Editor’s Notebook: The times they are a-changin’ every few hours
The State House dome rises toward Tuesday afternoon clouds. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
When I woke up Monday morning, Nov. 14, Republicans held a 203-197 majority in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. By dusk, and after a handful of recounts, the Democrats had gained a seat to cut the margin to 202-198. Who knows what the score will be in an hour, or tomorrow, or next week as the recounts continue.
I’m trying to break the habit of viewing politics as a sport, but I lack the willpower to keep my eyes off the leaderboard.
And it’s not just the New Hampshire results I’m obsessed with. Every morning I open the New York Times app to check the maps and bar graphs that tell me which party controls – or is on the verge of controlling – the U.S. Senate and House. I don’t even have to read the accompanying articles: “Full Senate Results: 50-49” and “Full House Results: 204-217” (as of Tuesday morning) – with the numbers color-coded for ease of absorption. Momentarily satiated, I keep scrolling down toward the Times’ lighter fare. (A hair-raising ride in a self-driving Tesla? Click. Ina Garten’s parmesan mashed potatoes? Click.)
The thing is, I understand very well – maybe even better than most because of what I do for a living – that Election Day has more in common with the NFL Draft than it does the Super Bowl. In voting for our preferred candidates we help build the rosters – but the creation of policy once those rosters are set is the ball game. And that’s the game – a long game for sure – that warrants our full attention.
But I’m human, and there’s something satisfying about watching the scoreboard and believing that it is telling me who has won and who has lost – even when it’s a lot more complicated than that. That’s not to say that blue “50” under “Full Senate Results” isn’t meaningful, but for certain pieces of legislation it won’t mean as much to Democrats as a whole as it does to, say, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
A similar dynamic is at play here in New Hampshire. Consider Bulletin reporter Ethan DeWitt’s story “Trench warfare?: What an evenly split New Hampshire House means for legislating” published on Thursday. Sure, it matters what party controls the House – for committee assignments and leadership roles, for example – but the narrow margin is the real story. If the difference between the majority and minority parties is two or three seats, all of a sudden lawmaker attendance on voting days is a gigantic deal. Our lawmakers are not, by and large, young people, so another COVID-19 outbreak that keeps people home could play a larger role in what does or doesn’t pass next session than which party is in control.
In fact, it may not even take an outbreak to keep them home.
“There is a bit of an attendance issue within the House of Representatives, which you can understand because they get paid $100 a year plus mileage,” Anna Brown, director of research and analysis for Citizens Count, told Ethan.
All I can say is: What a winter, what a session it promises to be.
But right now it’s early afternoon on Tuesday, Nov. 15, and it’s time for me to wrap up this Editor’s Notebook entry and move on to other things.
I thought about ending the column with former President Donald Trump’s expected announcement tonight that he is running for president again – just in time to make conversations at Thanksgiving tables even more awkward. I could talk about the national divide now and what it might look like during another Trump candidacy, and maybe use a thoughtful quote about “rugged individualism” from a recent New York Times Magazine interview with musician Brian Eno. (He said: “We’ve been so atomized over the last 50, 100 years and told that we have to have our own completely independent lives and that the real human is the one who can stand alone. The real human, to me, seems like the one who can support his neighbors and work with them.”)
But then the scoreboard started flashing again, and the proper ending became clear: In the time it took me to write this column, the Democrats gained another seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. The score: Republicans 201, Democrats 199.
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