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Retired N.H. conservative's views fit well with today's politics

When it comes to heritage, it would be difficult to pigeonhole Meldrin Thomson.

He is both Yankee and Southerner. Although he was born in Pittsburgh, he has family roots in the Deep South as well as New England. His mother was from Boston; his father's family from Georgia.

And it was in Georgia that he spent his formative years. Despite the heavily Democratic surroundings of the state in the 1920s, Thomson became a Republican.

He says he can even remember his excitement over Calvin Coolidge being elected president. Thomson was 12 at the time.

He later attended the University of Miami and Mercer University in Macon, Ga., then the University of Georgia, where he was the "lone Republican."

Thomson graduated from law school at Georgia, practiced for awhile in Florida then moved on to a law book publishing firm in Brooklyn, N.Y.

It was when he was 42, in 1954, that he moved to New Hampshire and became involved in politics.

First it was with the school board in the village where he lived _ and lives today _ Orford, and where he established a business that published legal textbooks.

While on the school board, Thomson helped found Taxfighters, a statewide organization. Fighting taxes later was to become his hallmark as a politician.

He soon attracted the attention of William Loeb, a militant right-winger who was publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. Loeb prevailed upon Thomson to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1968.

He lost, but not by much. In 1970, he tried again. Again he failed, again narrowly. That same year he ran in the general election anyway, as a candidate of George Wallace's American Independent Party, although he shunned the racist policies of the Wallace party. He came in third.

But in 1972, New Hampshire was ready for Thomson, who campaigned successfully in both the primary and general elections with the slogan, "Axe the Tax." He was re-elected in 1974 and 1976, but in 1978 failed to become New Hampshire's first four-term governor.

His three terms were controversial from beginning to end. During the first legislative session of his first term, he vetoed 27 bills. He froze hiring for any state positions without his approval.

He charged that a judge had "endorsed sexual perversion" when his court refused to ban organizations of homosexual students at the University of New Hampshire.

He opposed gun control, prison reform, amnesty for Vietnam War resisters and the Equal Rights Amendment. He forbade female state employees to use the title "Ms." He ordered flags on state buildings lowered to half-staff on Good Friday. (That later was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.)

He took on the Equal Opportunity Commission by ordering state department heads to identify all their workers simply as "Americans."

He sponsored a high school essay contest on why trade shouldn't be normalized with China; first prize was a one-month trip to Taiwan. All the while, Thomson stood firm on his "Axe the Tax" platform, resisting the establishment of any income or sales tax in New Hampshire.

As a proponent of nuclear power, he ordered 1,400 peaceful demonstrators at an anti-nuclear power protest arrested and held in custody.

But he worked diligently to bring industry to New Hampshire; the results were an economic boom.

His failure to win re-election in 1978 did not dim his enthusiasm for the conservative cause. In 1979 he sought election as president as the candidate of the Constitution Party, running on a platform calling for balancing the federal budget, restoring prayer in school, beefing up defense, banning abortions and ending foreign aid. His campaign came to naught.

But his failure to win that, his last campaign, had no effect on his flamboyant conservatism.

Today, at 83, he stands for the principles he always has espoused, and, although he no longer is actively involved in politics, he has not been forgotten.

"They all call me and want to come up here and talk about things," he said. "And I get letters asking my opinion."

Thomson does not hesitate to give his opinion: He does it weekly with a column carried in the newspaper that was largely responsible for launching him on his career in state government _ the Union Leader. "This week my column is about Goals 2000," he said, describing it as "one of the foolish things that (President) Clinton came up with."

And he stands pat on "no new taxes," declaring, "This business of people paying taxes for this and that and the other is crazy. Where is it going to wind up?" That's right in line with his longstanding fiscal policy: "Low taxes are the result of low spending."

He says that in his view Clinton is "the worst yet" on spending. "We just have so much money," he says, "and then we run out of it. We can't stretch money."

Looking at the 1996 presidential race, Thomson says Texas Sen. Phil Gramm is his choice for the Republican nomination. His second choice is Pat Buchanan.

How about the man widely regarded as the front-runner, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole? "He's a nice fella," Thomson says, "but I remember him when he was looking for votes 10 years ago. If he didn't get it by now, I doubt he'll make it."

Thomson and his wife continue to live in Orford, and several of their six children are in the area. Their eldest son is director of highway safety in New Hampshire, and another son "does quite a bit of work for the present governor." And Thomson is proud to point out that he is a great-grandfather.

His health has been failing recently. He suffers from Parkinson's disease. "It makes my voice stay down a bit," he says, meaning that, for one thing, he no longer can deliver a stem-winding speech from the political stump.

"I don't get out so much now," he said, "but I can get around. And although it has slowed me down, there are still things I can do."