Constitutionally Speaking

New Hampshire Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid, right, speaks with former U.S. Senator and New Hampshire Gov. Judd Gregg during Constitutionally Speaking’s annual William Treat Lecture at St. Anselm College’s Institute of Politics on Thursday.

GOFFSTOWN — What makes New Hampshire work, said former U.S. Senator and New Hampshire Gov. Judd Gregg, are the people who are willing to put in the time to make a difference.

“I think it’s people willing to get engaged to try to make it a better place,” Gregg said — the town select boards, the hundreds of citizen-legislators in Concord, and the state’s myriad activists.

Gregg spoke at Constitutionally Speaking’s annual William Treat Lecture, at Saint Anselm College’s Institute of Politics on Thursday. Joseph W. McQuaid, Publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader, spoke with Gregg about the national political climate, and what makes New Hampshire politics unique.

Part of what sets New Hampshire apart is the small size of the state, Gregg said. People who are willing to put in the time can make a difference in New Hampshire.

“If you take on an issue here in this state and you follow it through, odds are you’re going to have an effect,” he said. “People are willing to engage, do things to make their community better.”

But Gregg said he sees some of that New Hampshire spirit eroding, as social media gives voice to fringe elements on both sides of the political spectrum, and political partisanship escalates — in Concord and in Washington D.C.

“Everything has to be very targeted, thumbnail, and filled with lots of pejoratives,” Gregg said. “And I think its really undermining our capacity to govern in this country.”

With social media, Gregg said, individual politicians feel they can take their messages directly to voters, without political parties. Gregg mourned the weakening of political parties, which he said helped build consensus. Party leaders used to keep the outer fringes of the party in line — but the party leadership is weaker now, Gregg said, and he sees more partisanship than when he served in the Senate.

Gregg told a story about knife-edge negotiations in September 2008, as the global financial system teetered. Over a tense weekend, members of Congress from both parties hammered out a $700 billion agreement that became the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP.

Despite their disagreements, Gregg said, the two sides could come together to meet a crisis without trying to score political points on each other.

“There was a lot of disagreement, very intense, but not an ounce of partisanship,” Gregg said.

Now, he said, finding such a consensus feels less likely.

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