Grant Bosse: Gov. Hassan likely to be more active than Lynch
Former governor John Lynch’s favorite part of the job was giving tours to elementary school students. It showed in his performance. He was so averse to engaging in the legislative process that he seemed disinterested in the non-ceremonial work that came with the corner office.
The New Hampshire House and Senate are notoriously independent and wary of gubernatorial interference, but Lynch was especially tentative in his approach and would often refuse comment on controversial bills before they got to his desk.
Lynch’s silence helped keep him popular. He avoided making enemies, as some tough political fights were over before he had to get involved. He even let the state budget pass into law without his signature, twice. No one passed the buck as often, or as literally, as Lynch.
Gov. Maggie Hassan comes to the job as an experienced legislator. Her marquee bills were all disasters, but that never seemed to dampen her enthusiasm.
In her inaugural address, Hassan called for an end to “the era of hasty, reactive government,” an era defined by her four years as Senate majority leader.
In 2009, Hassan was a sponsor of the budget that contained, among other attacks on fiscal sanity, the much-despised LLC tax. This ill-fated idea was floated on a Monday afternoon by Revenue Commissioner Kevin Clougherty and approved by the budget conference committee Thursday after midnight without a public hearing or any serious deliberation. The LLC tax lasted four months before the Legislature repealed it.
In 2010, Hassan introduced sweeping legislation to curtail rising health care costs. Dubbed MaggieCare by opponents, SB 505 established a Health Services Cost Review Commission, giving the new state commissioners power to set up a “common payment system” across New Hampshire hospitals. Hassan’s price-fixing scheme was quickly amended into a harmless study committee.
Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Hassan introduced a bill to require New Hampshire companies to register with state government to speak politically and force nonprofits to disclose their donors. Hassan managed to get a watered-down version of this colossally unconstitutional bill through the Senate before it was mercifully killed by the House.
I doubt that every idea coming from the governor’s office this year will be harebrained as these. But Hassan’s history make me think she won’t be content to let the House and Senate make the sausage on its own.
Nowhere was Lynch’s passivity on display more than the issue of gay marriage. During his first term, Lynch opposed gay marriage but didn’t want to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman. In his second term, he sat on the sidelines while the Legislature crafted a civil unions bill, announcing that he’d sign it shortly before it passed the Senate.
In his third term, Lynch was positively stoic as the Legislature debated the gay marriage bill. The bill languished for nearly a month after the Legislature passed it before Lynch decided to sign it into law. By his fourth and final term, Lynch was touting his bold commitment to marriage equality. What Lynch lacked in leadership, he certainly made up for in opportunism.
Hassan’s approach on marriage is markedly different. As a senator, she supported both the civil unions and gay marriage bills, so her position was never in doubt. It’s also a settled issue in New Hampshire politics, though fundraisers for both parties will tell you otherwise.
The gay marriage repeal bill failed to get out of the overwhelmingly Republican House last year. There is no chance for it to pass the current Democratic House. Since no bill dealing with the definition of marriage is going to make it to Hassan’s desk, she could have easily avoided it in her inaugural address. She didn’t bring up health care, and that’s going to dominate the next legislative session. And yet Hassan dedicated the final major section of her first speech as governor to the issue.
“And nearly four years ago, we led the way, without the force of a court order, toward marriage equality.”
Hassan focused on a controversial topic when she didn’t have to. She showed she is much more willing than her predecessor to frame the issues on the legislative agenda.
I don’t often agree with Hassan. But after eight years with a say-nothing governor doing the bare minimum of legislative work, it’s refreshing to have a governor who’s actually interested in governing.
I’m sure she’ll enjoy meeting the kids on those State House tours as well.
(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy.)