A Q&A with Rachael MacDonnell, Class of 2014
What was your overall general impression of Leadership Seacoast Government Day?
As with all of the Leadership Seacoast program days, I appreciated the broad range of perspectives presented to us on Government Day. For me, this exposure began the day before when our group completed our “homework” assignment by meeting with a couple of Stratham’s local politicians, Representative Pat Abrami and Representative and Stratham Town Selectman Tim Copeland. Hearing their inspirations, aspirations and frustrations was eye opening and provided a great deal of insight into the third largest legislature in the English speaking world. From one Representative we heard feelings of making a true difference and influencing the future direction of the State, while from the other Representative the group heard about feelings of disconnect and a longing to getting back to dealing with constituents eye to eye, making a deeper impact on a local level. These perspectives were echoed throughout Government Day and have helped me take a closer look at my own connection to my local and state governments.
Remembering our legislature is made up of424 volunteers who have been asked to weigh in on 905 bills thus far in the 2014 session helps drive home the importance ofspeaking up for the issues that are important to me and my community. Previous to this experience I think I focused more on being an informed voter and perhaps lost sight of the importance of being involved after the election. Walking away from this experience the responsibility of being an active citizen by staying connected with my legislators by advocating for the issues that are important to me is much more front of mind.
2. Tell us something impactful that you learned.
I did not grow up in New Hampshire and had not been aware that every bill gets a vote. To me, this is an impressive and empowering fact. I understand that this fact may also result in wasted time and energy on issues that some may feel don’t necessarily make an impact on the overall population of the State of New Hampshire, and this was an interesting issue to discuss. Other state governments function very differently; many bodies weed through bills that are filed before presenting bills to be voted on. Does that make them more effective? Does it give them a closer connection to the needs of the citizens and are they truly representing those they serve? Are those citizens more satisfied with their governments? These are all very subjective questions. Personally, I would prefer to know that if I have an issue important enough to take to the next level and make a case to my legislator – in which case I am certain I would be loud and determined enough to get a bill sponsor – my cause and solution would be guaranteed an opportunity for the entire body to weigh in on it.
3. From the presenters’ perspective, what are the biggest issues facing the state today?
Each presenters was quite different in terms of experience, perspective and core beliefs. Each presenter expressed different areas of concern as well as areas where they felt a sense of accomplishment. It was interesting to compare and contrast feelings on the individual issues; casinos, marijuana, infrastructure, taxes, education. The one issue that seemed to run throughout was partisanship. Some bragged about the level of collaboration across the aisle, while others practically rolled their eyes at the suggestion that collaboration existed. At the end of the day, regardless of the issue, there has to be a willingness on both sides to make a compromise and accept that everyone is not going to get what they want. The goal must be focused on moving New Hampshire – not an individual party – forward. Partisanship is clearly on the minds of most people in the statehouse but I did question whether each legislator is comfortable with their own opinion and blind to their own practices, or if there is some real inward reflection and conversation happening around making bipartisanship the norm versus an exception, and improving the overall effectiveness of our government.
4. How well equipped do you think New Hampshire policy makers are to make the decisions/changes needed to address those issues?
The number of issues New Hampshire policy makers are asked to become experts on is staggering. It is simply impossible to know the complete ins and outs of a bill prior to voting and it is evident that a key characteristic to an effective legislator is the ability to be a good judge of character. This is essential because each legislator much identify a group of “sources” for themselves. Legislators must depend upon these sources to provide important facts and figures about a bill, hopefully without spin or agenda. I would expect the task of identifying sources of information and opinion a complicated, time consuming and risky one. I was expecting “lobbyist” to be a four-letter word but it was encouraging to hear that for the most part, lobbyists involved in the New Hampshire state government were viewed as being very ethical. I think our policy makers are faced with a huge challenge when they enter office for the first time, as they certainly do not have the support a legislator on the Federal level would have. After Government Day I now feel that the challenge is less about learning material but more about learning people.
5. Was there anything you heard that you’d like to learn more about?
The budget! At the end of the day, the class was presented with 50 or so line items and given precious little time to make decisions about what items would be funded and in what amount. I think we all already understood that the budget is a huge task, but after a day of hearing about the amount of information our legislators are asked to process with little to no support, I think the intensity of the task was all the more appreciated. I would be interested to hear perspectives from those closest to the process about their personal struggles and victories. What kind of discussion really happens when something massively impactful is on the line such as mental health services in the state? The line item relating to mental health is very important to me, as I’m sure each line item is to somebody else in the state, and I wonder if the capacity for debate, creativity and compromise is as high as we hope it is?
Rachael A. MacDonnell, Class of 2014, is Optima Bank & Trust Assistant Vice President & Branch Manager