Editorial: A long, positive tenure for Lynch
Back in 2004 when New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch was just candidate John Lynch, voters were excited about him chiefly because of who he wasn’t: Craig Benson. The brief administration before Lynch’s was a disaster; Lynch represented a chance to set the state on a more ethical, serious, moderate course.
Since 2011, voters have appreciated Lynch chiefly for his ability to thwart some of the excesses of the Tea Party Republicans in the House through the use of his veto.
But between those bookend years, Lynch – quietly, modestly – established a record that was largely good for the state and its reputation and made serious progress in several critical areas.
Over the course of eight years, Lynch populated state government with smart, savvy commissioners who learned to work well together. He made serious, nonpartisan appointments to the state’s courts. In a move that infuriated liberals, he kept Republican Kelly Ayotte on as attorney general, giving her the high profile she needed to run successfully for the U.S. Senate – but his reasoning was refreshing: He thought she was doing a good job.
Unlike many politicians on the public stage these days, Lynch proved that he could change his mind when it counted. As a result, New Hampshire was among the first states to legalize gay marriage. Lynch wasn’t a leader on the issue, but his signature on the law marked a watershed in the history of civil rights.
Lynch’s tenure, in part because it was long, was marked by an unprecedented number of natural disasters: floods, tornadoes, ice storms – you name it. The governor became a familiar and comforting figure on the scene. But beyond the made-for-TV moments, his administration helped improve the state’s ability to respond to big challenges with speed and efficiency.
Eight years after Lynch took office, the state remains at the top of the charts in numerous national rankings: most livable and safest state; among the healthiest and wealthiest. Under Lynch, New Hampshire became a leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. He put the state on a path of energy conservation and a switch to renewable energy. The state’s high school dropout rate was halved on his watch. A state pension system flirting with insolvency has been put on a more responsible fiscal path.
The state budgets Lynch crafted were not always pretty. Some of the cuts did real harm to the mentally ill and others who depend on the state’s help. And some of the state’s savings came at the expense of cities and towns and their taxpayers. But he rightly resisted the easy lure of gambling revenue as a solution to the state’s budget problems. And his financial stewardship saw New Hampshire through a serious economic downturn while maintaining a high bond rating for the state.
Amid the focus on policy, it is not a trifling matter to also consider the style in which Lynch governed. He restored the notion of public service to the corner office. He did not try to parlay the governorship into a run for the U.S. Senate. He was not overly partisan. He did not use the New Hampshire presidential primary to schmooze his way to Washington. He did not use the governor’s post to get interesting jobs for his friends or to slash programs that wealthy people like him have no need for. He genuinely cared about the state and wanted to make it better. Most politicians wear out their welcome after a couple of terms – unctuous and egotistical, they make us impatient for change. Lynch, a nice guy, remained popular to the end.
For Maggie Hassan, and for the governors who follow her, John Lynch provided an admirable blueprint for success.