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Grant Bosse

Hassan outlines pragmatic liberalism in inaugural address

Grant Bosse

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Grant Bosse (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Gov. Maggie Hassan outlined her vision for New Hampshire government Thursday afternoon at the State House. It was a well-crafted speech, well delivered. Too often, such addresses devolve into an exercise in list-making, rattling through rote references to each core constituency and favored program. But inaugurals offer a chance to do more than that. They offer a chance for our freshly sworn officials to define how they would govern. Thankfully, Hassan did just that.

Hassan’s speech was an extension of her campaign, but it went beyond a stump speech in tying together the themes of innovation and inclusiveness. Hassan’s tribute to three generations of her family; parents, husband and children, was particularly moving. She also took time to praise the caregivers who work with her son Ben, who has cerebral palsy. Hassan could have tried to score points with a shallow and manipulative political jab, but she showed better judgement.

Hassan’s experience with a disabled child will quite rightly inform her views on how New Hampshire should proceed with managed care for developmental disabilities, a key question this year. Her decision to leave that connection unsaid in her inaugural address showed political restraint in a largely bipartisan speech.

Hassan’s speech was not entirely without partisan swipes. Even in her calls for bipartisanship and collaboration, she was clearly taking aim at the past Republican Legislature. She criticized cuts to the University System of New Hampshire and a cut in the tobacco tax as if the two were related. She vowed to “end the era of hasty, reactive government.”

Yet Hassan’s record as a state senator was marked by hasty, reactive decisions. She was forced to back off her support for an LLC tax, a price fixing scheme for state hospitals, and a plan to force every nonprofit in New Hampshire to disclose its donors to state bureaucrats. Maybe Hassan was promising a more thoughtful approach as governor, but it didn’t sound that in the House chamber. In fact, her

most pointed partisan attacks drew the longest and loudest standing ovations from the largely Democratic audience.

Last year’s presidential campaign sharply illustrated how differently liberals and conservative view government’s relationship to the private sector. Hassan repeated the liberal watchwords for expansive government: partnership, infrastructure, investment. She spoke of economic growth as the by-product of a benevolent government, made possible by tax credits and business incubators. Hassan certainly never said anything as tone-deaf as “You didn’t build that,” but she echoed President Obama’s support for an activist government in every part of the economy.

Hassan said that she sought the governor’s office “so that we could shape our own way forward, harnessing the promise of our great citizen democracy to preserve and strengthen our state’s special qualities.” She does not seem to recognize limits on where that democracy can or should act.

Hassan made one attempt to lower the expectations of her most liberal supporters:

“To those of you who believe deeply in an income tax, I ask you to put that aside. I will veto an income or sales tax. And as we build our next budget, though we have much to address, we must acknowledge that we will not be able to do everything all at once.”

Notice that she didn’t bother explaining why she opposes a sales or income tax.

Her call for budget restraint is motivated by a lack of revenue, not a lack of faith in bigger government. And she continued to caricature her opponents as uncaring anarchists.

“To those on the other side, I ask you to recognize that there are some things that government must do – not only to help our most vulnerable citizens but also to provide the platform for economic growth. Needs do not go away simply because we don’t fund them.”

This cartoonish view of conservatism could poison Hassan’s hopes for cooperation. The current New Hampshire budget was balanced with tough decisions made necessary by four years of fiscal chaos. Hassan can’t hope to reach across the aisle if she sees the other side as opposed to all government and unconcerned with New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens. Such saber-rattling is fine for fund-raising letters and internet comments section, but unsuited for the corner office.

The speech didn’t hit every hot-button issue. There was no mention of gambling, Medicaid expansion or education funding. They’ll be plenty of time for those specifics in Hassan’s first budget submission, due in less than six weeks.

Hassan envisions an expansive government based on “optimism and pragmatism”, and limited only by the ability of New Hampshire taxpayers to pay for it.

(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy.)

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