Havenstein, N.H. GOP gubernatorial candidate, builds platform on economic growth, jobs

Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2014
Republican Walt Havenstein kicked off his gubernatorial campaign yesterday by introducing himself as an experienced businessman – one who presided over a corporate budget that’s triple the size of the state budget – who can end years of economic stagnation under Democratic governors.

“We have squandered an entire decade, and we’re falling behind,” Havenstein said. “We can either ignore those trends and hope that we can maintain the status quo or we can elect a leader who will end the stagnation, restore confidence and put New Hampshire on a path to economic growth.”

Havenstein officially announced his candidacy at the Legislative Office Building in Concord with a group of prominent state Republicans standing behind him, including former governors Steve Merrill and Craig Benson and state Senate leaders Chuck Morse and Jeb Bradley. Havenstein will face entrepreneur Andrew Hemingway in the Republican primary.

But Havenstein set his sights squarely on Gov. Maggie Hassan yesterday, saying her pursuit of policies such as Medicaid expansion and casino gambling are ineffective means of growing the economy. If elected, Havenstein said he’d push for smaller government and policies that incentivize private businesses to create jobs.

Although his speech focused largely on generalities and themes of small government, Havenstein took clear positions on several major issues facing the Legislature when asked by reporters. He is opposed to expanded gambling, the bipartisan agreement to accept new federal Medicaid dollars and repealing the death penalty. On an increase in the gas tax, he said he’s not convinced the state is using the money it already takes in effectively and doesn’t think now is the right time to impose tax increases. On a broad base tax, which has not been proposed this session, his answer was simple: “Forget it.” He also supports right to work.

Havenstein, 64, lives in Alton with his wife, Judy. He is the former chief executive officer of BAE Systems, a defense systems company that employees 4,000 people in southern New Hampshire, and SAIC, a Fortune 250 science, engineering and technology company. He also serves on the board of FIRST, a nonprofit aimed at bringing teens into careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The Havensteins have been active supporters of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, as their son has the disease. Since moving to Alton in 1999, he and Judy have been involved in state political and civic organizations.

“The decision to run for governor and to serve the state of New Hampshire is a natural progression in our life, and we are eager to contribute in a different way and serve the citizens of the Granite State,” Havenstein said.

But for weeks, Democrats have been questioning Havenstein’s claim to New Hampshire residency. From 2008 to 2011, Havenstein worked in Maryland and owned a condominium on which he received a tax exemption designed for a person’s primary residence. The New Hampshire Democratic Party says this shows Havenstein either isn’t eligible to run or unfairly took a tax break.

“Walt Havenstein has made it abundantly clear that he thinks he’s above the rules that apply to the rest of us,” party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement.

Havenstein firmly addressed the eligibility question yesterday, saying New Hampshire has been his domicile since 1999 and he has not voted in any other state during that time period. He said he is confident that he has met all of his tax obligations in Maryland and elsewhere, but said he would not release his tax information when asked by a reporter. Once Havenstein’s name is on the ballot in June, anyone can bring a challenge regarding his eligibility before the New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission.

First-term governors are historically difficult to beat in New Hampshire – Benson, a Republican who lost to John Lynch in 2004, is the only governor not to win a second term in recent memory. Perhaps with this in mind, Havenstein focused his speech on what he sees as an entire decade of failed Democratic policies.

From 2000 to 2010, the state lost more jobs than it gained, and since 2006, more people have been moving out of the state than into it, he said. But recent statistics show the state has been steadily adding jobs and that the unemployment rate is falling.

Havenstein also pointed to New Hampshire’s high cost of health care, despite its relatively healthy population, and skyrocketing electricity and energy prices as evidence that current policies aren’t working. As CEO of BAE Systems, Havenstein said he was in charge of managing a budget that’s three times the size of New Hampshire’s $10.7 billion budget.

“I understand the challenges of a large, complex organization, and I know how to control costs,” he said. “As CEO, I saw firsthand the role that government can play, both good and bad, and what it can do to help or hurt a company and the economy.”

While prominent Senate Republicans stood behind him, Havenstein expressed skepticism about several of the policies they have pursued, including the Medicaid expansion compromise and expanded gambling, which Senate President Chuck Morse has strongly supported.

“I am terribly disappointed that we have a governor whose centerpiece of economic development is casino gambling,” Havenstein said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, is a longtime friend of the Havensteins and said yesterday Havenstein’s background in business will allow him to address the most critical issues facing the state: job growth and attracting new people and businesses. Differences of opinion exist between and within parties, Bradley said, and Havenstein’s background makes him the right person for the job.

“I look at Walt as the person who he is, his ability to lead and his ability to get results for New Hampshire, and I think that’s what’s important,” Bradley said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)