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Editorial: N.H. Women in Charge

Politically speaking, New Hampshire has become virtually a one-party state. That would be the party of women. Or as The New York Times recently put it, the state is neither red nor blue, but pink.

In fact, state Senate President Peter Bragdon is almost the last man standing after the November election. The state now boasts the first all-female congressional delegation in U.S. history, with newly elected U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster joining U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte. (Why the People’s Republic on the other side of the Connecticut has never sent a woman to Washington is a subject for another day.)

Back to the Granite State, Maggie Hassan is the new governor, and Terie Norelli returns to her duties as speaker of the House after two years in the minority. Administering the oath of office to Hassan last week was Linda Dalianis, chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

How did this group achieve ascendancy? The old fashioned way: By paying their dues, networking, learning their trade and then working hard at it. But their individual efforts were cultivated in the soil of a New Hampshire political culture rich in possibility for female candidates.

As the Times noted, the New Hampshire House of Representatives has 400 members, making it the fourth largest governing body in the world (after the U.S. Congress, the British Parliament and the Indian Parliament). While the sheer size has its legislative drawbacks, the abundance of seats does provide more opportunity for women. This is especially true because of the state’s relatively small population. Another factor may be that because legislators are paid only $100 a year plus mileage, they are essentially volunteers, and volunteering in their communities is something women are familiar with and comfortable doing.

Since politicians typically learn their craft in the state legislature, these opportunities to serve in New Hampshire are key. “There are lots of opportunities for women to pitch in, prove their competence and learn a lot about governing and the political process,” Hassan told the Times. ‘We’ve had a very deep bench of women.”

It also seems to us that many of the women who have come off that bench to play prominent roles in state politics share a certain pragmatic moderation and conciliatory tone that resonates with New Hampshire voters. (One factor in this may be that Shaheen, the elder stateswoman who has been a mentor to many of those coming up through the ranks, is the epitome of cautious centrism.) Anyway, although this is perhaps an overgeneralization, most of the ideological fire-breathers in New Hampshire seem to be of the male persuasion, to whom the women may offer to voters a welcome contrast.

Of course, the point of getting elected is to govern wisely and effectively, something the previous Legislature and the previous Congress abjectly failed to do. Woman-power in New Hampshire politics will ultimately be measured not so much by tone as by the extent to which they are able to propel government to do things differently and to do things better. It’s sometimes said that women are better at compromising than men because family life requires them to negotiate so many difficult problems while looking out for the interests of all. We hope the analogy holds up.