Learning math, the Ray Burton way

Longtime New Hampshire Executive Councilor Raymond Burton passed away on this date in 2013. I’m re-posting what I wrote at that time about the most important lesson I learned from him.

The Presidential Range, seen from Lancaster: Ray Burton territory. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
The Presidential Range, seen from Lancaster: Ray Burton territory. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

A visitor to my home state of New Hampshire could be forgiven this week for wondering about the flags at half-staff. An extended observance of Veterans’ Day? The loss of another Granite Stater on an overseas battlefield? No. Ray Burton has died, after 18 terms on the Executive Council, representing the northern two-thirds of New Hampshire.

Think about that: he won eighteen state-level elections. He was a county commissioner for good measure. He knew how to run and win and serve.


I learned from watching him. The principal lesson: if you can’t do math, don’t bother making noise about how much you want to be elected in order to … fill in the blank: enact pro-life legislation, get that road built, raise or cut that tax, fight to keep a piece of land open for recreation. Obvious? Not to me, when I was a younger and less seasoned activist. I thought just Doing the Right Thing would sweep all political considerations before it.

Twenty-some-odd years ago, I was working in a certain organization with legislative goals we pursued with equal parts passion and naïveté. Some policy initiative we favored – I forget which one – was shot down in the Executive Council. One of the offending votes had been cast by that darn Ray Burton, before he was a legend. We grumbled to each other and said,”Why can’t we find someone to run against him?” I can only plead youth and inexperience. A less charitable observer might simply say to me “you were an idiot.”

  • With one exception, no one at that meeting lived in the North Country, which to us meant anything north of Concord. Come to think of it, Burton’s district stretched almost that far south, while extending northward clear to the Canadian border.
  • No one in the room knew how many votes had been cast in Burton’s district in the previous election. We didn’t know who his opponents had been, in either the primary or the general.
  • None of us, including the sole Grafton County resident among us (who was a relative newcomer to New Hampshire), knew anything about why voters supported Burton.
  • None of us had met Ray Burton.

Needless to say, Councilor Burton had nothing to fear from us. Quite apart from our collective ignorance of his district, we had no math skills. We didn’t know how many votes he had garnered or how many votes it would take to get all that, plus one. After that, I learned how to study election results and do the arithmetic.

All of you who are passionately pro-life and yearn for more pro-life elected representatives, trust me on this, because each generation has to learn it anew: Understanding the absolute fundamental dignity of each human life is basic – but to translate that into public policy, learn to count.

I said that math was the principal thing I learned from the Councilor. That was a couple of decades before I actually met him. Then, I learned more, starting with this: he was pro-North Country. It didn’t matter to the vast majority of his constituents whether he was pro-anything else. He knew his people, and he covered an astounding distance every year to stay familiar with his district. His constituent service was second to none. Moreover, he liked people in a way few officeholders can honestly claim to do.

I worked on my first statewide campaign in 2010 for gubernatorial candidate John Stephen. I remember the first time I was sent to a meeting as the sole representative of the campaign –  a GOP meeting in Wolfeboro. Every face in the room was new to me. I was beyond nervous. I was shaking in my shoes, notwithstanding the fact that I was about the same age as most of the people at the meeting. (In fact, I was a generation older than most of my co-workers.)

Ray Burton was the evening’s featured speaker. When he arrived, he made the rounds of all the party regulars in the room, all very familiar to him. Then he approached me, offering a greeting and a handshake, seeing I was new in town.

In those few moments of conversation, he put me at ease and managed to treat me as though I were the only person in the room. Since his death, I have heard other people talk about similar encounters. When Councilor Burton spoke with you, he spoke with you.Amazingly to me, after that first meeting in Wolfeboro, he remembered my name every time we ran into each other during the campaign.

Campaign staff members put up with all kinds of attitudes from all kinds of people when we’re on the road for our candidate. That’s part of the job, and we know it, and we take it in stride. The only thing I ever had to take in stride on the campaign trail from Councilor Burton was the same courtesy he showed everyone. He always, and I mean always, had a cheerful greeting and a kind word for me and my colleagues. He kept a gimlet eye on how we were doing our jobs, mind you, but he was always gracious at the same time.

Councilor Burton had challengers, of course. He liked to say that he always ran as though he were five votes behind. Other Republicans were sometimes moved to run against him in the primaries. Some of them even managed to hold him to under 80% of the vote.

Yup, he was pretty good at math.

Some of his votes drove me nuts. He never voted thoughtlessly, though. The interests of the people of District One were his only concerns, for more than thirty years. I should have known that all along – even twenty years ago.

Today’s civics lesson

Somewhere in Manchester, New Hampshire are a few dozen voters who stayed away from the polls yesterday and could have tipped the mayoral election. Seen on Twitter Tuesday evening:

Apropos of nothing, challenger Joyce Craig was endorsed by EMILY’s List.

Get to the polls when there’s an election. Your vote counts.


 

Life and Liberty, in that order

 

memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777
Declaration of Independence, memory.loc.gov, printed by Mary Katharine Goddard c. 1777

Karen Testerman’s recent Facebook post, in reply to supporters who are reluctant to follow her into Bob Smith’s camp, includes this: “Friends, it is about life, liberty and property and adherence to the Constitution. Without life, we cannot have liberty or property. Neither of the other two candidates will promote a culture of life. Life is not an issue. It is a fundamental principle that is foundational to America.”

That’s a good point that becomes more important as self-identified libertarians or liberty Republicans step up to run for office. There will be primaries this year in New Hampshire, several of them against Republican state senate incumbents who cast ill-advised votes on taxation, education and Medicaid expansion. Fair enough. I love primaries. They tend to discourage complacency.

But for the sake of all I hold dear, I don’t assume that every challenger is pro-life, particularly at the state representative and state senate level where so many important decisions are made. I want to ask the candidates some questions, read their literature, and look at how they’ve voted in other offices. What would they do if there were an attempt to repeal parental notification? Ask what they’ll do about the state’s buffer zone law. If the Supreme Court OKs the 35-foot zone in Massachusetts, will they support extending New Hampshire’s “up to 25 feet” provision? Are they favorably disposed to regulating the abortion industry, even in the limited manner currently acceptable to the Supreme Court? Do they know who Kermit Gosnell is?

Beware of candidates who put liberty ahead of life. As the campaign season goes forward, we’ll learn if such candidates are out there.

More on primaries: 

Senator David Boutin is on the hot seat for his Medicaid expansion vote. He’s being primaried by an impeccably pro-life state rep, Jane Cormier. Good – but it would be grossly unfair to forget that Boutin was the one and only Manchester senator who stood fast against the buffer zone. Voters in District 16, including the ones who will vote for Cormier, ought to thank him face-to-face for that. He was under a lot of pressure to cave in, and he did the right thing. He and Cormier were on the same side in that battle. He voted for effective language in Griffin’s Law, too, before voting to table the bill. You don’t hear much about that nowadays, as his district is being flooded with mailers pointing out his more egregious votes.

Two other state senators who opposed the buffer zone (although one of them took his time about it) and supported Griffin’s Law are being primaried as well. Where do the challengers stand on the right to life? I’ll be asking them, and until I hear their answers, I won’t be leading any cheers for change.

 

 

Pro-life voters, make your case: a talk with Marilyn Musgrave

Marilyn Musgrave of the Susan B. Anthony List (Shannon McGinley photo)
Marilyn Musgrave of the Susan B. Anthony List (Shannon McGinley photo)

No, this isn’t a rerun of my first post-election blog entry from last November. It turns out I am not the only one who sees that successful pro-life candidates are not the ones who chant “jobs-and-the-economy” while letting pro-abort challengers go on the attack.

Meeting up with a pro-life colleague

I chatted a couple of days ago with former three-term congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colorado). She’s now Vice-President of Government Affairs for the Susan B. Anthony List, the nation’s premier organization dedicated to electing pro-life women to office. I met her a couple of years ago when she visited New Hampshire to back up those of us who had issues with Planned Parenthood getting state money. She’s warm, savvy, and absolutely committed to supporting more pro-life state-level candidates. It’s always a treat to talk with her.

Marilyn was in New Hampshire last weekend to speak at a conference sponsored by Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire. Most of the people in the room, while attentive to the pro-life message, were not familiar with Marilyn or the SBA List. They are now.

“Let’s put them on record” regarding late-term abortion

Fight back: I asked her what people like us in New Hampshire could do, with three out of four of our federal representatives adamantly pro-abortion. “We have to fight back on the phony war-on-women. You have to fight back. First you have to decide that you’re going to fight back.”

Bingo. That was the first thing I wrote about after four-months of employment-imposed exile from blogging last year. That’s not to say I-told-you-so, but it’s good to hear confirmation from a woman in the thick of things.

“Winning issue”: As she said in her conference speech and repeated to me later, pro-life voters have a powerful new argument in favor of abortion regulation: Kermit Gosnell. The carnage left in Gosnell’s late-term abortion facility was documented by a grand jury whose findings helped bring Gosnell to justice. “Late-term abortion [restriction] is winning ground. Gosnell was not an outlier.” She noted polling that shows opposition to late-term abortion is strong, cutting across lines of age and race.

“Put them on record”: As for abortion advocates like Mmes. Shaheen, Shea-Porter, and Kuster, Marilyn suggests holding their feet to the fire regarding abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy. “Let’s put them on record. Gosnell gives us that opportunity.”

I asked her about the Virginia race for governor, certainly the toughest race going on right now between a pro-abortion candidate and a pro-lifer. “A tough go,” she said candidly. She told me about the Women for Ken effort in Virginia, operating independently of candidate and party in order to attack the war-on-women narrative that’s being used yet again.

Now what?

The following remarks are mine, not Marilyn’s. Don’t blame her for my conclusions.

Frankly, I DO expect New Hampshire Democrats to go on record regarding late-term abortions, with something like “trust women” in lieu of “we’re fine with dismembering and abandoning post-20-week babies.” (Even the Dems know some lines just won’t sell.) The Republican party – and remember that I’m speaking as a GOP-leaning indie – has yet to show it has enough starch in its institutional spine to pick up this fight. (Do I hear someone whispering “don’t be divisive” …?)

Individual voters will be the ones to ask candidates about late-term abortion. Ask them about regulation, about what they know about Kermit Gosnell, about what they think of New Hampshire’s failure to keep track of how many late-term abortions are done here. If you really want to have some fun with a values-clarification exercise, ask your local GOP committee members the same questions.

Certainly ask about late-term abortion before you write another check to a candidate or a party.

As for shredding the war-on-women arguments, there’s nothing quite like an articulate pro-life woman to lead the way. New Hampshire has many, as it happens, and I’ll continue to write about them. I see that when SBA List launched its National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus this year, made up of state-level legislators from all over the country, three New Hampshire state representatives were in the inaugural group: Jane Cormier, Jeanine Notter, and Lenette Peterson.

That caucus, by the way, was organized by a woman who herself spent time as a state rep before heading to Washington: Marilyn Musgrave.

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Backward & Forward

Custer went forward. Lemmings go forward. The Light Brigade went forward. And now, in an exquisitely apt marketing move, the incumbent president has chosen “Forward” as the slogan for his re-election campaign.

The vice-president, in a noisy visit to Keene State College a few days ago (why does he always wind up yelling at his audience, anyway?), pleased the youthful crowd by declaring “we will not go back to the 50s on social policy.”

So social policy shall move “forward” if the incumbent president is re-elected. Social policy includes abortion, which will remain legal if we choose to move “forward”. Not safe-and-rare, as former presidents have said in an effort to sound moderate.  Just legal, so we don’t go back to the bad old pre-Roe v. Wade days of back alleys & knitting needles and women dying.

Listening at one hearing after another in Concord this year on bills that touch on the life issues, I was struck more than once by how many of Roe’s defenders sounded scared of the future even as they said they were determined not to go back into the past.

Eugenic abortion was surely one of the twentieth century’s most ghastly ideas – one that belongs in the past, even when it’s prettied up with the euphemism “therapeutic.” Yet this year, I heard objections to New Hampshire’s fetal homicide bill (still in the balance, by the way, with yet another vote coming next week) based on the fear that it might interfere with selective reduction. Assisted reproductive technologies that call for implantation of multiple embryos in a woman’s womb also call for the culling of the surplus once pregnancy is established. Apparently, to protect the brave new world, he only way to face the future is by planting one foot firmly in the past.

A bill for informed consent for abortion prompted some women to recount heartbreaking stories of pregnancies gone tragically wrong, with fetal anomalies diagnosed prenatally. The mothers chose abortion, because it “wasn’t fair” to bring such a child into the world. So what’s wrong with informed consent? These women said they resented the assumption that abortion providers weren’t already being perfectly upfront. They also complained that the 24-hour waiting period in the bill would have caused them an additional 24 hours of anguish (with the unspoken corollary being that their anguish somehow subsided once their children were dead). Keep abortion quick and unregulated: no back-alley abortionist from the 1950s could have asked for more. Those shades of the 50s can rest easy, knowing that New Hampshire’s 2012 informed consent bill was killed.

New Hampshire public health officials do not collect abortion statistics, letting the abortion industry voluntarily provide whatever information it sees fit. A bill to require collection of statistics was passed this year after being amended into nearly-unrecognizable form, and now a committee will consider whether it’s a good idea to collect the statistics. (This is glacial progress, as opposed to incremental.) Who fought this one? Abortion providers.  Planned Parenthood of Northern New England along with the Feminist Health Center in Concord and the Lovering Center in Greenland all sent representatives to the hearings on this one. They all earnestly assured legislators that they DO report the number of abortions done at their facilities. Honest. They do not want oversight even to the extent of accounting for the number of procedures or reporting on morbidity and mortality to the women who have abortions. Again, the pre-Roe industry of illegal abortionists would approve wholeheartedly.

In the past, no one kept track of how many women suffered and died after abortion. Bernard Nathanson, MD, a founder of NARAL who later became a pro-life advocate, wrote candidly after leaving the abortion industry that NARAL leaders invented maternal-mortality figures in the late 1960s to try to build support for liberalization of abortion laws. To this day, we don’t know if legal abortion has been any safer for women. The same people who criticize anecdotal reports from pro-life sources, and demand hard figures, flee from those figures when they make their own arguments. (By the way, if you can find Nathanson’s book Aborting America, read it. It’s one of those basic books for the pro-life library.)

Moving forward, really forward, means we will want to know for sure how many women are being left to die or suffer permanent injury after abortion. We will want to know who is doing the procedures and we’ll want to know the safety record of the provider (granting that the babies always wind up dead). We’ll want to know at what point in pregnancy the terminations take place. We’ll want to do more for each other than recommend death when disability looms.

So, forward, Mr. Biden?