Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Life in the Circus

I came to political consciousness under a tea party governorship. A shoot from the hip talker, tax axing - cut ‘n slash ‘guvmint’, state’s rights advocate, right wing constitutionalist misconstruing, shut the liberal whiners up, Mister successful businessman, chicken hawk, town official and legend in his own mind chief executive ruled the state by anti-tax rhetoric, veto threats.

Paul LePage in 2010? Not quite but that nightmare may unfortunately be easily related to by many in a decade or so. I’m speaking of LePage’s most likely and unknown to him role model, Meldrim Thomson, Jr., chief executive of next door New Hampshire from 1973 to 1979.

Mel Thomson won a three way race for Governor in 1972 with 41% of the vote after wresting the Republican nomination from a moderate sitting Governor, Walter Peterson. He defeated Democrat Roger Crowley who took 39% of the vote and a moderate independent, Malcolm McLane, who picked up 19% mostly to Crowley’s detriment. "Thanks to McLane, I'm governor," Mel told a reporter after the election. Sounds like a lesson there about voting for an independent spoiler without prospects of victory in our upcoming election.

The new Governor did not waste anytime alienating the state legislature, paralyzing the governing process, and grounding the ship of state on the sand bars of senselessness. He acted as a bully and barred every sensible tax model the state needed. Conservatives today, especially in neighboring states, laud his legacy of no New Hampshire sales and income taxes. But of course these neighbors only see the walls; I got to live inside. Yes, we lived free and died without sales or income taxes. But we paid enormous property taxes, fees galore, and lacked reasonable basic services. In fact, one plus of our move to Maine in the 1980’s was gaining access to public Kindergarten which we fought and fought for unsuccessfully in New Hampshire.

Mel could not idly abide the alienation, paralysis, and therefore his inability to govern. So he went to his roots. Like the tea party of today, Thomson said he was stuck in the 1900’s but his philosophy was that of the 1700’s. And if one could not govern with the legislature then tis time to engage in antics and play the bully.

So our license plates got “Live Free or Die” stamped on them in lieu of “Scenic” by inmates at the state prison. Social issues got going. The previously abolished death penalty got signed back into law with Mel quipping that he felt like John Hancock when he affixed his signature, apparently equating signing the Declaration of Independence with execution by the state.

Our flags furiously went up and down for every conservative whim of Mel’s. We dropped the state building flags by executive order to half mast on Good Fridays, to protest the exclusion of Taiwanese athletes to the Olympics, to mourn the granting of amnesty by President Carter to those who objected to Vietnam and choose not to fight, the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty, recognition of mainland China, and so on. He banned the use of “Ms.” By state employees. He called a news conference to publicly purchase Gallo wine during a boycott of it called by the United Farm Workers. He constantly referred to the deceased Martin Luther King as a “commie” and attacked UN ambassador Andrew Young as a one world fanatic.

Mel played intimidation politics too. He searched the tax records and the files of the New England Organized Crime Intelligence System for information about his political opponents; the latter he said was to test the system’s security. He pulled up a Massachusetts driver with his state limo for giving him the finger. Mel urged Nantucket to succeed from the Bay State and join New Hampshire as well as fomenting a so called “Lobster War” with Maine. As a tough on crime guy, he blocked federal money for New Hampshire Legal Assistance; tough on crime apparently meaning tough on due process.

Thomson pranced about on the international stage. He toured apartheid South Africa and praised its white leadership and described Soweto as “just wonderful” and lauded the country’s “free elections” despite being only available to whites.

Vetoes were common, including an early one that would have helped the state hospital regain accreditation. Those at the margins of society did not gain his sympathy. He often spoke ill of those that needed government assistance.

Never serving in the military, he was a typical chicken hawk, belligerent in his attitude toward communist nations. He suggested that the NH National Guard be given tactical nuclear weapons. Dressed in fatigues he showed up at a massive protest of the Clamshell Alliance at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant and had 1,414 protesters arrested and incarcerated at great state expense. He even deployed the National Guard when Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman spoke at UNH.

Mel’s damaging legacy lives on. All statewide politicians are forced to “take the pledge” against sales and income taxes. The state still has no public Kindergarten but you can load up on state sold liquor, buy fireworks that can’t be used within NH state lines, and pay a $2.00 toll for the privilege of traveling the 14 miles of I-95 in the state on your way to Boston. The Mel Thomson years did not give us a better life. We got his low taxes, actually no state broad based taxes but regressive property taxes, in exchange for low living and low services. His son, Thom Thomson, is a big tea party organizer in New Hampshire today reminding all that his father’s motto of "Low taxes are the result of low spending".

Mel Thomson did not govern. He paralyzed the state for three two-year terms. That allowed him to play act his tea party type fantasies. For six years we got form not function; we suffered symbols and were denied substance. Let’s not give the same opportunity to his next door political fanatic successor and like minded shoot from the hip talker, tax axing - cut ‘n slash ‘guvmint’, state’s rights advocate, right wing constitutionalist misconstruing, shut the liberal whiners up, Mister successful businessman, chicken hawk, town official and legend in his own mind, Paul LePage.

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