Now that the Vermont legislature has returned to Montpelier, I’d like to suggest again that it consider a plan to alter New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. I’ve said this before, and nobody paid any attention. Things have not gotten better.

It’s not only the money that the New Hampshire primary brings in that bothers me. It’s the … well, OK, it’s the money. In the run-up to the vote in 2016, New Hampshire’s television stations will be rolling in dough, its restaurants will be crowded with journalists and hangers-on, and its merchants’ registers will sing.

Meanwhile, we here in Vermont, who, God knows, are much better equipped to make an intelligent decision about the future of the country, are ignored. Worse, we are forced to watch salty old New Hampshire men crackle wise to the candidates and floor credulous news crews with their cranky humor. But actually, it’s the money.

The money is why New Hampshire has maintained its first-in-the-nation status despite attempts to dislodge it. New Hampshire’s legislature passed a law to make its vote first in the nation no matter how early it has to be scheduled. It has frustrated efforts to create true regional primaries by insisting that it retain its privileged perch.

Estimates of exactly how much money New Hampshire takes in off all this vary with the estimator, but suffice it to say, such revenue would make a dent in Vermont’s snow removal bill or help to balance our school accounts. Yet every four years we sit and watch this concocted farce next door and do nothing — even though there’s an easy response.

Let’s face facts. New Hampshire and certain other states (Delaware comes to mind) have always opted for lucrative schemes over honest financial planning. Delaware has its dicey incorporation laws and soaks everyone who’s forced to drive its short stretch of interstate.

New Hampshire, from its early days, was in it for other people’s money, too. It did everything possible to sell as much liquor as possible to the passing public. It had the nation’s first lottery, preying on Americans’ weakness for the promise of riches without labor. And that was back when lotteries were thought to be gambling, a sign of human frailty; now we know they’re actually not gambling in the usual sense because you have almost no chance of winning.

In short, New Hampshire — the Grabbit State — turned the primary system into a scheme for selling more lottery tickets and liquor. Someone in its legislature, some crotchety old spotted loon, ruminating in his backhouse, realized that politicians’ lust for early approval could be turned into a quadrennial cash cow. The important thing was that New Hampshire be first. Iowans muscled in with their caucuses, but a lot of the caucus decisions are based on whether some farm wife put enough booze in the stroganoff. Caucuses are good-natured gab-fests. Primaries are ballots. Plus, as we saw last time, Iowans can’t count.

Here’s my idea. Vermont should have a primary at the same time as New Hampshire’s. Naturally, New Hampshire, in its spiteful and vicious cupidity, would set its primary before any specific date announced by Vermont. So Vermont’s law has to be framed as follows: “The Vermont primary will be the same day as the New Hampshire primary.” Hah! No matter what date they select, ours will be the same. They can fuss and sue and throw Sununu fits, but whatever day they choose will automatically be Vermont’s, too.

That would mean that the millions in additional trade that goes to New Hampshire would be shared by Vermont. It also would mean that the beggar-thy-neighbor, hard-fisted, poor-mouthing, unchivalrous and ungenerous attitude of New Hampshire would be tempered by the kinder, warmer, more humane Vermont. No matter how much New Hampshire voters forced primary candidates to twist their taxation and social stances into the crabbed demands so common east of the Connecticut River, a countervailing attitude of fair play and friendly persuasion would prevail to the west.

Our television and radio stations would reap bountifully. The sales tax revenue would choke our coffers. And if the plan worked, in time Maine and Massachusetts would join, and we’d be on our way toward regional primaries. Naturally, everyone would be grateful for our leadership.

Also naturally, New Hampshire would fume and snort. That alone makes this worth doing. They would call it stealing their traditional role in American politics. I call it Yankee ingenuity. And as we all know, a real Yankee is a man who eats pie for breakfast. In other words, a Vermonter. Live free or pie!

Jeff Danziger is a syndicated political cartoonist with the Rutland Herald and the Montpelier Times Argus. This column was distributed by The Washington Post, where it first appeared.

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