You’ve probably seen the news.
New Hampshire children deserve better than what they received at the State House last week –better civility, and better policies too.
Lawmakers, not 4th graders, forget their purpose
When lawmakers insulted and confused visiting 4th-graders at the Statehouse last week, it was a painful and infuriating moment for many of us.
First, as a father, my blood boiled. Then, as an elected official I was mortified. But the feeling that took a few days to settle in was resolve. Because even before one inappropriate representative from Rochester used a debate on the state raptor to taunt 4th-graders about abortion, it was the lawmakers in committees across the Statehouse who were wasting our children’s precious time, not the other way around. And we must do better.
Last week as Gov. Hassan’s budget proposal made its way through the legislative process, vote after vote in House committees treated our state as if we were in the depths of a depression, willfully ignoring the single biggest issue facing us: How do we fuel growth in our state and our state economy? Most pressing: How do we attract and keep new people, young families, growing businesses and new start-ups in New Hampshire?
One committee vote, if it becomes law, would raise fees on day-care centers and health centers rather than increasing cigarette taxes. Meanwhile, instead of drafting engineering plans for commuter rail from Boston to central New Hampshire, representatives passed plans to lay off somewhere between 300 and 700 employees from our state transportation department, which would leave us fundamentally unable to maintain safe roads and bridges in the state.
Yes, you should be alarmed. No, many of these “penny wise and pound foolish” schemes will never become law (or all previous wave elections will look like ripple). But critical debates are being ignored while lawmakers teeter from ideology to partisanship to short-sightedness.
Should we ensure full-day kindergarten in the half of New Hampshire towns that currently lack it, so every child can hit the ground running and every parent who wants to work, can?
Is our low 3.9 percent unemployment rate sustainable when our in-state college tuition and our student debt load are among the very highest in the country?
Last week, Arkansas became the first state in the country to require every high school to offer computer science — does New Hampshire want to be on the front end of this national trend, or the tail?
How do we make more comprehensive progress toward lowering energy costs under the new state energy strategy unveiled last fall, or must we bounce from reacting to one energy infrastructure project to the next?
And yes, as a business leader and employer I’ll mention it twice: Will those 4th-graders come of age in a state with 16 trains a day back and forth between Manchester’s emerging silicon millyard, the airport, Nashua and Boston — or will they be waiting to hightail it out of our state and never come back?
Twice a month, our Executive Council meetings with Gov. Hassan are immeasurably improved when a class of 4th-graders interrupt us on their tour. Explaining what you are doing to children makes you stop and think about it in simple terms. It takes the edge off when debates get too personal. And in every face that walks by my chair I see my two sons, whose future means everything to me.
The tradition of civic learning-by-doing began in 2006 when the 3rd- and 4th-graders of Harrisville teacher Kathy Frick successfully lobbied to make the pumpkin our state fruit. Saturday, I spoke with Mrs. Frick about her memories, and it prompted me to look up the original news accounts. The Senate chaplain’s words to state senators the day of that 2006 vote should echo in the halls of the Statehouse in 2015:
“Pumpkins should remind you why it is you sit in these 24 seats … however you vote today … remember this, these are the little seeds, and however you act here will determine how well they will germinate for the rest of their lives. So be very, very careful. Let us pray.”
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