February 1, 2007

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Nashua Publisher's Note: A lesson from Walter
By Jeff Rapsis

This week’s cover story looks at a Nashua-born politician who many in this city today may not know about, but they should. He’s Walter Peterson, who served as New Hampshire’s governor from 1969 to 1973.

Peterson, now in his 80s, is interesting to me because he was the last of what I think of as the “Rockefeller” Republicans to lead our state — a guy who was essentially pro-business, but also understood that government had a role in helping those less fortunate. He also knew those two aims are not mutually exclusive.

I’m not really a follower of any political party, but I could go for someone like this today. At any level, state or national, I think we could use leaders who understand how to support business, but also how to support people.

In New Hampshire, Gov. Lynch, a Democrat, is the closest we’ve had to this for a while. Nationally, we’ve had nothing like it since the days of Richard Nixon, believe it or not. Though a crook, he did stuff such as pushing through sweeping legislation such as the federal Clean Water Act in the early 1970s.

Since then, Republicans have taken a hard right turn toward Goldwater/Reagan conservatism, subscribing to the core belief that less government is always better.

They had a point, I think, for a time in the early 1980s, when the federal bureaucracy needed some trimming.

But since then, we as a nation have become increasingly polarized to the point where it’s almost impossible to have a reasonable discussion about serious questions. If you don’t support the war in Iraq, you’re for the terrorists —that sort of thing.

As governor, Walter Peterson showed it didn’t have to be this way. While in office, he put up with his share of hate-filled attacks from Union Leader publisher William Loeb, who was then at the height of his power.

But Peterson didn’t lose his balance. He went about the business of governing the state with a sense of fairness and respect for all. He worked to bring people together, not antagonize them in the manner of such abrasive Republican successors as Meldrim Thomson, John Sununu or Craig Benson.

I don’t know him personally but I know for a fact that Peterson never lost touch with the human scale of living and working in New Hampshire.

I know this because I had often heard stories of Peterson as someone who in his younger days was a pal to members of my father’s family in Nashua.

A few years ago, I had occasion to speak with Mr. Peterson, and told him my name and where I was from.

His eyes lit up, and he immediately asked me if my Uncle Eddie was still playing baseball!