Exclusive TDR Interview with State Representative Mooney

The most recent edition of The Dartmouth Review is done being put together and will appear online soon. Inside the new issue I interview NH state representative Maureen Mooney who is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the 2003 law that gave the College complete control of its charter (save for the governor serving in an ex officio capacity).

During the interview Rep. Mooney made the surprising claim that, if passed, her bill would not affect the College in the least. Below is a key excerpt from that interview.

TDR: Okay. As of right now, are you hopeful or optimistic about the chances of your bill?

Mooney: Yeah, I think it has a pretty good shot. Clearly, this is an issue that needs to be taken up, and it’s caused a tremendous stir, it’s gotten a tremendous amount of press, which surprises me, really. This is my third term in the House; I’ve put in probably close to a hundred bills maybe at this point or cosponsored them, and for a one-liner—that’s really all my bill is is a one-liner—it’s caused a tremendous amount of stir. Hearing Dave Hess’s take on it, I think that gives the bill tremendous promise, but we’ll see, you know? It’s like that with any bill, you just really don’t know, you don’t know what committee it’s going to go to, you don’t know what the committee is going to think about it. The issue is complex, there’s no question about it. It takes time to understand it, and its history, you know, goes pretty far back, so we’ll see. It’s hard to see in the House what happens.

TDR: Along those lines, along history, many believe that the 2003 law—the law that your law would repeal—

Mooney: Correct.

TDR: —simply codified the Dartmouth College v. Woodward Supreme Court case. Is that your understanding?

Mooney: Well it’s a good question. It could be, yes it could be, and from the conversations I’ve had, and as you can imagine, there’s been quite a few conversations, I didn’t just come up with this idea on my own, the timing of it seems odd. Let’s face it. I mean, the Dartmouth v. Woodward case came down in 1819, and now we have it being possibly codified in 2003—the timing seems a little funny.

TDR: If your bill does in fact become law and it’s challenged, as it most likely will be, do you have concerns about the constitutionality of it?

Mooney: I don’t, and that goes back to you know the research I’ve done on this and so forth, and the conversations that I’ve had. Dartmouth and New Hampshire have had a very interesting and a very unique relationship. Yes—in 1819, a Supreme Court decision said they could amend their own charter. Fine and dandy. But you saw, and I emailed you, some session laws—

TDR: Right.

Mooney: One passed in 1893, one passed in 1921, 1961, and 1967. All four were bills brought by legislators that became law that some form or another amended the Dartmouth charter. Now my question is, why? Why did that happen four times? Nobody can give me an answer. People have asked me, I say I don’t know, I’m looking for the same answer. The closest answer I’ve been given by somebody fairly close to Dartmouth is that it’s a “belt and suspenders” approach, whereby Dartmouth doesn’t have to ask the state for permission, but that’s just tradition, it’s just historic value, sort of like a courtesy thing for the long and expansive history that Dartmouth and New Hampshire have had together. So, that brings us to 2003. And then it further brings us to my bill. People—I’ve been reading editorials and so forth—are accusing my bill of bringing the relationship of Dartmouth and New Hampshire back to the year 1818, and that’s false. My bill would bring the Dartmouth/New Hampshire relationship back to the year 2002, just as it was before. If Dartmouth wants to come and ask permission, by all means. If they don’t, I don’t see anything that would prevent them from having to come forward asking the state’s permission to do anything. That’s all my bill does.

TDR: So along those lines, if the College doesn’t come and ask for permission, would you or any other legislators take any action?

Mooney: No, absolutely not.

TDR: So I guess the question is, what is the purpose of your bill?

Mooney: It’s to preserve the historic and traditional relationship that Dartmouth has had with the State of New Hampshire up until 2003, and some alums find that relationship—they cherish that relationship and want it to go back to that—and whether it has anything to do with the recent governance committee’s actions, I just don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it is just a coincidence, I don’t know, it seems awfully funny—but bottom line is, there’s a significant group of alums out there who felt a lot more comfortable with the traditional Dartmouth.