Blazing the trail

Saturday November 10, 2012

When we say "first in the nation" we think of New Hampshire as the state that every four years casts the first ballots in the presidential primary and general election.

That’s a dubious distinction, but on the evening of Nov. 6, the Granite State earned that title for a truly incredible accomplishment: On Jan. 3, when the 113th Congress convenes, there will be four women representing New Hampshire in Washington, D.C.

While it is true that our neighbor’s delegation is small compared to mega-states such as New York, California and Texas, the Granite State’s voters should be proud of what they have done.

They already have two capable women serving as senators -- Jeanne Shaheen (who was also governor from 1997 to 2003 and is the first woman in the United States to be elected as both a governor and as a senator) and Kelly Ayotte, former attorney general.

On Tuesday night, a former U.S. representative and an attorney specializing in adoptions unseated the two Republican incumbents serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Carol Shea-Porter (a former social worker who had never held public office until she defeated Republican Jeb Bradley in 2006) and Ann McLane Kuster, both Democrats, defeated a pair of Republicans affiliated with the Tea Party who tried to characterize their opponents as big-government, tax-loving liberals.

Kuster, who lost a nail-biter to Charlie Bass in 2010, beat him by eight points on Tuesday night. Shea-Porter defeated former Manchester Mayor Michael Guinta (who had unseated her in 2010) by a three-point margin.

Both Kuster and Shea-Porter described themselves as champions of the middle class fighting against the extremism of the Tea Party.

In addition to having four women in Washington, New Hampshire’s voters chose a woman -- former state Senator Maggie Hassan, to take over as governor.

The achievements build on the Granite State’s tradition of breaking gender barriers, wrote Esme Deprez for Bloomberg News.

"In 2008, when Hassan was re-elected to the senate, the state became the first to have a majority-female legislative body. Female representation in Concord ... has beaten the national average since at least 1975 ...."

We often joke about the size of the Legislature in the Granite State -- 424 in the house and the senate -- but it is the size that makes it easier for women to achieve office there.

Dante Scala, who teaches politics at UNH, told Bloomberg News this means candidates need to raise less money, don’t need big name recognition and can be elected with fewer votes than in states with smaller representative bodies.

"This has benefited women who have pursued office," said Scala. "Once the first women have blazed the trail, it becomes easier for more women to get elected because voters are more used to seeing women in power."

Scala said the nature of politics in New Hampshire is very participatory.

"We have a lot of activist, amateur involvement ... there’s a lot of room for politically interested people to operate even if they don’t have a lot of experience," Scala told Bloomberg News.

This culture contributed to creating the Granite State’s new congressional delegation. And though the legislative process in New Hampshire can be sloppy due to its size, it’s still something to be proud of.

But most importantly is what may follow on the heels of election day.

Amy Bradley, a mother of two daughters from Manchester, told Bloomberg News having an all-woman delegation was inspiring.

"It means everything to me," she said. "It’s going to mean everything to (my two daughters), to know that they are not limited because they are a woman."


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