My Turn: Running a state isn’t just business as usual
We have Walter Havenstein in the race for governor. I know nothing about him other than the sketchy background that has been reported in the newspapers. I saw a recent interview, and he seems like an amicable guy with a good moderate Republican core. But I will reserve judgment on his qualifications until closer to Election Day.
In that interview, however, Havenstein was already touting the same old line Craig Benson used when he showed up on the scene: “I’m a successful businessman therefore I will make a great governor.”
We all saw how the Benson bubble imploded as this top-down corporate chieftain disappeared feet-down in the complex quicksand of state government.
You simply don’t run government as you do a business. A business pedigree is not a “must-have” prerequisite for being the “chief executive” of a state. It may be helpful, if applied cautiously, but it is only a part of the mix.
A business exists to make a profit, government is there to serve. Businesses decide what the product line will be and then they build their entire operation around it. Government doesn’t have that kind of luxury. Yes, some basic governmental functions such as driver’s licenses, road repairs, State Police and running elections are generally accepted, predetermined activities. But responding to mega ice storms, health emergencies and sudden, unannounced economic dilemmas also fall within the purview of state government.
State health, prison, election, corporate and tourism efforts are not there to make a profit, they are there to serve. We would like them to run as efficiently as possible, and many people try to keep an eye out to make sure that happens. Their social benefit will profit us all.
Government, unlike the private sector, has a potential management change every two years as a new governor and Legislature come into office. Usually cooler heads prevail, and those arriving on the scene ready to make over the entire government infrastructure are closeted, and the statewide forces of government are not totally unpacked and upended. But understanding that balance is not as simple as merely reading the numbers on a balance sheet or rigidly following a chain of command.
In business, the CEO neither has, nor will tolerate, an in-house group that challenges lots of decisions that come out of the executive suite – “play ball or pack up and leave.”
A governor isn’t going to experience that kind of control because there are two other branches of government that run independently of the governor, and they may or may not share his agenda. But they all intersect at various levels.
Fifth-grade civics books talk about how a legislature legislates and how the executive branch, that includes the governor, carries out the laws that come from the legislature. That’s nice in theory but it is not the entire paradigm. For openers, most legislation cannot become law until the governor signs it.
Yes, there are veto overrides, but not many. So a governor needs to understand the legislative process and be able to work with it and not against it. And the legislative process bears little resemblance to a well-oiled corporate enterprise or a by-the-book military model.
Unlike the corporate world where there are a finite number of investors in the company, the “CEO” of New Hampshire has as many “stockholders” as there are citizens of the state.
The resume bullet that says “businessman” is not silver.
(Ted Leach lives in Hancock.)