Editorial: In Concord, unlike Washington, politicians can still get things done
Last fall, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan left the confines of the corner office to rally supporters of expanding the state’s Medicaid program out in the districts of three Republican senators she hoped to bring on board. Her activism was aggressive – heartening to her supporters and startling to opponents. Fast forward to last week, when Hassan praised the New Hampshire Senate – Republican and Democratic members alike – for their compromise on Medicaid, a deal likely to win easy approval in the Democratic House. Bipartisan negotiation, she said, was the key to a uniquely New Hampshire solution.
In an interview with the Monitor editorial board last week, Hassan made clear that her approach on that difficult issue is consistent with her approach to myriad challenges facing the state. She is refreshingly clear about what she supports and what she opposes. She’s willing to use the power of her office to keep important issues in the news. But she’s most of all pragmatic – willing, ultimately, to take smaller steps when a giant leap is politically unlikely to succeed. She’s willing to make deals, to share credit, to compromise.
In listening to her, it struck us that at least in Concord, unlike Washington, it is still possible for politicians to use their office to get things done.
Happily for Hassan, some of the issues she has championed are also popular with the public: restoring money to the university and community college systems and raising the minimum wage, for instance. But she has also been willing to acknowledge and embrace thorny problems that won’t necessarily win her votes: building a new prison for women, for instance, and wrestling with the state’s dangerously dysfunctional system of services for people with mental illness. She is interested in improving the criteria used by the state Site Evaluation Commission when approving energy projects – an issue on which residents and businesses will likely clash. She’s interested in finding long-term solutions to the state’s energy needs. She’s willing to sign an increase in the gas tax to start to fix the state’s roads and bridges.
She’s not right about everything – in particular, these days, her notion that casino gambling is a positive part of what she describes as a “modern economy.” Her unwillingness to spare cop-killer Michael Addison’s life even as she supports a repeal of the death penalty is a moral conundrum.
But her willingness to engage in sincere debate is heartening.
In fact, here are two issues on which we hope the governor will keep her word to join the conversation and perhaps help allay serious local concerns: the potential harm to Concord from the new prison and the seriously stressed school system in Allenstown.
In Concord, officials are understandably worried that the women’s prison will – like the state psychiatric hospital, the men’s prison and the halfway houses for inmates – contribute to the city’s troubles with homeless people, many of whom were freed from prison with little ability to settle into productive lives. Hassan says she’s willing to work with the city to ease the impact – and rightly points to new Medicaid coverage for substance abuse as a way to help needy residents from falling into homelessness.
Allenstown, meanwhile, was one of the winning plaintiffs in a long-ago case that found the state’s reliance on local property taxes to finance education unfair to poor school districts. Nonetheless, it finds itself today with such high taxes that voters are considering a $1 million budget cut that school officials describe as devastating. Some victory!
Hassan describes the governorship as the best job in the world. Hyperbole, perhaps, but it’s easy to see why someone interested in solving problems would find the role satisfying indeed.