‘Fresh’man Perspective: Rep. Jim Waddell
This piece is the first in a NH Journal series of interviews with freshman state legislators.
There could hardly be a less likely New Hampshire Republican State Representative than a retired public school teacher from Massachusetts, but that’s exactly what Hampton Rep. Jim Waddell is. The Bay State native and 36-year teaching veteran moved north about four years ago and wasted no time getting involved in the local political scene. Waddell joined the Hampton Republican Committee, quickly becoming Chairman, and volunteered his time with John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Following the 2008 election, Hampton Republicans encouraged Waddell to run himself, so he began his first ever campaign for public office, becoming part of the 2010 Republican wave that created veto-proof majorities in both chambers of the State House.
However, think again before painting Waddell with the ultra-conservative, Tea Party brush that many have used to label the GOP freshman class. “I consider myself a moderate Republican,” he said, noting that many of his colleagues fall much further to the right, “I spent my whole campaign saying that I would not legislate ideology and a lot of people in the State House legislate their ideology.”
Waddell’s overall assessment of the House Republicans’ performance is a positive one. He disagrees with what he sees as an effort by the press to focus on distracting secondary issues rather than the important work the House is doing to tackle tough fiscal issues. He praises the hard work of the Finance and Ways and Means Committees, particularly on the budget, where legislators always have to keep in mind that “every cut has a constituent.”
When it comes to the issues, Waddell makes it clear that he is not afraid to break with his party if he believes strongly in a different position. While he admits he’s received critical emails and letters for some of his votes, he maintains that he was very true to who he is on the campaign trail and to the voters of Hampton who elected him.
We discussed a few key votes where he had gone a different route than the majority, starting with the recent bill to expand the death penalty, which passed in the House. Waddell said he understood the “strong emotional appeal” of the legislation due to the recent Mont Vernon murder trials, but that to him, being pro-life means opposing both abortion and the death penalty.
Waddell also opposed the effort to lower the high school dropout age from 18 to 16. He’s in favor of allowing kids who struggle in school to pursue monitored substitute curricula, such as internships or community service, but cites the bill that passed in the House, along with the push to do away with mandatory kindergarten, as examples of a “get the government out of our lives” mentality gone too far.
Has being a State Rep. lived up to Waddell’s expectations? It’s a tough job, he says, “You have to stay on your toes…it’s more work than I thought, but if you do your homework it’s a lot easier.”
When he’s not fearlessly voting his convictions in the State House, Waddell, a longtime skiing enthusiast, is an instructor for Ability Plus, a charitable organization that teaches children and adults with disabilities to ski. Waddell got involved with adaptive skiing after his son suffered a major skiing accident that left him a paraplegic. Waddell was headed straight from our meeting to help disabled veterans hit the slopes at Waterville Valley.