Kuster discusses her political roots

by Wally Joe Cook | 11/2/18 2:45am

When asked about her campaign’s theme, Rep. Annie McLane Kuster ’78 (D-NH) said, “We care about everybody.” If Kuster looked out the window, she would have seen that a lot of people also care about her. Just outside of the interview room, over 200 students were lined up to listen to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kuster speak at a Get Out the Vote rally on Oct. 28.

On Sept. 11, Kuster won the Democratic primary election to represent New Hampshire’s second congressional district uncontested. She will face off against Republican State Rep. Steve Negron and Libertarian candidate Justin O’Donnell on Nov. 6 for New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District’s seat in the House of Representatives.

According to FiveThirtyEight, a website which forecasts elections, Kuster has a 99.7 percent chance of winning the seat. College Republicans vice president Daniel Bring ’21, who supports Negron, said he likewise expects Kuster to win the election.

In 1974, Kuster enrolled at Dartmouth as a member of the third class to accept women. Thirty-eight years later, in 2012, she entered Congress as a part of the nation’s first all-female Congressional delegation in history.

“I was very proud,” Kuster said. “New Hampshire has really led the way for women candidates and it was very exciting to be part of the first all-female delegation in the history of the country.”

Kuster said that her mother, Susan McLane, who served in the New Hampshire House and Senate for a combined 25 years, helped pave the way for her political career. As a politician, McLane was a founder of the Women’s Campaign Fund and the National Women’s Political Caucus, organizations that encourage women to run for office.

“I think young women and girls can grow up in New Hampshire and know that there’s a place for them in positions of influence and in elected office,” Kuster said. “I think it’s very empowering.”

McLane was first elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives when Kuster was 12 years old, which Kuster said inspired her own interest in government. At 16, Kuster first got involved in politics working for Rep. Pete McCloskey’s 1972 presidential campaign for the Republican nomination. McCloskey was challenging incumbent President Richard Nixon on an anti-war platform.

“It was part of a series of events that led to his resignation,” Kuster said. “It definitely gave me the sense that getting involved makes a difference.”

At Dartmouth, Kuster majored in environmental policy studies, which she said matched with her work for McCloskey, who sponsored the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“I had a really great professor, Dane Meadows, who had written a book called, ‘Small is Beautiful,’” Kuster said. “Earth Day [first] happened when I was in junior high school so it was all pretty new.”

When Kuster graduated, she moved to Washington, D.C. to continue working for McCloskey. After a few years as his legislative director, Kuster attended Georgetown Law School and, in 1984, she returned to New Hampshire, where she practiced law for 25 years. Kuster was also a lobbyist from 1989 to 2009. She re-entered politics by working on the John Kerry presidential campaign in 2004. Then, in 2006, she met a senator whom she thought could be president.

“I was the second person to join the Barack Obama campaign,” Kuster said. “I met him in December of 2006 and soon I started working on the campaign in January of 2007, when it was just getting started.”

Kuster added that she remembers her time working on the Obama campaign fondly.

“I said to the president, ‘I was on board before Michelle [Obama] was on board,’ and he said, ‘I think you’re right,’” she said.

After joining Congress in 2012, Kuster said she worked to find bipartisan solutions in the Republican-controlled House. However, she explained that the dynamic in Washington, D.C. changed with President Trump’s election in 2016.

“Congress was quite a bit more congenial the first four years when Barack Obama was president,” she said. “What’s been hard in the last two years is that the polarization has been exacerbated by President Trump’s rhetoric. He makes no effort to bring people together in terms of working with Congress.”

Kuster said that although she still works hard to find bipartisan solutions, Trump’s behavior has created new challenges.

“We have been successful passing bipartisan legislation and getting it to his desk to sign into law, but it’s been in spite of him, not because of him,” she said. “He’s very erratic and unpredictable. That’s contrary to an environment of creating relationships and building confidence and trusting one another and working together.”

Kuster cited two bipartisan agreements, a bill that established a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and a farm bill, where Trump “weighed in and blew up the compromise.” She added that bipartisan legislation is important to combat the opioid epidemic, which she said many people identify as the greatest issue in New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire is at the epicenter of a perfect storm of not enough treatment, access to treatment and high rate of opioid prescription,” Kuster said. “New Hampshire has bold ideas and innovative solutions that will help us out of the crisis and help the rest of the country out of the crisis.”

Jared Cape ’21, who interned for Kuster this summer, spoke highly of his experience with her.

“Congresswoman Kuster is by far the best possible representative for our district,” Cape said. “She is one of the most authentic, kind, caring and lovable people you will ever meet.”

He also praised Kuster for her bipartisan efforts to deal with the opioid crisis and sexual assault.

Kuster also discussed the importance of voting in New Hampshire. According to FiveThirtyEight, an individual vote from New Hampshire had a greater chance of determining the 2016 presidential election than a vote in any other state.

“Maggie Hassan won a seat in the U.S. Senate by just 1,000 votes out of the 700,000 votes cast in 2016,” she said. “Every single one of those 1,000 votes that she won by were right here on the Dartmouth campus.”

Kuster added that Hassan’s election had major policy implications.

“She was essentially the deciding vote on protecting the Affordable Care Act,” Kuster said. “I think 32 million people would have lost their health insurance if she hadn’t been there.”

Kuster also emphasized the importance of Dartmouth students voting on Nov. 6.

“This is very important for Dartmouth students to understand: you can vote in this election,” she said. “Don’t be intimidated if you don’t know all of the names on the ballot. Don’t think of it as an exam — it’s not an exam. It’s a civic duty to participate in your own government.”