Two are gone who reflect the best of service

More than two thousand demonstrators rally on the plaza and lawn in front of New Hampshire's Statehouse Thursday, March 31, 2011 to protest proposed spending cuts and a provision that would strip public employees of their union protection when their contracts expire, in Concord, N.H.

More than half a century ago, Bob Dylan wrote, “The Times They Are A-Changing” and as you grow older the changes keep coming, but they are more sad than exciting.

A longtime friend once told me, “If you live long enough, life gets pretty sad,” although there is one word missing from the quote.

In the last few weeks, New Hampshire lost two people who worked tirelessly for their country, their state and their local communities.

Both served fairly lengthy stints in the New Hampshire House, one about 30 years ago and the other more recently.

Merle Schotanus retired to Grantham’s Eastman community and it was not long before local residents talked him into running for the House.

Schotanus served in the military earning the rank of colonel and those skills may have helped him when he arrived to serve in the House.

Former House Speaker Donna Sytek often said being Speaker of the House was like trying to herd cats.

The times were different when Schotanus was a lawmaker. For one thing, it was much more congenial, less partisan but there was also a sense of statesmanship that has all but disappeared these days.

The atmosphere fit Schotanus’s skills perfectly as he enjoyed talking to his fellow lawmakers and working to achieve the best possible outcome.

He served on the House Appropriations Committee that met in Room 100 of the State House. The room is on the first floor just inside the front door and across the hall from the visitors’ center and not far from the press room.

The committee chair was Bill Kidder from New London and Elizabeth Hager from Concord was vice-chair.

Schotanus spent enough time in the military to gain extensive political skills and could see the bigger picture that often escaped others.

And he had another job: to stay by the side of a North Country legislator who was brilliant in the morning, but not so much after lunch at the bar across the street. Shotanus’s job was to ensure things did not go too far off the rails during the afternoon sessions. He was mostly successful.

Schotanus also served on the University System of New Hampshire’s Board of Trustee and was an avid supporter of the Prouty, a bicycle race to raise funds for cancer research and supportive services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Schotanus was the epitome of what the New Hampshire Legislature was intended to be, citizens bringing their expertise to government to address the state’s problems.

David Kidder was a New London native and is one of many who never strayed far from home.

His father was the chair of House Appropriations for many years and David followed him to the New Hampshire House but not to what is now House Finance.

He served on several committees and was the Chair of the Fish and Game Committee, his last term when he decided not to seek reelection in 2016 after spending 12 years in the House.

Kidder also served on the board of the Land and Community Heritage Association and was a member of the Main Street Coalition of moderate Republicans.

He was also a key member of a small group of Republicans who successfully conspired to make Shawn Jasper Speaker of the House to blunt Bill O’Brien’s attempt to return as speaker in 2014.

Kidder was very active in New London serving on many boards from the budget committee to the New London Boys Club and the protective associations for both Lake Sunapee and Pleasant Lake.

He was also in charge of the annual July 4 fireworks show on Pleasant Lake which was fired off from Kidder Point.

His family established the Ice House Museum to showcase their collection of vintage vehicles, tools and other artifacts with an eye to local history.

When the Kearsarge Regional School Board decided to demolish the old New London School, Kidder worked to transform the building into a community center, but the effort did not come to fruition.

When the building was to be torn down, a mural done during the Great Recession was removed and Kidder had it carted to the Ice House to be preserved so it was not lost.

Like Shotanus, Kidder tried to find middle ground and was willing to talk to anybody from either party to find the greater good.

Today they would be called RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), but that denies the party’s history from its founding in Exeter.

Too many forget for much of the mid-part of the last century, Republicans were the progressives in the state, not the Democrats.

The last major overhaul of the state’s tax system — not just adding the business enterprise tax or instituting a statewide property tax — occurred under a Republican governor, Walter Peterson.

At the time, the massive overhaul moved the state’s tax system into the 20th Century. It has yet to be moved into the 21st Century.

It is easy to slip into nostalgia for the old days at the State House when Republicans and Democrats worked together to craft solutions both parties could run on in the next election.

That is not to say it wasn’t partisan because it was, and Democrats may not look back with nostalgia on those days when they were significantly outnumbered and had no hope of changing the outcome with the next election.

But today New Hampshire, much like the country, is divided down party lines and what happens from one election to the next is more dependent on what occurs nationally than in the Granite State.

Today the stakes are much higher with larger consequences for winning and losing.

Doing the greater good has been lost to achieving the greatest political advantage.

Lawmakers are capable of working together when they need to like enhanced Medicaid or the opioid crisis or the beginning of the pandemic, but even those issues have slid into the partisan divide of late.

Schotanus and Kidder, both old school Republicans, did not go to Concord to further their political careers, they went to do what they believed to be the best for the state and for their communities.

More lawmakers with their outlook on governing would certainly help at this time in our history.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

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