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Commentary :: Environment
Granite State may be closer than you think
26 Jan 2004
Both New Hampshire and North Carolina are overrun with job-taking outsiders with funny accents, but for NH, that influx comes from Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.
JANUARY 26, 2004

Yes, New Hampshire is a tiny, cold state full of Yankees, but it has more in common with North Carolina than you might think.

For starters, both states have been overrun with people from somewhere else, who come for jobs and a lower cost of living but don't speak with a local accent. New Hampshire's influx comes from the south, mostly Massachusetts, but also from places such as New York and New Jersey. Less than 43 percent of New Hampshire residents were born in the state, a native content only slightly higher than Cary's.

Assimilating new residents is an unending task in both states. For a time, New Hampshire's public service slogan was "That's the New Hampshire Way," a phrase that still appears on road signs that urge people to drive safely. The admonition is perhaps more subtle than "I don't care how you did it up North," but the sentiment is the same.

Newcomers have changed the politics of both states, helping reduce the long dominance of a single party -- North Carolina's Democrats and New Hampshire's Republicans.

Not long ago, some of the most liberal New Hampshire politicians were Republican out of expediency, because Democrats were so invisible. Now, independents make up the largest bloc of voters, and the state actually elected a Democratic governor in 1996, 1998 and 2000.

What hasn't changed is New Hampshire's underlying libertarianism. You can ride your Harley without a helmet, drive without a seat belt if you're an adult, and never have to pay a state sales or income tax. School districts aren't required to teach kindergarten, and some don't.

The state's live-and-let-live tolerance attracts liberals and conservatives. It was in New Hampshire, after all, that the Episcopal church elevated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in November.

The month before, a national libertarian group called the Free State Project announced that it was recruiting 20,000 people from across the country to move to New Hampshire to help create a small-government utopia. The group figured New Hampshire offered the best chance of success.

New Hampshire and North Carolina both know what it's like to lose textile jobs to places where wages are lower. The Granite State's 19th century mills sat empty for decades in some cases, after Southern and foreign factories took their business. Now, Manchester's massive Amoskeag mill complex along the Merrimack River teems with high-tech companies, including one that makes the Segway Human Transporter, a two-wheeled scooter that uses gyroscopes to hold riders upright.

Both states have impressive mountain ranges, including two of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, and both have beaches. OK, New Hampshire has less than 20 miles of coastline, anchored at one end by a nuclear power plant, and the ocean is warm enough for swimming only about two months of the year. But it's beautiful nonetheless.

And then there are the old men of the mountains. North Carolina has Grandfather Mountain, so named because it resembles the profile of an old man when viewed from the right vantage point. New Hampshire had the Old Man of the Mountain, a rocky outcropping that also resembled a man in profile -- until it slid off the mountain last spring.

The Old Man had long been New Hampshire's leading symbol, appearing on road signs, license plates and the state's quarter. One day, the mist cleared and he was discovered missing (no one witnessed his fall). Gov. Craig Benson flew by helicopter to view the scene and announced that the state would find a way to reassemble the Old Man from the rubble.

A task force eventually determined that restoration was impossible. But the state parks department set up a Web site (http://www.nh.gov/oldman/) where people from across the country could post photos, poems and memories of the Old Man. One of the first to post a message was Barbara Ferguson Baker, a former New Hampshire resident who now lives in Durham.

"I just felt like I'd lost a member of my family," Baker, 71, said recently. "I had to talk to somebody, and nobody down here gives a hoot about New Hampshire."
See also:
http://www.newsobserver.com/edwards/coverage/story/3274252p-2925094c.html

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