Primary Flop

This post’s title is not meant to reflect any of the candidates in yesterday’s G.O.P. primary. It is a commentary on how that primary wound up in the Mount Washington Valley. Since mid-December not one candidate came to the Mount Washington Valley. The national media made New Hampshire sound like a madhouse, where you couldn’t go two steps without running into a presidential hopeful. Well I’m here to say that wasn’t the case in Conway, Jackson, Bartlett, Madison or any of the towns I cover. The closest a candidate got was the Mount Washington Hotel, in Coös County,  on the other side of Crawford Notch.

It’s interesting to reflect on that wall to wall coverage with that in mind. I read several stories today about how there were more reporters at candidate events than New Hampshire voters. It certainly felt that way here. I spent the afternoon covering a death on Mount Washington instead of covering politics because, as far as I could tell, there were no politics to cover.

Oh well, the next race is only four years away.


It’s the time of year everyone is doing their “Year In Review.” I’m no different — at work I started writing up 2011 today, and I hope to be finished by tomorrow. For the Sun my year was two things: Dittmeyer murder and Irene. For LPJ, however, it starts a few months earlier:

Iraq — It seems that would obviously be the seminal experience of any year, but in a year like 2011 three weeks in Iraq and Kuwait quickly falls into the background. Looking back, however, it still amazes me I got on that first flight out of Boston, made it to the Iran/Iraq border and made it home. It was one incredible trip.

Dittmeyer — She was killed on a Saturday night, and by Monday the Mount Washington Valley was seething with reporters. We were able to beat all of them, however; probably one of the coolest experiences of the year.

Drugs — I’ve said this before, but sometime in August I wrote what was probably the best story I’ve done so far about how drugs and crime are intertwined in the Mount Washington Valley, and how the problem is only getting bigger. It was a great narrative, something I read today and am still surprised I wrote.

Investigations — There were really two, both involving the police department. One was into how they spend their money, and the other was into money stolen from the evidence room. Both of them wound up being one-off stories in a sense, but they proved that the Sun knows what it means to be a watchdog newspaper.

Irene — This was a big one. When the storm hit we were out of town, and the Saco and Rocky Branch flooded, blocking us from getting home. We slept in Portland, Maine, and when I got dropped off at the paper in the morning I went right to it. That week was all about telling people’s stories, stories that most people didn’t realize had happened. It was a blur, much like the week of Dittmeyer, but it was one where the paper made a difference in how people saw their experience. Again, that’s why I got into this job.

Candidates — From Newt to Mitt, Santorum to Paul, nothing is more interesting than getting to sit down with the people vying to sit in the presidential seat. I’ve been able to argue with and push several of these perspective contenders, something few people get to do. It only happens once every four years, and I’m sure glad I was there for it.

Court — This is the latest in a string: arguing before a judge about the public’s right to know about the actions of elected officials. I still don’t know the outcome, but it was still an experience to be going to the courts to fight for transparency.

There have been dozens of other notables, from producing videos to my first NPR paycheck and being named employee of the year, but that’s the highest highs. Hopefully 2012 will burn even brighter, but I’m not sure how it can.

Happy New Year.

The Holiday Season

December has a way of ripping by. Between endorsements, court battles and employee parties it’s nearly January, and I have barely kept up with LPJ.

So it’s time to update.

Endorsements: The Conway Daily Sun endorsed Mitt Romney for the 2012 G.O.P. nomination, although without enthusiasm. He is essentially the best of a poor field, the endorsement said, and so he’s the one we’d go with. Huntsman was good, but he seemed to me to be working out the bugs for a 2016 presidential run. Everyone else was severely lacking in some way. So we went with Mitt. It was an uninspiring choice, but overall the experience was a painstaking one. Buddy Roemer, in fact, was an office favorite, but you can’t endorse someone no one has even heard of. As a protest vote it would fall flat because people wouldn’t even know what we were saying. So we went bland but reliable — Mitt 2012. I look forward to similar discussions around the general election.

Court: We had our day in court with the Conway School Board over whether they had the right to deny our request for documents under the Right To Know law. I got to argue the paper’s position in front of a Superior Court judge, while two attorneys, two school board members and the superintendent took the opposing position. It was a ton of fun. I laid out the paper’s points as well as I could, and then laid out arguments against each point the two lawyers made. I’m not sure how we/I did yet, but if we lose we have the right to appeal. And regardless it was a fantastic experience.

And lastly, I was named the Sun’s employee of the year. I got the award at the paper’s Christmas party. It’s all glass and weighs as much as a brick. I have a photo somewhere, I’ll have to put it up here…

A lot happens in a couple weeks, even in a slow news month like December…


Rick Santorum is an interesting guy. His politics are way to the right, and I doubt he could ever win a general election, but his beliefs come from his convictions. In a lot of ways he is similar to Ron Paul, except instead of religion being a minor influence on his policy positions they are the foundation for them.

After reading about Santorum and seeing him in debates I was skeptical he would be an engaging candidate, but his passion mimics charisma. After talking to him for an hour I got to feel like I liked him, if not his politics. On a personal level it’s funny how important that is. I think back to Primary Colors and other portrayals of Bill Clinton — it is that ability to connect that makes a politician.

I recorded the entire Santorum interview, from start to finish. There were a few choice cuts that I need to cull together, but first I put the whole piece up online. Check out the one below. If you’re short on time go about halfway in and watch to the end. It’s good to see the human side of these candidates, even if it’s a long shot they’ll ever be president.

One More President

One more presidential hopeful, I should say. Or should I say two more? Wait, three. Nope, four.

That’s the kind of week it has been, and the kind of week it’s going to be. John Huntsman and Rick Santorum were in the office last week, Buddy Roemer is in tomorrow, and next week is Mitt Romney. I’m shooting video, uploading and writing as fast as I can, but I haven’t deluded myself into thinking I’m going to stay caught up.

I’m also due in court next week to challenge a refusal of a request for records under the state’s Right To Know law. And I’m doing an outdoor piece for an online magazine. Busy week.

But I just wanted to make sure everyone knew Rick Santorum is a nice guy. His politics have made him a controversial figure, but after more than an hour with him at the Sun I have to say he’s a super-likable and pleasant man. And he’d be fun to disagree with over the dinner table, because he seems to enjoy explaining his views without getting confrontational.

Now that isn’t an endorsement, however, but seeing as most people don’t get the kind of time we get I figure I ought to share some of the insights that won’t make it into the newspaper. His politics are very conservative, so he’ll only appeal to certain voters. Others will revile him for those same politics. But given a chance to bring a guy home to have an engaging (and spirited) conversation, I think thus far he’d be it. I’ll put the video of the interview up once I’m done so you can see what I mean. Some parts of my job are so cool.

Cancelation Policy

Buddy Roemer and John Huntsman both canceled for this week, leaving only “front-runner” Mitt Romney. I put front-runner in quotes only because the latest polls don’t actually place him at number one, but I’m not really sure that doesn’t mean he’s the front-runner.

I do worry the G.O.P. is going to face what I would call “the Kerry Effect” if Romney is nominated. Democrats never really rallied around Senator John Kerry, and therefore he was unable to unseat an otherwise vulnerable George W. Bush. Barack Obama could get the same window into a second term—so few conservatives seem excited about Romney it could be hard for the Republicans to turn out the vote. It does make for an interesting primary season: it’s only November, but the contest already feels over. There aren’t many viable options to Romney, at least not that voters are taking notice of. We’ll see if he can hold onto the lead, and if he does how he’ll fair in the real contest next November.

Presidential Week

This week G.O.P. contenders Buddy Roemer, John Huntsman and Mitt Romney are all scheduled to stop by the Sun. New Hampshire is fantastic around this time every four years. Roemer already came to the office once, and Mitt and I spoke on the phone the day he announced his candidacy. I couldn’t ask for better access.

Speaking of politics, I heard a great critique of the contentious state of Washington and the electorate while driving home this evening. It lays out the disconnect between the way voters vote and the takeaway for the opposition. Voters don’t give mandates was the gist of the story, they reject. But the opposition takes the rejection of the party in power as an endorsement of their platform. They shouldn’t.

As someone who enjoys the discussion, not just seeing one side or the other prevail, I thought this was an interesting insight. I don’t believe, however, that we’ve heard the end of politicians claiming a mandate.

In the Middle

Well, I was right, Herman Cain moved to the middle seat next to Mitt Romney in the G.O.P. debate at Dartmouth last night. This morning among the slew of candidate emails I got (They must have thought I was watching. I wasn’t. I had to do laundry…) were attacks on Cain’s 9-9-9 economic plan from both Bachmann and Huntsman.

The panic to clamber on top of rivals is interesting, but it misses the more important point — who would make a good president. We’ve met several of the candidates at the Sun, and neither of the two we were most impressed by were even allowed on stage last night. It’s a shame. But at least we know who many in the media consider the fringe and who they consider a serious candidate — all you had to do was look at who sat where at the table.