can thank Republican nominee Donald Trump for creating an atmosphere where it’s no longer enough to win an election. No, he wants to win the election and then throw his opponent in jail.

This is how dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro behave. It’s not how we conduct elections in our democracy – or it least it hasn’t been up to now. Trump has brought something new and dangerous to our electoral system and the virus of extremism and intolerance he has created has spread and multiplied through the nation.

New Hampshire is experiencing a political perfect storm this year with arguably more crucial races than any other state. As well as being a crucial battleground in the presidential election, there is also a critical Senate race going on here in which J Street is working for Maggie Hassan against the incumbent, Republican Kelly Ayotte. The outcome will help determine control of the US Senate and right now the race is too close to call.

J Street is also involved, on behalf of Democratic challenger Carol Shea-Porter, in the battle for the state’s first congressional district, one of the most evenly-balanced in the nation. The scandal-plagued incumbent candidate is Republican Frank Guinta. This is the fourth time these candidates have met and the seat has swapped hands in each of the four last elections.

An equally fierce battle is underway to replace Hassan as governor between Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern. (J Street does not endorse gubernatorial candidates or raise money for them.)

All of this has helped create a tension that is palpable. An article in the Concord Monitor focused on fears that such tensions could overflow into the state’s schools, many of which double as voting stations, next week. Unlike in other states, many of these schools do not suspend classes but stay open on Election  Day so that voters and children are in close proximity.

Parents and teachers are worried that some voters will show up carrying weapons. Federal law generally bans firearms from schools but the state attorney general’s office is advising election officials not to turn away voters carrying weapons. The state doesn’t have the authority to enforce the federal Gun Free School Zones Act, according to Assistant Attorney General Brian Buonamano.

At St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, which is home to the New Hampshire Institute on Politics, scholars bemoan the 2016 election and its effects on our nation. Elizabeth Ossoff, an expert in political psychology,, said that Americans seem to have forgotten that “government is not about ‘I get my way’ but about finding the integrated solution. Instead, we act like petulant children.”

Outside the New Hampshire state house in Concord stands a statue of Franklin Pierce, commonly viewed as one of our worst presidents. Yet Pierce, who served from 1853-’57, has some lessons to teach us. A defender of slavery, he has gone down in history as the man who hastened the advent of the Civil War by backing legislation that effectively allowed the expansion of slavery across the Mississippi to newly-created states and territories in the West.

Theodore Roosevelt later wrote of Pierce that he was “a servile tool of men worse than himself … ever ready to do any work the slavery leaders set him.”

Pierce, the only native of New Hampshire to serve in the White House, failed the test of history and allowed evil to flourish and expand. Let us hope we have the wisdom to avoid following his tragic example next Tuesday.