Coös County continues to lose political clout
December 29, 2010
Coös County is losing clout in Concord in part because the region continues to lose population and its elected politicians fail to win important leadership positions.
The recently released U.S. Census numbers could cost Coös County seats in the state legislature, predicts Grant Bosse, of the Josiah Bartlett Public Policy Center in Concord. The northern-most county, he said, will lose two of its 11 seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives when redistricting occurs next year. As well, the area's seat on the Executive Council and State Senate will need to stretch further south to meet its new population requirements.
With the State Legislature – both the Senate and House – shifting from Democrat to Republican, a new team of Republican leaders has emerged. For the first-time in many years, there is not a Coös County official leading a standing policy committee in either the House or the Senate. Last session, Rep. Robert Theberge, of Berlin, was the Chairman of the Municipal and County Government committee, and Rep. Bill Hatch, of Gorham, was Vice Chairman of the Ways and Means committee.
There is some hope though; Rep. John Tholl, of Whitefield, was appointed by new Speaker William O'Brien as one of his five assistant majority whips. The position helps the leadership gain support for their positions. Sen. John Gallus remained on the important fiancé committee, but lost a committee chairmanship, when the Wildlife committee, which he chaired, was merged with another committee. Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who is the longest serving member of the 5-member council, moves from being in the minority to the majority.
Still, these are tough economic times and there will be few plums even for powerful politicians' constituents. With further budget cuts being necessary to balance the state budget, the North Country, a place with a heavily reliance on social welfare spending, could likely see a reduction in services.
Gone are the days when the North Country wielded power that far outsized its meager population. From 1973-1984, the region enjoyed two native governors — Orford's Meldrim Thomson, a Republican, and Littleton's Hugh Gallen, a Democrat — that gave the region special attention. These men brought many local people into appointed positions in state government and could target federal spending toward their home area. During those days and prior, the North Country also produced several legislative powerhouses — including Senator Laurier Lamontagne of Berlin, Rep. Arthur Drake, of Lancaster, and Sen. Otto Oleson, of Gorham. More recently, Harold Burns, of Whitefield, served as House Speaker (and later as a Senator) and Fred King, of Colebrook, served on important member of the finance committees of both the House and Senate.
The issue is not ideological, Sen. Gallus said, it's all about the numbers. "It doesn't matter who's here (Democrat or Republican)," he said. "It's hard to get our fair share." Sen. Gallus uses every opportunity to build a bridge between his colleagues and the North Country. Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, of Manchester, once taught at Kennett High School and Londonderry Sen. Sharon Carson's mother, Rena Battiparano, lives in Whitefield. Sen. Carson hears from her mother often. "She's a really good advocate of the North Country."