Republicans, Democrats and undeclared voters in NH can probably all agree on one thing: these are hyper-partisan times. Last year, one measure of partisanship—the Party Unity Score—showed partisanship in the NH Legislature was at a 20-year high.
When government is polarized and partisan, businesses may worry about unpredictable policy swings, heated political debates in the workplace and lawmakers spending more time on hot button social issues instead of complex economic issues. There are things businesses can do to steer through these fiery times.
Lobby on Issues Outside Party Platforms
The Democratic majority came into the legislature with several clear priorities, including raising the minimum wage and passing a paid family and medical leave program. Gov. Chris Sununu made clear he doesn’t like these Democratic bills—he vetoed them in 2019 and will most likely veto similar bills in 2020. It seems unlikely that lawmakers will find compromise on such high-profile issues. While it may sound cynical, business efforts will probably be more productive if directed at other issues.
There are still many policy issues without partisan battle lines, including several bills related to workforce development and affordable housing that have sponsors from both parties. The voices of business leaders could be persuasive.
Focus on Long-Term Issues
There are issues that are almost guaranteed to be big debates in 2021 and 2022 that businesses should start planning for now.
• Marijuana Legalization: So far, the NH Senate has blocked marijuana legalization, but the House has passed more than one such bill. With all neighboring states allowing recreational use, marijuana legalization is likely coming to the Granite State. Employers may be interested in how the law will affect company drug policies.
• Road Usage Fee: For years the state has been dealing with falling gas tax revenue. This is partly due to improved fuel efficiency of cars. One proposal calls for an annual fee based on a car’s miles per gallon and/or miles traveled. So far legislators have rejected a road usage fee, but the idea keeps coming up—with bipartisan sponsors.
• School Funding: A commission is examining school funding in 2020 and will make policy recommendations in 2021. This affects every NH resident as property taxes could change should the state adopt a new school funding formula. Business taxes also contribute to school funding.
Encourage Engagement With Lawmakers
When politics get heated, many people want to skip the voting booth and avoid political discussions. That disengagement leaves lawmaking to the most polarized partisans. When politics get ugly, that’s when citizens should lean in and reengage.
New Hampshire’s “citizen” legislature is particularly receptive to the public. It has few professional staff compared to other states. That means representatives often look to party leaders or lobbyists for guidance on bills. Legislators are also keenly interested in hearing from individuals who would be directly affected by a bill.
If there is a bill or issue that a business is interested in, leaders should reach out to legislators on the committee considering the bill. Testifying in person is most impactful but emailing or calling legislators also makes a difference.
Similarly, while executives may be wary of political debates in the workplace, they should encourage employees and co-workers to learn about issues and reach out to legislators. As the general election approaches, candidates will be more likely to address less partisan, complex issues if voters bring those issues to their attention.
Don’t Be Jaded
There are many discouraging statistics about political dysfunction, but there are also some encouraging facts.
Compared to the rest of the country, NH’s voter turnout is well above average. Over the past few years that turnout has even increased slightly.
New Hampshire’s students may also be more prepared to vote than others. The average score for NH high school students who take the AP exam in U.S. Government and Politics is among the top 10 in the country.
Also, a February poll conducted by the University of NH Survey Center showed that a majority of residents in both parties believe the state is “headed in the right direction.”
Anna Brown is director of research and analysis with Citizens Count, a nonprofit that provides NH citizens with objective information about issues and candidates. Visit citizenscount.org.