Friday, March 25, 2011

Characters: Meldrim Thomson, Jr.

Today's New Hampshire is a suburb of Boston known for its breathtaking mountains and winter skiing, but in our day, New Hampshire was a wild frontier just north of the Massachusetts border. It was perhaps best known for its liquor stores, which were tax-free and therefore cheaper than those in Massachusetts - a fact that lured many an MIT undergraduate to visit the bucolic town of Nashua, back in the days when the drinking age was only 18. Revenue from liquor sales (and a crappy schools system) meant that New Hampshire did not have an income tax, and every governor was required to Sign The Pledge that he would not introduce an income tax if elected. Property taxes were another thing altogether, and residents of New Hampshire paid dearly for their property. Nonetheless, New Hampshire would forever sing the siren song of "no income tax" to residents of the metropolitan Boston area, hoping to lure them over the border.

Fiercely independent and hide-bound conservative, New Hampshire was fertile territory for loopy extremists, although it broke Ronald Reagan's heart in 1976 by dallying with him before ultimately casting its vote for President Gerald Ford in the primary (the Democrat it picked was Jimmy Carter, and we know the rest of that story). New Hampshire also played footsie with Pat Buchanan in a couple of elections, and it even cast couple of votes for a candidate named Vermin Supreme (he finished ahead of Tom Tancredo in the 2008 GOP primary). New Hampshire has a town called Dixville Notch, and every Election Day, its citizens - all 40 of them - march down to the polls at midnight to cast their vote.

New Hampshire had also voted Republican in just about every election - until John Kerry and Barack Obama came along. Lately, the state has been trending Democratic, having elected two of them governor in the past ten years and having cast one of them, Jean Shaheen, into the Senate after she defeated a favorite son of MIT named John Sununu. Current governor John Lynch seems destined to be around as long as Queen Elizabeth,  but in the time I was at MIT, the governor was a fruitcake named Meldrim Thomson, Jr., and he kept the governor's chair warm for six years. Thomson was militantly conservative and militantly anti-Massachusetts (Taxachusetts, he called it). His patron was William Loeb, the slightly less wacky and slightly more dopey publisher of New Hampshire's biggest and most conservative newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader. Loeb's anointment routinely nominated the Republicans who would run in the Fall elections, and most times they won.

Meldrim Thomson was proud of New Hampshire's motto, "Live Free or Die". It was on their license plates. If you covered it up, they'd throw you in jail. Thomson also expressed the desire that the State of New Hampshire should acquire nuclear weapons. But he was perhaps best known for trying to quell a demostration against the building of a nuclear powerplant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, by throwing everyone involved in jail. I thought it only prudent to warn the incoming Class of 1981 all about Meldrim Thomson. Only I spelled his name wrong.
In 1978, New Hampshire held an election and unceremoniously threw Meldrim Thomson out on his ear, in favor of a Democrat named Hugh Gallen. A few years later, they would elect John Sununu (the father of the Senator) as governor, and he would serve there before ultimately being called to serve George Herbert Walker Bush as Chief of Staff. In 2001, Meldrim Thomson was inducted into Heaven, a place teeming with liberals.

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