My Turn: Hassan’s choice for banking commissioner is deplorable

For the Monitor
Last modified: 2/16/2016 1:30:29 AM
I say Feb. 9, you say what? First-in-the-nation presidential primary. Well, Gov. Maggie Hassan said something else. On the afternoon of Feb. 9, during the frenzy of the primary, the governor announced her intention to appoint Republican state Sen. Jerry Little to the position of New Hampshire banking commissioner.

Before we get into the enormous red flag this appointment sends up, let me say from the outset: Jerry Little is a nice guy. I have known him for nearly 30 years, and if this was a Mr. Congeniality contest, he might win hands down. But that is not what this is about.

Who is Jerry? He began his political career when he was hired to be the press secretary for our pugnacious governor, John Sununu, and on leaving the Sununu administration he was quickly hired as the PR person for the New Hampshire Bankers Association in 1989. He rose to executive director of the association in 1991, the year the FDIC shut down five of New Hampshire’s largest banks, creating financial havoc in our small economically battered state.

Until he left the Bankers Association in late December 2011, Little sported two hats: executive director and chief lobbyist. Jerry, as nice as he is, was known as an aggressive defender of banks and banking interests. In 2014, less than a year and a half after leaving his banking family, he ran as a Republican and won a seat in the New Hampshire state Senate.

Although he was no longer technically employed by the banking industry, the Democratic Party noted in the spring of 2015 that he was still a defender of all things banking.

The following is a press release issued on March 28, 2015:

“Yesterday, former banking lobbyist turned senator Jerry Little continued to fight for the banking industry (which made up nearly 30 percent of Little’s campaign contributions) against the interests of New Hampshire homeowners and families.

“Little led the fight on the floor of the Senate against SB 158, a common-sense bill to give consumers earlier notice prior to a foreclosure sale on their house. The bill received a bipartisan 4-1 vote in committee in favor of passage.

“When explaining the existing policies that certain banks choose to follow to notify delinquent consumers, Little referred to the banking industry as ‘we,’ saying, then ‘we mail a letter to every past due customer.’

“ ‘Former banking lobbyist Jerry Little may be a senator now, but he’s still fighting on behalf of his banking cronies against the interests of New Hampshire homeowners and families,’ said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. ‘Little needs to acknowledge his conflict of interest, get out of the way, and let this common-sense bill to strengthen consumer protections for homeowners pass.’ ”

As a point of information, the above press release, issued by the party, has disappeared from the party website (party operatives may have surmised the press release casts a shadow over the Democratic governor’s nomination of Republican Sen. Jerry Little to the position of banking commissioner). Unbeknownst to the party higher-ups, their highly critical press release had been picked up by some conservative websites and the contents are still available to the public, albeit from sources other than the New Hampshire Democratic Party website.

In politics, as in life, timing is everything. The timing of Gov. Hassan’s announcement choosing Sen. Little is curious. Beyond timing, her pick is particularly tone deaf to the anger and distrust of the voting public.

As the dust settled Tuesday night from the wild and exhausting presidential primary, it was clear that a powerful message was sent to both parties and their party elite. Politics as usual was not going to be accepted by either base.

On the Democratic side, however, there was more consensus between Secretary Clinton and Sen. Sanders on certain issues, especially those issues that dealt with a deep concern about the revolving door between the regulated and the regulators. Both Bernie and Hillary were outspoken in their conviction that the financial industry, bankers, hedge fund managers, Wall Street, etc., had too much influence over government and that something must be done to protect public interests.

They conveyed a strong message that cronyism would end, industry overreach would no longer be tolerated and the practice of political leaders nominating the “fox to guard the henhouse” would stop.

Gov. Hassan, a Clinton supporter, superdelegate and candidate for U.S. Senate, seems not to have gotten this crucial message.

Her decision to embrace New Hampshire’s chief banking lobbyist as the best choice to head the Banking Department reinforces why the public feels so abandoned by elected officials.

I am not alone in this reaction. Mark Connolly, a candidate for governor and former state financial regulator, said over the weekend, “I do not believe it appropriate for an individual with two decades as the state banking industry’s chief lobbyist to now regulate that same industry as bank commissioner.”

To their credit, it took the Telegraph only 48 hours to pen a strongly worded editorial expressing frustration with the governor’s tone-deaf appointment. As the Telegraph noted: This is why people are disgusted with politics.

There is still time for a redo: Nice guy Sen. Little could withdraw his name and spare Gov. Hassan the embarrassment of putting forward someone who is, as the party press release stated, “still fighting on behalf of his banking cronies against the interests of New Hampshire homeowners and families.”

I am sure in the great state of New Hampshire there exists even more than one individual who has the competence, credentials and, most of all, freedom to serve the interests of all, not just the well connected and powerful few.

(Arnie Arnesen lives in Concord.)


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