In 1952 New Hampshire introduced the first-in-the-nation presidential preference primary. Since then, presidential candidates campaigning for votes attract tremendous attention to New Hampshire every four years, out of proportion to the state’s numbers and fundamental political importance. The political life of New Hampshire since World War II has been shaped by several powerful figures and trends. One of the major influences on public opinion in the state was William Loeb, an eccentric, right-wing publisher. From 1946 until his death in 1981, Loeb owned the Manchester Union-Leader, the only newspaper to circulate statewide, and used it to editorialize against any sales or income ta. He was also known for his attacks on people and issues he considered liberal.
A staunch tradition of opposition to taxes has remained a matter both of pride and deeply held political principle in state government since the 1950s. In the early 21st century New Hampshire was the only state in the nation without a broad-based income tax or a general sales tax. Supporting that tradition helped Republican Steve Merrill win the election for governor in 1992 and 1994. In 1996 New Hampshire voters elected state senator Jeanne Shaheen as governor. She became the first female governor in the state’s history and the first Democrat to hold that office since 1982. She was reelected in 1998 and 2000. In 2002 Republican Craig Benson, an entrepreneur, was elected governor. Democrat John Lynch was elected governor in the November 2004 elections.
The lack of statewide taxes has left New Hampshire schools heavily dependent on local property taxes. In the 1990s several property-poor school districts sued the state, demanding adequate and equitable funding. In 1996 the Merrimack County Superior Court ruled in favor of the state.
The school districts appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, which ruled in 1997 that the state’s extreme reliance on land taxes to finance public education was unconstitutional because it resulted in large disparities in funding among school districts. The court gave the state until April 1, 1999, to develop new methods of financing education, but opposition to an income tax and other statewide funding measures continued, and the date passed with no legislative action on the matter.
Legislators finally passed a school-funding bill in late April 1999 that relied primarily on new statewide property taxes to be phased in over a five-year period.
The state’s population has grown dramatically, from 533,000 in 1950 to more than 1 million in 1990 and 1,315,809 in 2008. Much of the growth came as businesses and workers moved from Massachusetts across the border into the lower Merrimack Valley.
The mixture of this new, more affluent population with the more rural, traditionally “Yankee” residents has caused some strain within and between communities, especially over public issues such as taxation, educational policies, and environmental concerns in industrial development. In the early 1990s tensions were intensified by some renewed economic difficulties, including the closing of Pease Air Force Base in 1990. After the base closed, efforts were undertaken to redevelop the facility with nonmilitary businesses. By 1996 those efforts had begun to show significant success.
Long a Republican stronghold, New Hampshire joined the national shift toward the Democratic Party in 2006 midterm elections. Democrats took both of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from incumbent Republicans, and voters reelected Lynch, the popular Democratic governor. For the first time since the 1920s, Democrats took control of both houses of the state legislature. Not since the 1870s had the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature been in Democratic hands. Republicans still occupied both seats in the U.S. Senate, however. In April 2007 New Hampshire became the fourth state to allow civil unions between same-sex couples. The measure attempted to ensure that homosexual couples in civil unions enjoy the same rights and benefits accorded to heterosexual married couples.
In the 2008 elections Lynch won a third term in a landslide with about 70 percent of the vote. The Democrats also ousted incumbent Republican John Sununu from the U.S. Senate, electing Jeanne Shaheen, who had opposed Sununu in 2002. This time she won with 52 percent of the vote, becoming New Hampshire’s first Democratic senator in more than 30 years. "New Hampshire" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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