Katy Burns: Havenstein’s New Hampshire no longer exists
Walt Havenstein may well be a bona fide resident of New Hampshire, as the state’s Ballot Law Commission recently ruled. Although between 2007 and 2012 he lived and worked in Maryland, he maintained a legal residence here and thus is fully entitled to run for governor in this fall’s Republican primary.
And if he wins his primary – which is likely – he will be free to run against incumbent Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.
But Walt Havenstein, a former CEO of both BAE Systems and technology giant SAIC, is clearly not a real resident of the Granite State. If he were, he would know that New Hampshire is not a right-wing state.
For evidence, Havenstein should take a good look at recent gubernatorial history. Since Democrat Jeanne Shaheen’s victory in 1996, the corner office has been held for just one term – two years – by a Republican, Craig Benson. Voters couldn’t wait to hustle him out of town, electing John Lynch and making Benson the first incumbent New Hampshire governor in 78 years to be denied a second term in office.
To be sure, New Hampshire has a well-deserved reputation for being a cheapskate state, personified by a tax system that eschews the broad-based taxes nearly all other states rely on to finance the provision of services. It’s why those running our state government – no matter what their political party – find themselves in a constant hunt for money to keep the lights on in the State House.
But aside from their devotion to what those in the budget business call a chronic structural deficit, Granite State voters are generally a pretty progressive – or libertarian – lot.
We have a long history of being environmentally conscious and protective, hardly surprising for a state with a long history of tourism. Clean water and clean, clear air are integral parts of our image.
We are generally friendly to unions. We have beaten back every attempt to impose union-busting “right to work” legislation on New Hampshire workplaces.
We support providing medical care access to all citizens, at least if someone else pays for it. In polls, New Hampshire residents were strongly in favor of expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Women’s rights have done well in the Granite State, and some of our most effective state leaders in recent years have been female. We are firmly pro-choice. Even the 2010-2012 Legislature, easily the most conservative in recent history (and, in the opinion of many, clearly an aberration) wasn’t able to make much headway in its attempts to diminish pro-choice policies.
We are gay friendly. In fact, we were the first state to legalize gay marriage without court action or the threat of court action hanging over the Legislature. And even the right-wing legislative crew – presided over and personified by then-House Speaker Bill O’Brien – couldn’t change that, however much its leaders wanted to. Today, marriage equality is a given part of our society’s structure.
So how did Walt Havenstein introduce himself to the state’s mostly moderate voters?
From the day he formally announced his candidacy – with, of all things, former one-term governor Benson beaming over his shoulder – Havenstein has portrayed himself as a deeply conservative candidate.
He would cut taxes, although he carefully doesn’t specify what taxes he would cut. He opposes any tax increase, including the modest gas tax increase the Legislature recently passed to enable continued repairs to our state’s highways and bridges.
He opposes both the Affordable Care Act in general and specifically expanded Medicaid for lower income Granite State families.
He deplores the state’s participation in the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite the fact that it’s saving ratepayers in the state money and reducing overall greenhouse gases.
Just last week, Havenstein happily committed himself to signing a pledge – promoted by Americans for Prosperity, the main political arm of the notoriously right-wing billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch – to fight for a right-to-work law in New Hampshire. That was also one of Bill O’Brien’s cherished goals, one he fell short on.
Havenstein has been a bit cagier on the two hot-button social issues, freedom of choice for women and equal rights for gay people. But, when pressed in an interview with WMUR, he finally said that, indeed, he would “consider” signing a bill repealing gay marriage, an admission that to a lot of people roughly translates as “sure, I’d sign it, but I’d rather not admit it.”
He readily admitted that he opposes an amendment to the New Hampshire constitution banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, he said he “would veto” such a proposed amendment, not realizing that governors have no veto power when it comes to amendments.
And while the candidate has been reluctant to get too deep into the abortion debates, former GOP governor Steve Merrill told an interviewer that Havenstein confided to him that he is anti-abortion and would certainly “consider” restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.
So far, Walt Havenstein is looking, unfortunately for him, like another Benson (albeit a more congenial one). That is, he’s a corporate chieftain with no governmental experience who is inexplicably convinced that government is just like business – which it assuredly isn’t.
Worse – particularly for the Republican Party – Havenstein, initially greeted as the GOP’s ticket back into the corner office, is running full-tilt as a candidate of the Bill O’Brien wing of the Republican Party.
That wing was pretty much discredited by O’Brien himself and his numerous acolytes, many of whom were ousted from office by voters horrified by the appalling institutional damage they did in two short years.
If Havenstein wins his primary, he’ll be up against Hassan, a centrist Democrat whose low-key and conciliatory approach to governing seems to fit the mood of Granite State voters these days.
It’s unlikely to be much of a contest.
(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)