An interesting 2023?

There’s an old saying about living in interesting times and it seems fitting for this era. It seems more fun to read about them in history books than to live them. My guess is that in 2023 times will continue to be interesting. If any of my 2023 predictions come true, please do not call or email me. With that, here are my 2023 predictions.

• Gov. Chris Sununu has been increasing his national profile. For a growing number of Republicans he could look like the future of a party without former president Donald Trump. So what’s next in the national exposure tour? The Masked Singer. Yes, the guv sings the 1980s hit “Welcome to the Jungle.” You know you love it, Xer.

• Republican candidate for New Hampshire’s First Congressional District Karoline Leavitt decides politics just isn’t for her after losing to Democrat and incumbent Chris Pappas this past fall. So what’s next for one of the youngest candidates to run this past cycle? Poker, of course! Karoline signs up for the World Poker Tournament and does surprisingly well. So well that she’s invited to create her own reality TV show with the tagline “A better hand doesn’t always mean you win.”

• The Rochester February revote for Ward 3 that ended in a tie in November ends in a tie again; the legislature votes to seat both candidates on a rotating basis, so each gets 26 weeks a year and shares the $50-a-year salary.

• For a reason no one is able to explain, America’s Stonehenge in Salem starts to attract both domestic and wild cats from all over the region. So many cats come that town officials start calling it cat caves.

• House Majority Leader Jason Osborne opens a new business in downtown Manchester right across from City Hall called Orborne’s Free Hats. It’s a haberdashery specializing in brimmed hats.

• Shockingly, the Democratic National Committee, headed by South Carolina native and President Joe Biden supporter Jamie Harrison, strips New Hampshire of its first-in-the-nation primary in favor of South Carolina. Oh, wait, already that happened. Just to recap: Joe Biden won South Carolina and saved his presidential bid and lost New Hampshire in, like, fifth place. What did you think was going to happen, New Hampshire?

• Former WMUR sportscaster Charlie Sherman returns to public life in the Granite State by opening the nation’s largest sock store in Nashua, called Tubes for Everyone. Welcome back, Charlie! I’ll be by to get some socks.

• Tired of Maine attracting more visitors, New Hampshire’s tourism department announces a new advertising campaign for the state with the tagline, “Come for the cheap booze and smokes, stay for the ocean, lakes, mountains and sports betting.” Hey, whatever it takes.

Embrace the ‘mander

New Hampshire is in the process of its once a decade setting of electoral districts at all levels of government. The state and federal constitutions call for each district to be about the same size so that a vote in one district is equal to one vote in another district. This is the reason we take a census every 10 years.

Not surprisingly, this process of setting districts is a political one with the political parties jostling for position every decade. Each tries to tilt the map to its advantage. The result taken to the extreme is what political scientists call gerrymandering, where the driving force of redistricting is to ensure one party or the other is all but ensured of getting elected and the districts tend to stretch over long distances to get in one voting group or another. On the face of it, that seems pretty undemocratic.

But it’s not. Elections aren’t fair and never have been. Incumbents have huge advantages over challengers. Just like in life, those in power are likely to stay there. But it’s no conspiracy. We — the voters — elect them. Maybe you identify as a Republican but nothing stops you from voting for a Democratic candidate or vice versa. Nothing stops parties from running candidates that might appeal to voters that typically favor the other party.

And that may be why Gov. Chris Sununu signaled that he opposes the Republican state Senate plan that would take the current two districts and rejigger them so that one heavily favors Democrats and the other Republicans. As currently configured, Republicans actually have a good shot at taking both districts if they put up candidates that appeal to a wider electorate, candidates in the mold of Sununu himself.

And that’s the rub. Gerrymandering by its nature shifts candidates of the dominant party to the party base because the only race that counts is the one inside the party. In addition if you’re a party insider in Washington you’re not really looking for Sununu-type officials that might not vote the party line. This goes for both parties. Though the parties want to win, if given the choice, they are going to support less independent candidates.

The flip side is that heavily gerrymandered districts with their more fringy candidates can present an opportunity to the other party if they are willing to be a big tent and allow for candidates with broader views. Voters will listen and will vote for great candidates regardless of their party affiliation if they feel it’s in their interest. But you can’t expect people to vote for candidates who don’t share some of their values. To me the problem isn’t gerrymandering, it’s the parties’ unwillingness to really be competitive in every district. Now wouldn’t that be something.

What makes a community

As Hippo rounds out its 21st year I want to express my gratitude.

In the past 21 years, Hippo hasn’t missed an issue — that’s 1,092 issues published. This doesn’t just happen. It takes talented people, including our executive editor Amy Diaz, who is Hippo’s longest-serving employee and who contributed articles for free before we could afford to hire her. Over the past two decades she has guided Hippo in its focus on local events, food, music and art. She and her team take these subjects seriously and cover them with professionalism. And it does take a team. Amy’s team includes long-time managing editor Meghan Siegler, food reporter Matt Ingersoll, arts reporter Angie Sykeny, copy editor Lisa Parsons, music reporter Michael Witthaus, Music This Week listing coordinator Michelle Belliveau and contributors John Fladd, Jennifer Graham, Chelsea Kearin, Michele Pesula Kuegler, Dave Long, Fred Matuzewski, Jeff Mucciarone and Eric Saeger. These are the folks who cover the stories and write the columns that make Hippo so interesting each week.

The production team, led by Tristan Collins and supported by Jennifer Gingras, takes those stories and shapes them into the Hippo we’re used to reading each week. Tristan and Jennifer also build many of the ads in each issue. A lot of time and creativity goes into graphically building each issue for readers.

After every page is finished and approved, digital files of those pages are sent to a commercial printer in New Hampshire, where they print 30,000 copies (this is more than any other publication in New Hampshire) and truck them to our warehouse in Manchester. From there our distribution team, led by Doug Ladd, takes over. Over the course of three days, Doug distributes those 30,000 copies to hundreds of locations in and around Concord, Manchester, Salem and Nashua. Doug does this with the support of Dave Boggess and Stephen Valido. Rain, snow or heat, these guys are out there every week moving thousands of issues.

To pay for all this, which is free to readers but not free to make, our sales team — led by Charlene Nichols, Alyse Savage, Roxanne Macaig and Tammie Boucher — works with local businesses to place ads in each issue. It’s hard work that takes a lot of creativity and perseverance. Without that we would not be able to publish. Hippo’s advertisers pay to reach you, our reader, to let you know about the events, goods and services they are offering. We are grateful for their support. And we are grateful for readers who continue to support us by reading and by becoming sustaining Hippo members. I feel strongly that Hippo has made New Hampshire a better place to live. At the same time, New Hampshire has made Hippo better.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about what makes a place a place and what makes community. In our society we can pick up and move someplace else. What keeps us here? What is the give and take of a community? What responsibilities does the community have to us and what responsibilities do we have for the community?

Much has been made of blue states and red states, of conservatives and liberals, of those pro this and anti that. And it can seem that that defines us. That we’re nothing more than not-those-folks-over-there. Social media does a very good job of helping us find community but also isolates us from a broader community that we actually live in. As we all know, there aren’t actually blue or red states. People everywhere have all sorts of political views. Does that define them? Are they moms or dads? Are they volunteers?

At many points in human history (and in this country and state) we were first defined by our religion or our race or ethnicity. We’ve mostly gotten past that (mostly — clearly more work needs to be done when it comes to race). Do we want to move backward or sideways and be defined by who we may vote for in one election cycle?

I sure hope not. I’ve made a conscious decision to not use social media because I believe it’s harmful to its users and harmful to our community. It too easily pushes us into one group or another when we’re really more than that. It’s too easy to inflame passions with false information. It’s too easy to be part of blue America or red America.

We’re really part of a place, a community, where we share neighborhoods, roads, schools, churches, jobs and parks. That is Hippo’s main goal — to continue to connect people in our community — to bring us together and to support each other. It’s a mission I’m proud to be here to support. And I thank you for continuing to support your community and us.

Support your local merchants

More than ever, it’s important to support your local merchants. The pandemic has been hardest on small independent merchants in terms of income loss and staffing shortages. As the saying goes, the big get bigger, and the pandemic only heightened that. Though that can be good for some, it’s a net loss to us and our communities.

Local independent businesses are part of what makes our communities different from other places; they are part of the fabric of the community. Imagine no local retail, no local coffee shops, no local bars or restaurants or no local bookstores. We’d all be poorer for it not only economically but also socially. These places help bind us together the same way our schools and community organizations do. It’s important to protect that.

Though it’s not always easy, please be mindful to include local shops, local producers who sell online and local services in your gift plans.

It’s better on a few levels.

For starters more of the money you spend at local merchants ends up back in your community. A 2012 economic impact study in Andersonville, Illinois, found that for every $100 spent at a local independent business $68 remained in the local economy versus just $43 for national chains. I would venture to guess that even less of your money stays in the local economy when buying from an online retailer, such as Amazon. On top of that, I’d argue online retailers are significant users of our roads, sidewalks and bridges. Are they really contributing enough back to the local economy to help pay for their use? The folks at Civic Economics and the American Booksellers Association would say no. Check out

Local merchants give back the community in numerous additional ways. They sponsor local sports teams and service organizations, such as Rotary. They lower prices by providing competition to chains and online retailers. They provide more choices. They can pay better wages than many of the chains. They tend to have a smaller environmental footprint than online retailers. They provide a way out of poverty for their owners. They make decisions locally based on the needs of their customers and community. They provide better customer service. They pay more taxes and fees. And they, maybe most importantly, provide much of the character of our community.

Are all local businesses or their owners perfect? Of course not. Some are stinkers. But by and large the benefits far outweigh the negatives, and they need your support. So please, this holiday season take a moment and think about how you can direct more of your spending to local businesses.

Wake-up call?

An interesting change has been taking place in New Hampshire politics. Towns that were once solidly Republican have either switched over to competitive towns or are now tilting toward Democrats.

A recent example of this was the special election in Bedford for a state House seat. There was a time when that would be a safe Republican seat. But no more. Republicans lost the seat in a very close election. With that win, Democrats hold two of Bedford’s five seats. And almost a year ago in 2020, Bedford went for President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump. In 2008, a year that saw President Barack Obama win New Hampshire and both U.S. House seats go to Democrats, Bedford elected all Republicans and in the presidential race went for Republican John McCain.

The same trend has been happening in other suburban towns. In Amherst, Democrats control all of its state House seats, just as they do in Bow. In Hollis, Democrats control one of two seats. The same trend has been happening on the Seacoast. Towns such as Rye, North Hampton and Hampton are electing more and more Democrats.

In the larger cities such as Manchester, Nashua, Concord and Portsmouth, Democrats have a near sweep of House seats.

Republicans continue to hold tight to Londonderry, Derry, Windham, Salem, Atkinson, Hudson and some smaller rural towns.

Parties tend to win because of a couple factors: changes in the party itself and changes in the electorate. Since Democrat Jeanne Shaheen was elected governor, Democrats have been careful to broaden their appeal, staying away from unpopular issues like statewide income taxes. This effort to broaden the appeal of the party has been very successful, creating a nearly unbroken 20 years of Democratic control of the governor’s office. Republicans were only able to take back the governor’s office with a centrist candidate, Chris Sununu. Sununu, for example, was able to win in Hampton, North Hampton and Rye, all towns his predecessor Maggie Hassan also won. He then helped Republicans take back the state House and Senate in 2020.

So what happened in Bedford and is it a wake-up call for Republicans or just a fluke?

It’s likely that voters, especially those in suburban towns like Bedford and Amherst, got more than they bargained for with the Republican legislature, a group that tilted far more right than the governor and took highly polarizing votes on abortion, public funding of private education and vaccinations. These are issues that might appeal to a vocal slice of the party, but they alienate voters in the suburban towns who will decide who controls the next legislature. To win elections, parties need to broaden their appeal.

Localize our power

One of the more interesting changes that renewable energy will bring to New Hampshire is the localization of energy. As it is now, fuels are freighted (by truck or rail) into New Hampshire. For the power station in Bow, coal is shipped in by rail from out west. Most of our gasoline and gas is brought in by sea. What’s remarkable is that it all travels a good distance. Other than wood (and some nuclear power at Seabrook), New Hampshire doesn’t produce any of the material we burn to generate power. But that is changing and will likely change a lot in the next few decades. And we should do as much as we can to encourage and develop that.

Advances in technology are making it affordable and practical to generate power everywhere. From rooftop solar panels to larger solar farms to hydro power to wind turbines the next advances will mean that power won’t be generated at power stations as much as it will be generated everywhere, stored locally and fed back into the grid as homes, businesses, government and institutions need it. That’s a much safer, more economical and more environmentally friendly system than the ones we have now.

Going green shouldn’t be a Republican thing or Democratic thing. It’s a thing that makes us more independent, keeps money local, is safer and makes us all healthier.

Our local and state governments should be doing everything they can to help foster this new potential world of New Hampshire energy independence. How can we put rooftop solar panels in every home where it makes sense? How can we add solar panels to schools, warehouses, airports and former dumps? How can we turn roads into energy collectors? How can we harness the wind and power of the ocean to generate power? We should be supporting local projects like this even if they are just experiments now. Is every dam in New Hampshire collecting electricity? Is every parking garage generating electricity?

One of the biggest challenges with the lion’s share of renewable energy is that we just can’t turn it on or off like we can with traditional power plants. With solar we may have an abundance of power during the day but none at night. But what if an affordable way to store that energy was developed? A startup in Somerville, Mass., says they have developed an inexpensive way to store electricity in an iron battery. Commercial use of this technology may be 10 years away, but it represents hope and perhaps the future of what we could be able to achieve: real energy independence. And our state and local governments should be leading the way with projects of their own and incentives to help homes and businesses convert to renewable energy and experiment with ways to make it work. That seems like something everyone could get behind.

If you delayed, it’s time

New Hampshire got off to a great start leading the nation in vaccination rates but now it’s falling behind just as it’s becoming even more important to be vaccinated with the spread of the delta variant.

The delta variant is two to three times more contagious than the original virus and is now the dominant strain of the virus being spread in America. Almost everyone getting infected and then being admitted to the hospital and dying is unvaccinated. That says a lot.

In New Hampshire almost 65 percent of the population — including Gov. Chris Sununu — has been vaccinated but that still is the lowest in New England.

Some may ask, why does it matter? Those who want the vaccine have gotten it. It matters because a fair number of people (younger children and certain people with medical conditions) can’t yet be vaccinated. The more of us that are vaccinated, the more protected those most vulnerable are. It also matters because as effective as the vaccines are, they aren’t 100 percent effective, meaning that even vaccinated people can get Covid and will get sick and die. Again, the more of us vaccinated the less the vaccine will be passed around and the less likely people will get sick.

Hesitancy is definitely understandable. Covid is a new virus and these vaccines were developed quickly. Most of the vaccines we take were developed over many years and have been proven safe by generations of use.

Though it’s tempting to Google vaccine questions, please talk to your health care provider. Ask them about the safety of the three Covid vaccines that you can get.

Folks also have questions about how to get vaccinated. There are more than 400 locations across the state to get vaccinated. All for free. The state even has a van that can come to you to give you a vaccine — for free. Just visit the state’s vaccine website (

This is one of those times when we need everyone to get the vaccine so we can finally stamp out the virus. We can do this if we choose to do it. Many who have hesitated simply don’t see the need for them to get vaccinated. They are young and healthy.

I’d argue that we aren’t just doing this for ourselves. We’re doing it for each other. It’s an act of kindness. If you’ve delayed now is the time to get vaccinated for yourself, for your family, for your community.

Funds to get us back on our feet

New Hampshire towns and cities will get a little over $558 million from President Joe Biden’s stimulus legislation passed in March. The question many have been asking — including the towns themselves — is what they should do with the money. In Manchester, the city is asking for suggestions.

There are many needs but since the money is a one-time windfall my hope is that it would be used to invest in areas where we’ll see long-term return. Housing is one of those areas.

Working through nonprofits and for-profit developers, towns could strategically help fund housing with seed money. With rents hitting $2,000 or more for a two-bedroom apartment in southern New Hampshire, it’s clear that more housing is needed. Building and renovating older buildings is very expensive and developers can’t be blamed for building more market-rate rentals. This is where that stimulus money could come into play. Local governments could provide grants to builders to help them finance projects where a portion of the units are rented at below-market rates for a number of years. Similarly local governments could use those funds to help nonprofit housing organizations develop more housing both as rentals and to sell at below-market rates.

Good housing builds communities. People feel vested and look out for each other and the neighborhood. This all helps to deter crime and build safer and stronger cities.

In addition to building or redeveloping more affordable housing, towns could use the money to help folks struggling to find housing with security deposits and temporary rental assistance.

In addition to housing, transportation remains a significant barrier to a better life. Without a car in New Hampshire, it’s very difficult to get a job, to get to medical appointments or to get kids to activities. Though investing in public transportation makes some sense in denser areas, our state’s rural characteristics make public transportation limited in how it can help. Using an existing organization, such as Good News Garage, towns could help families get reliable transportation and that would help more people get back on their feet.

Towns could also use these funds to help expand access to quality day care centers by helping centers expand or offering temporary vouchers to parents who can’t afford the care and who won’t have access to state funds. Let’s make good use of these funds so that they are not a handout but a hand up and will create opportunity and a safer community.

Quality child care is critical

Imagine a world where parents go off to work and then know their kids are well cared for and safe. That’s my world. We’ve been lucky enough to find quality day care and have the means to pay for it. But not everyone is so fortunate.

Child care many times gets shunted aside as an afterthought in trying to build a more competitive country. But it’s critical.

One of the main issues that employers grapple with now is hiring parents who lack good and affordable child care. This is a double whammy. It prevents parents from getting the best jobs they can and prevents companies from hiring them. That’s one of the main problems the economy is facing now. As kids are stuck at home with a parent, that parent can’t go out and work. The labor market needs to expand and for that to happen there needs to be access to good quality childcare.

President Joe Biden’s recently proposed infrastructure plan tackles this child care issue by trying to expand the number of facilities, increasing pay to increase quality and helping parents pay for it with subsidies. Critics of the plan suggest that it should be more targeted to lower-income families and that the market should set the wages for day care providers. They may be right on some of those but at least we’re talking about child care as a key component of our country’s ability to compete internationally and make our economy stronger.

The key to any successful plan will be to use the existing private and nonprofit day care already out there and help them expand and help others enter the market with the necessary licensing. That’s also a key part of easing parents back into the workforce. We should be supporting professional child care providers who can demonstrate that they create a safe environment for our children.

New Hampshire already has a program that provides subsidies to low-income families. The hope is that, if Biden’s plan passes, it can supplement this program and get additional funding out to those who need it most quickly.

Some have complained that Americans aren’t starting enough small businesses. I agree. But it isn’t that people are suddenly not entrepreneurs. Look at all the people who have a side hustle. We’re surrounded by entrepreneurs. The problem is that these people need health insurance and child care and that’s hard to afford when you’re starting a business. Want to increase the number of entrepreneurs? Increase affordable health insurance and child care. That’s the real solution. It doesn’t need to be a hand out. It’s a hand up. And with the cost of health care and child care today, Granite Staters need a hand up to take that chance and be that entrepreneur.

Quality and affordable child care is vital to our national interests.

Getting back to normal

New Hampshire took a huge step a few days ago, announcing that it would lift its statewide mask mandate and start to relax other Covid safety measures. Gov. Chris Sununu attributed the moves to New Hampshire’s high rate of vaccination.

New Hampshire leads the country in the percentage of people who have received at least one dose — almost 60 percent as of April 18, according to NPR. Sununu cited New Hampshire’s vaccination rate and our decreased fatality rate as the factors behind his decision to lift the mask mandate, according to media reports.

New Hampshire’s success has been a marriage of good governance and our good sense. State government has acted with urgency to make it easy for anyone who wants to be vaccinated to be vaccinated. And the people of New Hampshire have responded by taking the state up on its offer. I was at a vaccine distribution center last week and was able to get vaccinated in just a few minutes.

Though we’re moving in the right direction and estimates are that by mid-July 85 percent of Granite Staters will be fully vaccinated, this won’t happen unless people continue to make the personal decision to get vaccinated. I do see a fair amount of vaccine hesitancy. And I understand it. These are new vaccines. However, just in the United States 212 million doses of the Covid vaccines have already been administered with few side effects. Former President Donald Trump and his wife were vaccinated before leaving office as was Vice President Mike Pence. President Joe Biden and his wife, Gov. Sununu and all the Congressional delegation have been vaccinated.

My point is that the vaccines are exceedingly safe. The faster we get vaccinated the faster we can expect life to return to normal. But this is one of those times when we need to support our neighbors and rely on them. Just you or me getting the vaccine isn’t enough. Seventy to 85 percent of people in the country need to be vaccinated for the disease to essentially die out. And while you may be young and healthy and the virus may not harm you (though it surely might) you’re doing this for those whom Covid does have a greater chance of harming. We’re asked every day to do things that are not only good for us but benefit our society. This is one of those things. Go to to find a place near you to get vaccinated. Do your part to return us to normal.

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