By Jake Berry, LNH Class of 2017
After John Clayton, executive director of the Manchester Historic Association and our host for the day, welcomed the group, Steve Reno quickly turned it over to our first presenter, Steve Norton, executive director of the N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies and LNH ’07. Within a matter of moments, Steve set to work disproving many assumptions we had held about the Granite State.
Assumption 1: New Hampshire is full of life-long Granite Staters.
Fact 2: New Hampshire is the country’s eighth-least native state.
Assumption 2: New Hampshire is rapidly losing its younger population.
Fact: Young families are not leaving the state at a faster rate than in the past.
Assumption 3: New Hampshire has no broad-based taxes.
Fact: The rooms and meals tax serves as a form of sales tax, and the Business Enterprise Tax is a form of an income tax.
Steve’s revealing analysis set the stage for a day full of insightful presentations and thoughtful discussion that led the group to question much about our home state, and contemplate the state we’d like to see in the future.
Following Steve’s presentation, Prof. Peter Rose, of Smith College, took the stage to address the cultural divides that pervade our society. Prof. Rose discussed the roots of ethnocentrism and nativism, and the evolving meaning of tolerance, which at its root means “to put up with,” within our communities.
Prof. Rose’s insights, which drew upon the historic works of Rudyard Kipling, John Dewey and others, would set an important backdrop for the group as we went on to discuss New Hampshire’s changing demographics throughout the afternoon.
After a quick lunch break, Steve Taylor, a founding LNH trustee and former Commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture, offered his thoughts on the history and traditions of our state. Granite Staters often identify themselves by the city, town or community they’re from, rather than their state or region, Steve observed. “Sense of place is very important to us and how we view ourselves,” he said. This produces a great sense of civic pride and gives each community a distinct character of its own, but it also creates a culture of local rule that can conflict at times with the interests of state or federal policy makers and stakeholders.
This preference for local control can, at times, also lead to a sense of isolationism that can undermine New Hampshire’s sense of togetherness and community, Yvonne Goldsberry, president of the N.H. Endowment for Health, said in the day’s last presentation. The current tax structure, for instance, leaves the state lacking sufficient revenues to care for all of its people, and puts pressure on many businesses to support employees, in place of state services, Yvonne said. Further, the state’s commitment to this lack of a broad-based tax (in the form of “the Pledge”) prevents lawmakers from engaging in any real meaning discussion about reform.
In our small group discussions, our class members agreed with the sometimes conflicting characteristics of our state: Granite Staters’ sense of individualism and local pride is an important part of our history, but at the same time, it can make it difficult to evolve and adapt to the changes the state faces.
Looking to the future, class members said they want New Hampshire to remain committed to our families and our communities, and to retain our deep connection to our physical surroundings. At the same time, we reported that we want our state to become even more inclusive and responsive to the needs of different populations.
With this in mind, several class members issued a proposal, or a challenge of sorts. They proposed that the LNH Class of 2017, LNH’s 25th Class, take the lead on a project, #Lead25, in which class members develop a strategic plan taking a look at what New Hampshire should look like 25 years from now.
This is an ambitious undertaking, but one that this group of members – with its wide array of interests, insights and experiences – is well positioned to lead. If this second program day was any indication, the discussions held throughout the LNH year will help to inform our efforts and help us to pave a new future for our state and our community.