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2003: The Year in New Hampshire's Upper Valley - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

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2003: The Year in New Hampshire's Upper Valley

West Lebanon, New Hampshire - December 29, 2003

New Hampshire began 2003 with a changing of the guard. Business entrepreneur Craig Benson was inaugurated governor, returning control of the statehouse to the Republican party. He vowed to run the state like a business and tightening its belt promising "No sales tax, no income tax, no way!".

That promise led to a budget crisis at the statehouse this summer. The state was spending more than it was getting in revenues.

"We need to live within our means just like every family in New Hampshire. This budget does not do that, I've made that plain and clear."

Governor Benson vetoed the $8.8 billion dollar budget in a move that threatened to shut down state government, even state-run businesses like the liquor stores. The legislature worked out a compromise and approved a budget nearly identical to the one they rejected and keeping New Hampshire in business.

This summer was also the first without a New Hampshire icon. The Old Man of the Mountain fell from its rocky perch on Cannon Mountain. The image represents New Hampshire on road signs, license plates, even the state quarter. Granite State businesses that depend on the flock of tourists to the White Mountains mourned the loss of their most famous attraction. Road signs point to a landmark that is no more.

Another symbol of the Granite State -- it's motto, Live Free or Die -- helped New Hampshire win attention from a political party. This summer a group of Libertarian activists announced as many as 20,000 members will be moving to New Hampshire in an effort dubbed the Free State Project.

The head of the Libertarian party in New Hampshire says the project might lay its roots in Claremont. They hope that concentrating themselves in a small state will give them more leverage on public policy.

"With an influx of people with a can-do spirit, I think we can revitalize cCaremont," said John Babiarz of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party.

New Hampshire launched another revolution in 2003 with the election of the country's first openly gay Episcopal bishop. Reverend Gene Robinson's confirmation drew both praise and protest. Several bishops from Anglican churches all over the world denounced the move and conservatives in the U.S. said it may split the church.

"It's a bittersweet moment because while I rejoice with my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and all of those who are working for full inclusion in this wonderful Episcopal church of ours, we are very aware this is a troubling decision for many in our church," said Robinson.

With Robinson's election confirmed, New Hampshire turns its eyes to another election -- the election of the next president.

Voters here had their first look at the candidates. They gathered at public rallies,town hall meetings, even backyard barbecues. From the workplace to local diners,candidates looked for support everywhere and in every way they could. A longstanding tradition that has been challenged by other states who say New Hampshire is too small to have so much say.

"We've got to continue the tradition of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary because it's the only way candidates with no money but strong backing, have any chance at all," said Howard Dean, democratic front runner and former Vermont governor.

As voters here cast the first ballots in the race for the White House, the eyes of the world will be on New Hampshire as we start 2004.

Kate Duffy - Channel 3 News

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