Hassan says governor can set civil tone for N.H. government
Maggie Hassan ; Wednesday, August 22, 2012. ( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Maggie Hassan believes she can work with the Legislature and set a tone of civility and respect as governor – even, she said, if Republicans hold on to their large majorities in both chambers at the State House.
“You can certainly try,” Hassan, a Democrat, told the Monitor’s editorial board in an interview last week, “and governors do have to set the tone. I have a strong record of working well with people who disagree with me on a number of issues.”
She added, “If you have people who just believe that their agenda needs to be followed without compromise, you could be courteous and you can be civil, but you also have to stand up for the people of New Hampshire. . . . I am hopeful that we will see some moderation, and I am hopeful that people will take to heart the fact that most Granite Staters I talk to really want us to move forward and solve problems and build on the foundation that we set with Gov. (John) Lynch.”
Hassan, 54, an Exeter attorney, first ran for the state Senate in 2002 and won the first of three terms in 2004, rising to the post of majority leader before losing her seat in 2010. She announced her gubernatorial run after Lynch, the Democratic incumbent, said he would not seek a fifth term, and she defeated two opponents in the Sept. 11 primary.
Her late father, Robert Wood, briefly served in President Lyndon Johnson’s Cabinet as the U.S. secretary of housing and urban development and was succeeded by Michigan Gov. George Romney, who was appointed by President Richard Nixon. Wood, a college professor, later served as head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, president of the University of Massachusetts and superintendent of the Boston school system.
Hassan faces Republican Ovide Lamontagne, a Manchester lawyer, in the Nov. 6 election.
In last week’s interview, Hassan said New Hampshire’s infrastructure needs, including roads and bridges, must be a priority. She didn’t rule out any possibilities when asked if she’d support an increase of the gas tax, an increase in tolls or a surcharge on vehicle registrations to pay for those projects.
“We have to find a way to come together and fund our basic infrastructure needs,” she said. “It’s a matter of safety, and it’s a matter of economic development; it’s a matter of environmental protection and economic and business efficiency. So we have to do it. The best way to do it, in New Hampshire tradition, is to bring people together and acknowledge that we’ve got a challenge and then find a strategy that will get us to our solutions, and that’s what I will do as governor.”
Hassan discussed her “Innovate NH” economic plan, which includes doubling the state’s research-and-development tax credit and restoring funding for community colleges and the university system, the latter in exchange for a two-year tuition freeze.
But she also said social issues like abortion and women’s access to health care should be front and center in the election, even though Lamontagne has said such issues are not central to a race he says should focus on jobs and the economy.
“It’s been interesting in the debates that we’ve had to date – all 10 of them, and we’ve got two more to go – what has been really interesting to me is how hard Ovide has been trying to either distance himself from actually current positions, but try to tell people that they’re not important somehow, they’re not central,” Hassan said.
Hassan opposes restrictions on abortion, backs government funding for Planned Parenthood and supports the state’s gay-marriage law; Lamontagne is pro-life, opposes government funding for Planned Parenthood and says he’d sign legislation to repeal gay marriage as long as the state kept existing same-sex marriages and re-introduced civil unions.
“One of the things that we’ve really been focused on is, these are of course economic issues,” Hassan said, adding, “On women’s issues, this is a fundamental issue of freedom, obviously. It’s a fundamental issue in health care and self-determination. But it’s also an economic issue, and when you really look at whether women are going to have to pay more for basic health care than men and what that does to their ability to compete in the economy and to be breadwinners in their families, it’s a signature issue. And Ovide’s most recent comments on the whole equalpay issue has kind of reconfirmed for me that he doesn’t understand what women and families are challenged with, and isn’t really in touch with their lives.”
Lamontagne, in a recent interview, said he supports equal pay for women and men and believes women should have legal remedies in the case of discrimination, “but I don’t know that it’s appropriate for the government to continue to micromanage the workplace.”
There are a number of federal lawsuits pending against the state, including a suit by hospitals over Medicaid funding and a lawsuit alleging the state has failed to provide adequate mental-health services.
Hassan said she hasn’t examined those cases in detail, but said, in general, such suits are filed to force an issue and resolutions could be possible with a more moderate Legislature.
“As a lawyer, I will say generally about lawsuits . . . that there is usually room to work out a plan for how you’re going to address the concerns that the plaintiffs bring to you,” she said.
Hassan and Lamontagne disagree on the state’s pension system for public employees. Lamontagne has said he supports introducing some kind of 401(k)-style definedcontribution plan for new employees to replace the existing defined-benefit system. Hassan said implementing such a system could create additional costs that would fall on local governments and property taxpayers.
“I wouldn’t support a defined-contribution plan,” she said, adding, “I do think we’re going to continue to need to work with public employees to find a way to reform the system.”
Hassan has been endorsed by Lynch and has often said she wants to continue on the path set by the popular, moderate incumbent.
In one area in particular, Lynch has been stingy over the years: He didn’t grant a single pardon during his first three terms, approving his first (and so far, only) just last year. Hassan said she’d examine pardon requests on a caseby- case basis but didn’t indicate that her approach would be much different.
“I have great respect for our judicial system and our criminal justice system, and I think it’s really important for citizens to have confidence in that system and confidence that their governor will respect that system,” she said.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)