The new New Hampshire
Once home to log runs and libertarians, the state is embracing high tech and even taxes.
Perhaps the surest sign that Robert Frost was a New Hampshirite was that he took the road less traveled.Skip to next paragraph
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Ever since the first days of its founding - when New Hampshire was known as a renegade British colony of smugglers and outlaws - it has been unapologetically independent.
To those who live here among ragged peaks and bending birches, "Live Free or Die" has been more a statement of purpose than a motto. Residents still pay no income tax, and adults don't have to wear seat belts.
But today, as citizens of the Granite State vote in the first primary of America's 2000 presidential election, a new portrait of New Hampshire is emerging. Millions of newcomers from Massachusetts and across the country - seeking lower taxes and jobs in the state's booming high-tech industry - are changing the state's political calculus.
While many of the migrants adopt New Hampshire's flinty resistance to big government, their sheer numbers are straining a state system designed to interfere in citizens' lives as little as possible. The result, say political experts, is a moderating and mainstreaming of New Hampshire as residents become increasingly willing to listen to candidates who think beyond tax cuts and small government.
"It points to a new synthesis of politics that acknowledges a role for the federal government but is reformist at the same time," says Constantine Spiliotis, a political scientist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. "The larger impact is that New Hampshire is going to grow closer to America."
The signs of change here are already becoming apparent.
*Long considered one of the most Republican states, New Hampshire in 1998 elected Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen to a second term and, for the first time since 1911, returned a majority-Democrat state Senate.
*This year, for the first time ever, the number of state voters registered as Independent or unaffiliated topped the number of registered Republicans.
*State legislators this year enacted a statewide property-tax system and are discussing an income tax.
"At least part of the change is demographically driven," says Clark Hubbard, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. "It essentially brings in voters who weren't a part of the political culture."
Indeed, the face of New Hampshire has changed dramatically during the past two decades. The exodus of a mass of residents during the recession of the late 1980s, followed by the explosion of the population during the 1990s, means that some 60 percent of people in state are not natives - a radical departure from the past, when New Hampshirites could trace their families back to the days of log runs and shoe mills.
Moreover, these newcomers have recast the economy of New Hampshire. Gone are the threadbare textile workers and frugal farmers that defined the state since the Industrial Revolution. In their place have risen more-liberal Massachusetts migrants and dotcom entrepreneurs who have more money to tax and no ties to New Hampshire's tradition of conservatism.
According to one study, the Granite State now has more workers in high tech, per capita, than any other state.
"Part of it is people leaving Massachusetts for lower taxes, but [also] a lot of people move here from Silicon Valley and Tyson's Corner in Virginia," says Mr. Spiliotis. "It's really a different demographic - much more mobile.... To some degree, the people who move in adopt the ideals of the state, but it's kind of a kinder, gentler 'Live Free or Die.' "
For his part, newcomer Randy Snyder can do without the "kinder, gentler." He's moved 13 times in the past 28 years - living most recently in "near socialist" Minnesota - but when it comes to politics, he's as old New Hampshire as it gets.