×

Lynch will not seek a fifth term



Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2011
Gov. John Lynch said yesterday he will not seek a fifth term in 2012, clearing a path for Republicans seeking to regain the governor's office and Democrats pledging to follow the example of their popular leader.

Surrounded by staff members at a Manchester elementary school, Lynch announced he will not seek re-election. In a nod to the fourth-graders sitting at his feet, the governor noted that students their age when he took office will graduate from high school next year. He declared it time for "the next generation of leadership for New Hampshire."

"I feel like I have the passion and the energy to keep doing this work for a long, long time," Lynch said. "But democracy demands periodic change. To refresh and revive itself, democracy needs new leaders and new ideas."

Lynch, 58, promised to work "every single moment" of the 16 months until his term expires. He pledged to continue rebuilding roads and bridges damaged by Tropical Storm Irene, reducing the high school drop-out rate and working to implement changes in state funding in ways that minimize the impact.

"So the journey is not over," Lynch said. "There is still much to do. And as long as I am governor, I will continue to work hard to try to make a positive difference in the lives of the people of our great state."

Lynch, a former business executive, is the first governor of New Hampshire elected to four two-year terms. (John Taylor Gilman served 14 one-year terms between 1794 and 1816, before the state switched to two-year terms in 1877.) After unseating Republican Gov. Craig Benson in 2004, Lynch was re-elected in landslides in 2006 and 2008. His victory last year over Republican John Stephen, a former state commissioner of health and human services, was the most prominent Democratic success in an election that delivered Republican supermajorities to both legislative chambers.

Lynch gave no indication of his intentions after leaving office in January 2013. His spokesman, Colin Manning, said Lynch has no plans to run for elected office.

As leaders from across the political spectrum thanked Lynch for his service, Republicans seized upon the news that their next gubernatorial candidate would not face a popular incumbent.

"New Hampshire Republicans were already fired up at the prospect of turning the state red in 2012," said Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, in a statement. "John Lynch's decision to forego a re-election bid increases the GOP's chances of picking up the governorship and puts the Democrats further on their heels nationally in 2012."

Surveys consistently have shown Lynch has wide support among voters. A poll conducted in late June by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found 65 percent of New Hampshire adults approved of how Lynch is doing his job, including 82 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans.

Andy Smith, director of the survey center, said yesterday that the governor's approval rating has remained exceptionally strong through economic highs and lows. A political moderate, Lynch has retained the support of his own party while maintaining a centrist stance that made him "Republicans' best friend in Concord," Smith said, particularly during the four years of Democratic control.

The governor won broad popular support early in his first term when he responded to severe floods by spending time on-site, even sharing his personal phone number, a response that led people to see Lynch as a manager rather than policy-pusher, Smith said.

"Anybody that Democrats would run other than John Lynch is good news for Republicans," Smith said. "It would have been extraordinarily difficult for any of the Republicans to beat Lynch, if not impossible."

Potential candidates from both parties were ready yesterday with statements thanking the governor for his service. Among Republicans, Ovide Lamontagne, a Senate candidate in 2010, said he expects to announce his intentions soon. Kevin Smith, the leader of the conservative group Cornerstone, said he also will decide soon if he will run and called for a "fresh, conservative voice and a bold, new vision" for state government.

Democrats considering a run emphasized that they would make no announcements on the day Lynch made his decision public. But former state Senate majority leader Maggie Hassan of Exeter, who has been exploring a run, said she would decide in the near future, as did former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand. Former state senator Jackie Cilley of Barrington said she has been encouraged to run and will consider her options, and former Securities Bureau director Mark Connolly said he was surprised by the governor's announcement but would consider how he wants to be involved. Portsmouth Mayor Tom Ferrini, whose term expires at the end of this year, said he will not run for governor in 2012 but would consider doing so later.

While Republican leaders in the State House had warm words for the governor, the state party signaled its enthusiasm about a chance to retake the governor's office. Executive Committee member Jim Foley of Derry said in a statement that Republicans should look for a governor who favors "smaller government and bigger freedoms." He said Democrats had created a record deficit and complained about how Republicans fixed it.

"Some of the very Democrats responsible for supporting these bad policies may very well be the ones looking to take Governor Lynch's spot in the Executive Office," Foley said. "We intend to remind the public just where they stood on the more than 100 tax and fee increases, the deficits, the disastrous spending budgets and the attempt to reduce spending made by the current Legislature."

Republican leaders of the state House and Senate thanked the governor for his service. Senate President Peter Bragdon and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said they have enjoyed working with Lynch and look forward to doing so for another year. House Speaker William O'Brien said the governor "has excelled in offering tremendous calm in times of natural disaster, which has been very reassuring for the state." O'Brien said he looks forward to working with Lynch to pass a constitutional amendment on education funding.

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, a vigorous critic during the past legislative session, released a statement thanking Lynch and praising his commitment to an education funding amendment, his actions during natural disasters and his opposition to a sales or income tax.

"Putting politics aside, John Lynch has always tried to do what he felt was in the best interest of the people of New Hampshire," Bettencourt said.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)