Students vie for legislative seats

by Alex Fredman | 7/6/18 2:25am

Baronet “Webb” Harrington ’20 and Garrett Muscatel ’20 have a number of things in common: both are economics majors, members of the Dartmouth Class of 2020, have long-standing interests in politics and have interned in the U.S. Congress.

When it comes to political ideology, however, their differences stand out—and this fall, Hanover voters will have the chance to choose between them.

Harrington, a Republican, and Muscatel, a Democrat, are both running this fall to represent the town of Hanover in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. The district — Grafton County 12 — has four representatives in the state House, all of whom are Democrats. Five people in total have filed to run for the 2019-20 term; the other three individuals who filed are incumbents.

The New Hampshire State House, currently controlled by Republicans, has a total of 400 members, making it by far the largest state legislative body in the United States. Members are elected from 204 districts, which receive a number of representatives proportional to population.

Known as a “citizen legislature” because of its paucity of professional staff and $100-a-year salary for members, the state House requires that members are at least 18 years old and have been “domiciled” in the state for at least two years. Candidates must pay a $2 fee or provide five primary petitions, each of which requires one signature, to file for election.

Harrington said that his decision to run stems from his six years of living in New Hampshire and his appreciation for the way the state has embraced him.

“I think it’s time for me to give back to [the] community that I’ve spent so much time in,” Harrington said.

While attending high school at Phillips Exeter Academy, Harrington was a member of the Republican Club and later took a term off to intern for U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). At Dartmouth, Harrington is a double major in economics and computer science and is currently co-editor-in-chief of the conservative campus publication The Dartmouth Review.

Harrington said that his platform consists of four issues: bringing the tech sector to New Hampshire and Hanover, legalizing marijuana, increasing state funding for charter schools and a continuing commitment to low taxes and an expanding economy.

“I think that my policies are pretty common-sense,” Harrington said. “Everybody agrees with low taxes [and] everybody agrees with increasing the number of jobs.”

If elected in November, Harrington said that he does not think it would be necessary to resign from his position at the Review, noting that many state legislators have second jobs as well. He added, however, that he would be careful to separate his political activities from his work at the Review.

Harrington and Muscatel are acquaintances from overlapping experiences on campus, including an economics course they took together during their freshman year. Both spoke well of the other’s decision to run.

“I think it’s a really positive thing when people are trying to represent the community where they are from,” Harrington said.

For Muscatel, Dartmouth students are a significant part of that community and therefore deserve a representative who embodies their political beliefs.

“Dartmouth students make up about half of the district,” Muscatel said. “And so I thought to myself...[that] there should be a Dartmouth student in Concord to represent student voices.”

Originally from California, Muscatel’s political experience includes volunteering for President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, interning for U.S. Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA) and working as a fellow for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. At Dartmouth, Muscatel majors in government and economics and is a member of the Dartmouth College Democrats.

“I know how and what I can do to combat the Trump administration, and I’d like to bring that experience to New Hampshire,” Muscatel said.

In terms of issues, Muscatel cited two issues as key for his platform: immigration and voting rights for college students. Muscatel said that he recently spoke at and helped organize a rally on the Green, planned by the Hanover Town Democrats and Dartmouth College Democrats, to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Regarding voting rights, Muscatel said he opposes recent actions — including Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 1264 — taken by the state government to limit out-of-state college students from voting in New Hampshire. He noted that he is a party in pending litigation challenging the legality of SB 3.

Harrington took a measured approach to the issue, saying that while college students should have their voting rights protected, he understands the concerns of voters who have longer roots in the state.

“It’s very dangerous to approach this issue, because you have to make sure that you’re not taking away any college student’s voting rights,” Harrington said. “Where exactly the balance falls on that, I’m not completely certain yet.”

If Harrington or Muscatel win in the fall, it will not be the first time in recent years that a Dartmouth student has been elected to local office.

In 2008, Vanessa Sievers ’10 was elected Grafton County treasurer, an event that sparked national media coverage. After Sievers missed three meetings in a row, the Grafton County Executive Committee voted on a 6-1 margin calling on her to resign. Sievers apologized to the committee but served out the remainder of her term.

In 2014, Michael Wopinski ’15 was elected Grafton County register of probate after a successful day-of write-in campaign led by fellow members of Alpha Delta fraternity. Wopinski, who did not vote for himself, won the election with 20 votes out of 95 cast, defeating other write-ins including College President Phil Hanlon and “Keggy the Kegger.” At the time, Hanover town manager Julia Griffin told The Dartmouth that the position is a “largely ceremonial” role.

Government professor Linda Fowler said that while local residents are prone to skepticism toward student candidates, students who run a serious campaign could overcome the “bad vibe” left by past experiences.

“[If someone] is willing to go into the community and meet people and make the effort to meet non-students, then I think [having a student represent Hanover] is just fine,” Fowler said.

Fowler, who has taught Muscatel in one of her classes, characterized Hanover as a “safe Democratic seat” and said that Muscatel has a good chance of being elected if he makes it past the primary.

“From what I can tell listening to some of the more senior Democrats in the town, they seem to think he would be a very good legislator, that he works hard, he’s reliable,” Fowler said.

Yet Fowler also praised Harrington’s candidacy, noting that often Democrats in the area are often elected with no opposition.

“We have so many uncontested elections in this country, that anybody, in my view, who puts himself or herself forward is doing a good thing,” she said.

New Hampshire’s primary election this year falls on Sept.11, and the general election is on Nov. 6.