Rain
65°
Rain
Hi 76° | Lo 55°

Is Hassan the next Shaheen?

  • New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan takes the oath of office for governor from State Supreme court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan takes the oath of office for governor from State Supreme court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012.<br/><br/>(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

    Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012.

    (John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

  • Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012.<br/><br/>(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

    Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012.

    (John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

  • New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan takes the oath of office for governor from State Supreme court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012.<br/><br/>(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)
  • Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012.<br/><br/>(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

While campaigning, Democrat Maggie Hassan introduced herself to voters as someone like then-Gov. John Lynch, a popular Democrat conservative enough to woo Republicans.

But Lynch preferred governing from outside the State House and avoided wading into bitter, contentious issues. He would often wait until just before a bill reached his desk to reveal his position.

If a governor’s first budget address is a signal of not only her priorities but also her style, Hassan will set a different course, many said last week. Her budget Thursday revealed a bold leader with a bigger appetite for political negotiations.

Hassan called for increased spending on higher education, mental health services, and medical care for the poor and developmentally disabled. She wants to build a new $38 million women’s prison and give hospitals more money for uncompensated care.

She’d pay for it by expanding Medicaid and helping legislators pass a bill legalizing a casino. And Hassan knows neither will be a slam dunk with lawmakers.

“I thought her budget was very bold,” said Rep. Candace Bouchard, a Concord Democrat severing her eighth term. After hearing Hassan’s budget address, Bouchard and others said they think Hassan will govern more like former governor and current U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, not Lynch.

Shaheen and Lynch “were very good governors in their own right,” Bouchard said. “But I see Gov. Hassan more like Gov. Shaheen, more out there and very clear on her direction and what her priorities will be.”

Both Shaheen and Hassan served in the state Senate before becoming governor, and have firsthand experience getting legislation passed. Lynch was a businessman who’d never held elected office. That matters, several people said.

Lynch “was a good governor in many different ways,” said Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican serving his ninth term in the Legislature. “I think he was very good at managing the executive departments of the state. He brought a CEO’s experience to that.”

That approach contributed to Lynch’s popularity, which remained high each of his four terms, Bradley said.

“Everybody liked him, and the reason that everybody liked him is because he didn’t lead with his chin out, getting hammered. Gov. Hassan is leading with her chin out,” Bradley said.

Tom Rath, former attorney general and Republican political adviser, said he was struck by how confident and comfortable Hassan was giving her first budget address.

“This is somebody who, I think, has a very good understanding of what the job is,” Rath said. “She was not only a senator but the majority leader (in the Senate). She knows how to put people together, and so far I see her acting consistently in that regard.”

Rath said lawmakers have told him that Hassan has been meeting constantly with House and Senate members, seeking their input and making her priorities known. He’s not surprised she’s taking on difficult issues with confidence.

President Obama won the state in November by five points, Rath noted.

“She can say, ‘I won the state by 12,’ ” Rath said. “‘The things I’m speaking about were central to my campaign, and I made a bargain with voters.’ ”

Republican Donna Sytek of Salem served as House speaker during Shaheen’s tenure. She said Hassan’s budget left her thinking Hassan will be to the left of Lynch but also capable of pursuing that agenda effectively.

“She’s a practical politician, as was Jeanne Shaheen,” Sytek said. “(Shaheen) knew what was possible and when to pick her fights. And when she picked something that was going to be a priority for her, she put her heart and soul into it.”

Sytek and Shaheen both kept late hours at the State House, Sytek said. “I remember a half dozen occasions when things were getting tense (in the Legislature), and she’d call and say, ‘Can I come up and see you?’ ” Sytek said. “She wasn’t reluctant to reach out, and we were both interested in solving a problem, not in making a point.”

Sytek expects that will be Hassan’s style too.

Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat, tried to get a gas tax increase through the Legislature in 2009. It had passed the House and was about to pass the Senate when Lynch announced he intended to veto it, Campbell said. He’s pursuing a gas tax increase again this year and got a very different message from Hassan in her budget address.

In her speech, Hassan acknowledged a need to find a long-term solution to keeping roads and bridges in good repair and thanked Campbell and Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, for their efforts on that front.

She said she was ready to work with any member of either party who is willing to bring constructive, long-term ideas to solve that problem.

“I think her having been in the Senate makes her very aware of the challenges the state faces, and she lays them out very clearly to the Legislature and the state,” he said. “She offered solutions that some may agree with and some may disagree with. It’s refreshing to have a leader who directly confronts the problems and offers her ideas on how to deal with the challenges.”

Ned Helms has served as health and human services commissioner, worked on political campaigns, advised the U.S. Senate on health policy and currently directs the New Hampshire Institute for Health Policy and Practice at the University of New Hampshire. He’s been watching state and national politics for decades.

Like others, he believes Hassan will be less like Lynch in style and approach than some expected during the campaign. And like others, he didn’t describe one style as better than the other.

“I think politicians get into huge, huge trouble when they try to be something politically that they are not personally,” he said.

Lynch came to the governor’s race after turning around a furniture company and improving wages and conditions for the workers. He said during his first campaign that he fired all the consultants who were supposed to be solving the problem and listened instead to ideas from employees.

He governed the same way, Helms said. “He was less caught up in the political side of things,” Helms said. Lynch instead focused on appointing good commissioners and surrounding himself with capable staff.

“He didn’t go out looking for somebody moving in the opposite direction and try to pull them back in,” Helms said. “That was not his style. Maggie is not someone sitting at the back of her chair. She’s sitting on the edge of her chair, and I mean that in the most positive way.”

Past and sitting governors can’t be compared, Helms cautioned, without considering the context of their tenures.

Lynch followed Republican Craig Benson, a one-term governor that “stormed around the stage,” Helms said. Benson was criticized for appointing friends without qualifications to commissioner posts and for making knee-jerk decisions without understanding the complexities of state government.

Voters were looking for someone with a steadier, quieter style when they chose Lynch, Helms said. Then, not long into his tenure, the economy crashed, and Lynch was left with a state budget crisis to resolve.

And for the last two years of Lynch’s tenure, the Republicans not only held a super-majority in the House, but the GOP House leadership refused to meet with Lynch.

Hassan has a very different scenario: The Democrats have taken control of the House, the economy is improving and there is again a working relationship between the governor’s office and the Legislature.

“With John Lynch, people got precisely what they wanted and needed at the time,” Helms said. “They wanted stability, and they didn’t want contention. “And with Maggie, she said what she wanted to do, she translated that into a concrete initiative with her budget, and she’s done it in a way that not only honors the legislative process (of respecting lawmakers roles) but also honors her commitment to voters.”

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

My gut feeling is that Governor Hassan will be a cross between the 2 former democratic governors. She'll know when to hold back and make her mind up as well as put forth an agenda to bring new issues to the front stage. I think she'll do fine if she gives consideration to both side of the aisle. John Lynch was a very popular governor as he was a peoples governor and not driven by greed. Unfortunately for Governor Benson his focus was on his supporters wallets and threw away his chances to do good things for the people of this state. Governor Hassan will do good things too.

I think Jeanne Shaheen was a great governor (disclosure: I was her Legal Counsel when she was Governor and I'm her Chief Counsel now) but Maggie Hassan will chart her own path to being a great governor.

Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.