Live Free AND Die?

Every day, The Sentinel receives hundreds, if not thousands, of emails. Among them, typically, are pitches by firms that compile statistics or ratings, hoping for some publicity or to forward an agenda. We also receive quite a few political messages from the major parties and their various members. Mostly, we read and dismiss the majority of these, as they have little new to offer our readers.

Occasionally, the politics and statistics entwine, with interesting results. This was the case last Wednesday, when we received, in the span of several minutes, messages from House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, and Marina Altschiller, minority caucus director for the N.H. state Senate.

Osborne was crowing about the state’s ranking as the “freest state in the Union,” according to the CATO Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States rankings.

“In 1945, New Hampshire adopted our state motto ‘Live Free or Die,’ as a constant reminder of the utmost importance of our rights,” he wrote. “This phrase epitomizes New Hampshire’s commitment to freedom and individual liberty, so it should be no surprise that we are the national leader in empowering individuals to embrace the unalienable rights that we are endowed with.” One could easily picture him raising one of those foam “No. 1” fingers as he hit “send.”

The conservative Cato Institute’s criteria for assessing the relative freeness of states involves fiscal policy (the lower the tax rates, the “freer”); how much gambling is allowed/controlled; health insurance “freedom” (the fewer controls on insurers, the better); incarceration/arrest rates; labor freedom (i.e., opposing unions); educational freedom (New Hampshire has rocketed up the rankings in this with recent voucher laws); marriage freedom (how many things, such as sodomy and “cousin marriage” are outlawed); alcohol, tobacco and drug freedom; land use regulations (the fewer the better); travel (seatbelt laws, helmet laws and such); miscellaneous regulatory issues (again, the fewer the better); campaign finance (the ability to give however much to anyone); and, of course, gun rights.

Notably, the rankings were compiled using statistics and information available as of Jan. 1, 2020. Imagine the score New Hampshire could get with the actions of the Legislature and governor during the past two sessions! Is there a higher ranking than No. 1?

Altschiller was noting a different ranking in which the Granite State also finished first.

“Today, according [to] state and local health agency data compiled by The New York Times, New Hampshire was ranked number one in the country for the highest average rate of daily COVID-19 cases per capita,” she wrote.

We doubt she was as excited about the state’s top ranking as was Osborne. Nor was Democratic Sen. Tom Sherman, a doctor from Rye, who added that it was “heart-wrenching” to see. He also took the opportunity to blast the governor over the state’s COVID response, because there’s no sense noting an achievement if you don’t get some political mileage out of it.

Nevertheless, it was interesting to us that at virtually the same moment, the state’s Democrats were pointing out how the state has failed to protect its citizens, while Republican leadership was touting how well the state caters to “personal freedom” — the type of dynamic that’s led to New Hampshire’s having the lowest COVID vaccination rate in the Northeast, with a Legislature and governor who actually passed and signed a law forbidding state institutions from mandating vaccinations in the midst of a global pandemic.

As we said, more often than not, the various rankings and statistical lists we receive daily offer little in the way of actual insight.

But on occasion, there’s something to be learned.

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