A California candidate, used to sunshine and friendliness, may wonder: Why is there such a place as New Hampshire? Why do people willingly live there? Why do they get to have the first-in-the-nation primary? And then there is my question: Why is the first-in-the-nation not Vermont?
My proposal, which I’ve made before, is that Vermont should also have a first-in-the-nation primary. Fearing this eventuality, New Hampshire long ago decreed that this would not be possible. It passed a law saying that if an earlier date was announced by any other state, New Hampshire would change its date to a date before that. If some state announced a primary tomorrow, New Hampshire would announce one last week.
There’s a simple reason for this, and it’s the reason that most things become law in New Hampshire: money. Hotels, restaurants and other roadside attractions make money during the primary season. Not big money by other states’ standards, but big money in New Hampshire. The local television stations make a quadrennial windfall. And the local politicians get a sense of completely undeserved importance — for example, when they are asked about a candidate’s stance on trade with China. Most of them prefer Chinet.
Meanwhile, neighboring Vermont gets nothing. I don’t think most Vermonters have thought about the numbers involved. Besides, they reason, New Hampshire would simply move their date earlier, as their law provides.
But here’s my idea. Vermont should announce that it will always hold its primary on the same day as the New Hampshire primary. You can’t be earlier than the same day. A neighbor of mine let that sink in for a moment and then said, “Not bad.” High praise from an apple farmer.
There’s money in it. Candidates would be forced (too strong a term possibly, but politics ain’t bean bag ) to come to Vermont. They’d have to hire staff, rent hotel rooms (well, Bernie Sanders wouldn’t), rent cars and buy TV time, radio time, newspaper pages and so on. Most important, they would have to ask Vermonters their opinions about issues that Vermonters might actually know something about. This difference would be helpful for the national debate.
Vermont is, generally speaking, a liberal state. It used to be the most Republican state, back before Vietnam, when the hills were filled with young men hiding from the draft. It has a tradition of deep democracy, and of fairness to the minority. New Hampshire stands in contrast to this attitude. The prevailing ethic in New Hampshire is bitter envy of everything, a desiccated unwelcoming treatment of strangers unless, of course, there’s a nickel to be made. New Hampshire had the first-in-the-nation lottery and makes money by charging a toll to travelers on a section of Interstate 93, an interstate highway built with federal dollars. And along this section of highway, the state sells lottery tickets and tax-free cut-rate liquor.
Vermont didn’t even think of charging for use of the highway built with federal dollars, or any other highway. Our legislature in Montpelier was busy reducing electricity bills for low-income people, working on statewide health systems and guaranteeing reproductive rights. Few of these ideas got far in the New Hampshire legislature.
So, if my not-bad idea is adopted, the first-in-the-nation primary would be shared by two states: New Hampshire — flinty, self-centered, money-grubbing and tricky — and Vermont — liberal, generous, easygoing and respectful of others. In other words, an interesting blend of the American character. Presidential candidates would have to split the difference, temper their opinions, take many viewpoints into consideration and, most important, rent hotel rooms and buy restaurant meals in Vermont.
Of course, to be a good neighbor, I would continue to buy my liquor in New Hampshire.