Billing president embarrasses New Hampshire

For 60 years, New Hampshire has enjoyed the honor of holding the first presidential primary election in the nation. The tradition has served the state and the nation well.

And while we don’t think it will end because officials in some communities bill candidates, and even sitting presidents and vice presidents, for the costs incurred by their visit, it doesn’t help.

Yankee frugality is one thing. But at some point, charging visitors to participate in the ungainly process of democracy becomes downright cheap.

Taken to an extreme, it could mean that residents in communities willing to cover the costs of a president running for re-
election will see him or her in person, while residents in communities that expect to be reimbursed for costs will not. That’s not in democracy’s interest.

Decisions about whether to charge, primarily for the cost of overtime for police and fire department personnel, have come up in every state. The issue recently was the subject of a front-page article in the New Hampshire Union Leader that discussed which communities bill for visits and which don’t.

In most, including Concord, the answer is, it depends. Portsmouth, Milford and Nashua billed the candidates’ campaign, political party or the Secret Service, which is in charge of security for those who’ve earned its protection. Rochester did not.

Concord strikes the proper balance. Once a candidate has earned Secret Service protection, it does not charge. Early in the primary, when a host of candidates are competing, those who want the Concord police to provide security are expected to pay. Celebrities stumping for candidates also must pay if they want protection.

The communities that sent bills met with mixed success. Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s campaign, it appears, paid up, usually in advance. The Obama campaign pays on rare occasions, usually,
it seems, when the community is struggling economically.

The Secret Service is often asked to pay, but as a matter of policy, never does. The service will work with communities to reduce the cost of added security and try to secure services from the state police or others who are willing to foot the bill.

What it won’t do is write a check to communities. That’s as it should be.

The debate over charging candidates divided Durham and the communities that lent personnel to provide security for a visit this summer by President Barack Obama. The embarrassment that community should feel for dunning a sitting president for the costs of his visit was avoided at the last minute in Durham, when an anonymous donor offered to pick up the tab.

The Portsmouth City Council voted, 5-4, to bill any presidential campaign that visits the city. Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Robert Lister spoke for us when he said his city should celebrate the overnight visit by the president and vice president and their wives, “and not sit here arguing about whether we are getting paid.”

“I think people are missing the other side of the visit, which is the benefit we, in Portsmouth, have of seeing the candidates face to face,” Mayor Eric Spear told the Union Leader. “If you prefer to see your candidates only on TV, then perhaps the message should be sent that we don’t need to be as welcoming as previously we have been.”

Historically, New Hampshire communities were welcoming and did not charge nominees for the presidency for the cost of their visit. They had it right the first time.

– Concord Monitor