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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Amidon: It’s Time for Dartmouth to Pass the Torch on New Hampshire’s Second District

With Rep. Annie Kuster ’78 stepping down from her congressional seat, Dartmouth alumni should stay out of the race.

One of the most impactful moments in my first year at Dartmouth was former Rep. Liz Cheney’s “An Oath to Defend Democracy” event, hosted on June 5 and sponsored by the Dartmouth Political Union, the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Dickey Center for International Understanding. Even before Rep. Cheney took the floor, I was struck and confused by a moment between her and Rep. Annie Kuster ’78, who also attended the event — the two representatives embraced each other as true friends, despite opposing political ideals. 

The representatives’ quiet embrace and quick greeting demonstrated what we need most in our country: love for our fellow Americans, regardless of political affiliation, a fastidious commitment to our country and a willingness to work across the aisle for the benefit of the United States.

I was thus quite disappointed when Kuster announced last week that she would not seek reelection in November — leaving the seat that she has held for the past 12 years open and ending her powerful legacy in the House of Representatives.

That having been said, I also see the merit in Kuster’s decision. In an interview with The Dartmouth, the tenured representative said she was motivated to step down in part due to her desire to pass the torch to “a new generation of leadership coming in Congress for the Democrats.” Revealing that she never wished to be a lifelong politician, Kuster is ushering in new representation for New Hampshire’s second congressional district, allowing fresh faces to influence policy at the highest levels. 

Moreover, Kuster is not leaving politics entirely — in interviews, she has affirmed her unwavering commitment to the Democratic Party. She hopes that with her freed-up schedule, she can provide support to President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign and the campaigns of members of the New Democrat Coalition. As an individual who hopes to one day be in her shoes, representing a group of Americans, I hope to mimic Kuster’s legacy — to know when the time is to step back and influence politics from afar, to bring in new leadership and leave a positive impact on this country.

The question, then, is who will step up to claim the seat left vacant by Kuster. I strongly believe that individuals involved with Dartmouth — whether students, faculty or alumni — should not be a part of this new phase of Democratic leadership in the second congressional district.

New Hampshire’s second district has consistently been represented by Ivy Leaguers. Kuster herself is a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1978. Her predecessor, Rep. Charles Bass, is a member of the Class of 1974 who replaced Rep. Paul Hodes — a member of the Class of 1972. Before Bass was Rep. Dick Swett, who attended Yale University. In simpler words, New Hampshire’s second district has been represented by Ivy League elites for more than three decades.

Despite lying within the district’s bounds, Dartmouth’s alumni do not represent the people of the state at large. According to recent census data, only 18.5% of individuals in New Hampshire have a bachelor’s degree, with even fewer obtaining a degree from a top-tier university like Dartmouth. Another method to examine this disparity is through the median household income for New Hampshire’s second district: $82,270 as of 2021. The average salary alone for mid-career Dartmouth graduates, meanwhile, is $173,000. 

Dartmouth alumni also have an unfair advantage in the political process. It’s no secret that Dartmouth provides individuals with an incredibly powerful network of high-net-worth individuals, which — in the political world — can make a candidate quite powerful. I am deeply afraid that Dartmouth graduates are more likely than others to cater to the rich and utilize big money to secure their clench over New Hampshire’s second. In turn, I believe it would be anti-democratic for alumni to dominate this congressional district. 

The massive disparity that exists between the average New Hampshire resident and Dartmouth graduate proves that we must hand over the torch to someone who is not of the Ivy-League elites. There are more people that reside in New Hampshire’s second than just those attending or graduated from Dartmouth. It does not make sense to extend our control over the region.

Moreover, the district has previously elected non-New Hampshire natives. While Kuster is New Hampshire-born and raised, Hodes was a New Hampshire transplant, a resident as a result of attending Dartmouth. Now, I have no issue with people representing an area in which they were not born. If I were to ever run for Office, I would not want to be tied to Wisconsin’s second district — where I was born but only resided for six years — or Mississippi’s first, where I grew up but am unlikely to return to post-graduation. The issue, rather, is with the vast differences in demographics and economic status between Granite Staters and Dartmouth alumni. It is time for Dartmouth to end its tradition of bringing in out-of-state representation to the district.

It would be a disservice, however, not to mention how these individuals were all great leaders. Kuster founded the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Task Force; Bass fought to protect funding for federal conservation efforts across the country; Hodes saw protecting the arts as a focal point to his time in Office and Swett co-authored the landmark Congressional Accountability Act. They did great work, but it’s time for a change.

I do encourage Dartmouth graduates to make a difference across the United States, including by running for Office. However, I believe that our monopoly on New Hampshire’s second district must come to an end. 

This by no means should be understood as a call for Dartmouth alumni to sit completely on the sidelines of this race. The College remains an incredibly important institution within this region, and current students and alumni alike should be active in the election. Campaign, fund and outwardly support the candidate you see best fit to represent this district. Rather than run ourselves, we should support candidates from New Hampshire — those that represent the interests of Granite Staters.

For the Dartmouth community to be a good steward to the state of New Hampshire, we must take a step back from the upcoming election. Support individuals without our names on the ballot. Let us make a difference, and keep up the encouraging legacy that Rep. Kuster has left behind.

Correction Appended (April 2, 10:02AM): A previous version of this article stated that Rep. Charles Bass was a New Hampshire transplant who moved to the state to attend Dartmouth. Bass was born in Boston but lived in New Hampshire prior to college. The article has been updated.

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.