As the nation gears up for the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, the Republican candidates seeking their party's nomination to take on President Obama in the 2012 election have yet to tamper down on the ultra-conservative rhetoric that has become the norm for the GOP, despite the fact that New Hampshire has traditionally been viewed as a relatively moderate state.
While the Granite State certainly has a sizable Republican base, a significant 41 percent of its voters are registered as undeclared, meaning they do not affiliate themselves with either the Democratic or Republican Party. Because undeclared voters -- many of whom are Independent, while others lean toward a Democratic or Republican agenda -- can vote in the primaries of either party, the GOP candidates are in an unusual position in New Hampshire. To appeal to the stalwart Republicans that make up their base, pundits argue the candidates must stay the course on a conservative message that could simultaneously scare off the vast number of independent voters who will likely make-or-break their campaign.
As the first state to actually hold a primary, not counting the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire has an enormous influence in shaping national preferences. Since 1972, the Republican presidential nominee who has lead the national polls in the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary has ended up winning the party's nomination, according to a Gallup study.
Although New Hampshire lawmakers such as Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayote have advised the GOP candidates to stay away from some of their more controversial talking points in the state -- gay marriage being specifically mentioned during an MSNBC appearance by the senator -- the conventional wisdom regarding the moderate nature of the state's electorate might be worth revisiting. In particular, a look at some recently proposed laws that are awaiting action in the state legislature, as well as one that has already been enacted, indicates voters may be shedding their moderate roots in favor of a more conservative ideology.
Among them include proposals to give the state legislature the power to dissolve the Supreme and Superior Courts, two bills that would alter the teaching of evolution of public schools, a measure requiring certain laws to take their basis from the Magna Carta, and a recently enacted law allowing parents to finance alternative curriculums for subjects they find objectionable in public schools.
Rolling Back the Teaching of Evolution in Public Schools
Two different state representatives have introduced legislation to significantly alter the way the theory of evolution is taught in public schools. Both bills were recently introduced and will be up for a vote this year. H.B. 1148, proposed by Republican Rep. Jerry Bergevin, would require that teachers emphasize the fact the evolution is only a theory, while also including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.
In December, Bergevin told the Concord Monitor that he is less interested in the actual scientific basis of evolution than the political and religious views of Darwin and his followers, details he claims will give students a full portrait of how the worldview is godless and promotes atheism.
As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it, he told the newspaper, later adding that the perpetrators of the Columbine High School students also believed in evolution.
That's evidence right there, Bergevin said.
H.B. 1457, sponsored by Republican Reps. Gary Hopper and John Burt, would require public schools to teach intelligent design along with evolution as a viable theory of how life began on earth.
The proposed law would require science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic.] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established.
Allowing Parental Objections to Steer Public School Curriculum
The New Hampshire legislature recently overrode a veto by Gov. John Lynch to enact a law allowing parents to request an alternative curriculum for any subject they object to, providing they can finance an alternative curriculum that allows their child to meet state education standards.
Although it is hard to say how the law will be enforced -- since the text of the bill does not specify a definition or requirements for what actually qualifies as objectionable -- it is safe to say that it could be used by many to combat what is perceived to be a liberal educational agenda. The bill was proposed after a family made national news complaining that a teacher assigned the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America as required reading for a personal finance course. The family reportedly derided the tome as a left-wing propaganda book.
In a statement explaining his veto, Lynch wrote parents could pull their children out of courses as controversial and sex education or as basic as history, something he fears could hamper the quality of students' education.
The intrinsic value of education is exposing students to new ideas and critical thinking. This legislation encourages teachers to go the lowest common denominator in selecting material, in order to avoid 'objections' and the disruption it may cause their classrooms.
Dissolving the Judiciary
In a measure reminicent to Newt Gingrich's railings agaisnt the judiciary, a group of Republican lawmakers have rallied behind a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the legislature the power to dissolve the state's Supreme and Superior Courts.
Rep. Josh Davenport, the lead sponsor of the bill, told The Huffington Post the bill would establish a much-needed check on the courts, which he believes are attempting to usurp the power of the legislative branch.
Prior to a 1966 amendment to the state constitution that turned the Supreme and Superior courts into constitutional courts, the legislature had the power to change the judiciary and dissolve courts, a power Davenport said allows for a comprehensive legislative check on a judiciary he believes wields too much power.
Another state congressman, Rep. Bob Kingsbury, has proposed a separate constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum age to be a state judge to 60. Because the mandatory retirement age for judges in New Hampshire is 70, Kingsbury told The Huffington Post that a higher turnover rate would reduce a sense of arrogance he claims plagues longer-serving judges.
New Laws Must Have Basis in Magna Carta
While conservatives are often pushing for legislation grounded in the original intent of the U.S. Constitution, a new effort by three House Republicans in New Hampshire would reach back even farther to require that new laws find their origin in the almost 800-year-old Magna Carta.
In what is possibly one of the more bizarre legislative proposals in the state this session, the bill, known as H.B. 1580, would demand that all members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived.
The fact that the document is not of American origin -- it was drafted by a group of powerful English Archbishops and Barons in 1215 -- is not an issue for H.B. 1580's sponsors. Rep. Bob Kingsbury, who sponsored the bill along with Reps. Tim Twombly and Lucien Vita, told the Concord Monitor the legislation was primarily proposed in an effort to honor the Magna Carta's upcoming 800th anniversary.
The Magna Carta is recognized as the first document that to limit the powers and privileges of a monarch while also forcing them to recognize the civil liberties of all free men, an antecedent to the U.S. Constitution. However, the original document also contains a variety of anachronistic laws that the New Hampshire congressman may not be aware of (Vita told the Concord Monitor that he needed to bone up on the actual text of the historical document.)
The charter may not weigh in on pertinent issues of the modern world like civil rights, same-sex marriage or abortion, but it does guarantee that no widow shall be compelled to marry, so long as she wishes to remain without a husband and if anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from the Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt so long as he remains under age.
The bill has yet to face a vote in the state House or Senate.