Thinking of the Old Dominion in New England

I had the good fortune to spend last week in the small town of Peterborough, New Hampshire, which is home to the MacDowell Colony, a retreat where scores of artists have reflected on the peaceful surroundings and produced some of America’s greatest works, from Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” to Alice Walker’s “Meridian” and Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

Possessing no comparable artistic talent, I was nonetheless inspired by New Hampshire to reflect on...Virginia.

Peterborough was my home base, but it was a visit to the statehouse in Concord that got my Old Dominion juices flowing. Aside from seeing the state motto on every license plate instead of only on Virginia’s school-bus yellow ones (“Live Free or Die”), Virginia’s presence was felt before you even opened the door to the seat of New Hampshire’s state government.


It’s an impressive achievement. Really, it is.

Virginia’s capitol building is certainly older, as are several others in the original 13 colonies, but because of fires, structural failures, expansions and the occupancy of the Confederate government, neither House nor Senate chamber can lay claim to being in continuous use for anything close to that long.

On the other hand, a building being in continuous use for almost 200 years can’t compare to the legislative body itself being in continuous use for nearly 400!

IMG_2418 copy.jpgThe shadow of Virginia grew even longer when, in the lobby of the building, I was greeted by the battle flags of the New Hampshire regiments that served during the Civil War. Each regiment is identified by battles fought and, not surprisingly, most of those battles were in Virginia. Brass plaque after brass plaque listed dozens of Virginia towns current and past, including my home town of Williamsburg.

A single elevator takes visitors up to the 3rd floor to the gallery overlooking the House of Representatives, home to the chamber's 400 members! Four hundred! That is one for every 3,500 Granite State citizens.

The House chamber resembles an auditorium, an auditorium presided over by a portrait of a Virginian, George Washington. Representatives sit cheek by jowl in cushioned chairs outfitted with armrest voting buttons. They don’t have assigned seats. They don’t have to sit by party. They don’t have desks.

IMG_2424 copy.jpgTurns out, they don’t have offices either, something I learned from two very helpful women at the gift shop/information desk. What if a constituent, or an advocacy group or a lobbyist wants to talk to a representative, I asked? They call them at home, one responded, with just a hint of a what-a-stupid-question tone in her otherwise incredibly friendly voice.

Call legislators at home? Can you imagine such a thing in Virginia? Can you imagine just 377 bills introduced by the House in the 2018 session? Can you imagine Republicans and Democrats sitting intermingled? Can you imagine that legislators get paid only $100 a term in New Hampshire? Can you imagine that lobbyists have to file disclosure forms four times a year that list the political contributions made by not only the lobbyist but also by a family member?

There was much to remind me of Virginia in New Hampshire. But there was much to compare and to contrast. It’s a different world around the 44th parallel. Better? No, not necessarily. But defintiely different.


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