Emmett Soldati: A fresh defense of NH’s primary status

Union Leader – Feb 21

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NEW HAMPSHIRE’s first-in-the-nation (FITN) presidential primary is under heavy scrutiny. A major argument against FITN is New Hampshire’s lack of racial diversity. We are a small state, and, according to the 2010 census, 89% of our residents are White, whereas the U.S. as a whole is 60% White. After a year full of harsh reckonings around racial justice, including nationwide Black Lives Matter protests and a devastating pandemic that disproportionately impacts communities of color, this critique is legitimate and credible and cannot be ignored because it is true. To elect leaders who represent us and our interests we must recognize that race and ethnicity contribute to a diverse set of lived experiences that must be present and reflected in the process.

Our state party leadership has fought valiantly to defend our primary status in the past, and that’s important. Over the last 100 years we have developed a powerful tradition of holding the first primary, and this has created fertile ground for a truly democratic process in our presidential politics. As a small state with many rural communities and mid-size cities, FITN provides ample opportunities for lesser-known, as well as seasoned, politicians to engage with local communities. After presidential candidates leave New Hampshire, many have remarked at how drastically different their campaign becomes: the town halls and cafe stops disappear, and the campaign trail turns into an airplane-tarmac-to-TV-studio pipeline. Our state, built on years of responsibly executing our primary tradition, connects real candidates with real people.

The new realities of our national political discourse demand new reasons — in fact, new stories — to keep New Hampshire first. In the words of Tom Perez, former chair of the national Democratic Party, last year, “The world has changed a lot…this is the Democratic Party of 2020.”

I’m running to lead the New Hampshire Democratic Party of 2021 and beyond. That requires creative and bold new arguments that respond to the critique of FITN in a way that reflects the true power of New Hampshire’s small town, personal, hands-on politics.

Those who have followed my political ventures know that I draw on experiences from my hometown, Somersworth, one of the Granite State’s smallest and property-poorest cities. Folks may not know this, but it’s also one of the most diverse cities in our state. Like other New Hampshire towns and cities, we are evolving into a more vibrant and more inclusive community.

The stories of Somersworth and of New Hampshire are still being written.  Only two generations ago you could hear French being spoken down on Main Street, a legacy of the generations of French Canadians who immigrated here for decent-paying jobs in our textile mills. Now, when you stroll down Main Street you can hear Bahasa, as our city and surrounding towns are now home to the largest Indonesian community in New England.

Stories like these don’t always get told on the state level, or on the national stage. These are the stories that need to be told.  I’m ready to invite the Democratic National Committee to visit my town, bring them to the local Indonesian food bazaars and new immigrant-owned small businesses, to introduce them to the people from around the world who now call New Hampshire home. That visit, those introductions, and those stories, are so crucial to presidential politics.

The 2020 census will tell us a new story of the changing demographics in our state. That same story needs to be told within our party, too.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party has not fully heard and therefore not shared these stories about our changing communities. For example, Manchester, our state’s largest city, is its second most diverse. Manchester also holds the most seats on the governing body of the NHDP — our State Committee. And yet, while Manchester’s population is only 76% White, over 90% of its representatives on that committee are White. Our party is not drawing on the existing diversity within our communities to ensure it is reflected in our leadership.

Let’s build a state party that is more connected to its communities of color, communities for whom English is not the first language, and communities with lived experiences different from the same old story. When we do that, we will have a powerful, affirmative reason to preserve New Hampshire’s role in how our country connects future presidents to real communities.

Emmett Soldati is president of the Somersworth Democratic Committee.