Our Turn: Van Ostern will be 21st-century governor New Hampshire needs

  • Colin Van Ostern greets supporters after winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday. AP

Published: 9/17/2016 12:20:18 AM

Colin Van Ostern’s resounding victory in Tuesday’s primary contest for the Democratic nomination for governor constitutes a decisive moment for New Hampshire.

For the first time, a truly 21st-century candidate is a major party’s standard-bearer. In policy and personality, through his family, his values, and his career choices, Colin Van Ostern is the candidate in this race who embodies the future of our state.

Colin understands that you can – and should – be both pro-innovation and pro-tradition; pro-family and pro-business; pro-public health and pro-public safety. He rejects stale 20th century binaries in favor of pragmatic partnerships rooted in the day-to-day realities of people’s families, jobs, schools and communities. In this respect, he is unique and stands ready to perform as a truly great governor, should New Hampshire elect him in November.

Colin is not the scion of a political or wealthy family. His success on Tuesday is the result of the hard work, humility and heartfelt passion that characterize the American Dream. It drew substantial grassroots support. He is the son of a single mother, raised by her through a divorce and a second marriage. At a very early age, he had first-hand experience with the predations of mental illness, suffering the shock of his stepfather’s suicide. Seeking an education, he took a financial leap and put his final year of college on a credit card so he could graduate. He hopes our children will not have to do the same.

Colin’s family, it bears mention, is inclusive, supportive and generous to a fault with each other, their friends and neighbors, colleagues and communities. In his acceptance speech on Tuesday evening, Colin rightly highlighted his wife, Kristyn, from whom he draws support and counsel. He has also expressed his profound gratitude to and respect for Kristyn’s father and mother, his in-laws, who live here in New Hampshire, too, and whose dedication to Colin and Kristyn and their children is a bedrock bond within their family.

Like so many of us, their family relies upon the efforts of multiple generations to row against the tides of increasingly strong currents facing all generations of the middle class.

Here is what we have observed about the structure of Colin and Kristyn’s personal and professional lives together over the last half-dozen years: two-careers, 60-hour-a-week-plus jobs, a mortgage, student loans, children, day care, kindergarten, commutes, activities, a steadfast focus on public service and so much else. These demands and commitments should feel very familiar to so many in this state.

These personal attributes give Colin a perspective on the challenges facing the 21st-century family that are unique to a candidate while also representative of his generation. It is a perspective we should embrace and promote if we are serious about building a future in this state that is good for our economy and prepares us to defend what is great about this state for both current and future generations.

These attributes also inform Colin’s candidacy. It is apparent from his platform that Colin is committed to preserving core aspects of New Hampshire’s unique approach to public policy. Like so many of us, he has chosen to live in New Hampshire for many important reasons. He wants to protect New Hampshire’s core values and implement these values in pragmatic and innovative ways for this century.

He will not change tax policy in New Hampshire. He will not strip towns and cities of the local control they treasure. He will honor law enforcement and our state constitution. He will make responsible choices for the judiciary and will seek to fund it accordingly, consistent with our constitution. He will think innovatively about education and health care, always with an eye toward the responsibilities of our state to its citizens in these fundamental areas. He will respect the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and our state constitutional protections for gun ownership, while protecting our children from massacres like Sandy Hook. In this regard, citizens should feel comfortable that he does and will continue to defend New Hampshire’s values.

However, he will not do so in a stale, obstinate or hard-headed manner.

Colin’s plan to address the opioid crisis is an embodiment of this approach. As he announced earlier this summer, he is not content to rest on responses to drug addiction that arose in the 1980s. He will not seek to unthinkingly wield the cudgel of criminal process against people who are struggling with illness. Instead, he has outlined a response to this public health crisis that combines the resources of the criminal justice system, with all of its empathy and perspective, and the health care community, with all of its empathy and perspective, to forge a new path.

At the heart of this plan is an acknowledgment that we have an obligation to collect and process information and to craft policies to address our crises accordingly, not to take the same old approach simply because it’s been done before. This is the hallmark of a 21st-century thinker.

Colin’s plan to address the future of our economy is grounded in technological and educational innovation. He wants to expand our access to other economies through rail. He wants to expand our children’s opportunities to learn, thrive and compete in the future workforce through full-day kindergarten. He wants to protect our vulnerable populations through continuing expanded Medicaid. He wants to look for ways to create incentives to promote work-place flexibility and work-life balance. He is a proponent of women’s health and women’s rights and understands the protection of women’s rights as central to the mission of our state. Once again, these are the perspectives of a 21st-century candidate, and they distinguish Colin among statewide office-holders and candidates.

New Hampshire is ready for this kind of governor, just as it was ready for the first great 20th-century governor: John Gilbert Winant, a young, forward-thinking figure of his own time, a man like Colin in his late-30s, who led the state through the Depression and helped lead the country through war in the 1930s and 1940s.

We are confident that Colin will serve our state with the same dedication and skill, and we hope our fellow citizens will take the opportunity in this general election season to get to know Colin and to vote for him in November.

(Michael Lewis is an attorney in Concord and a former homicide prosecutor. Leah Plunkett has worked as a legal aid lawyer and a consumer rights lawyer and taught at Harvard Law School. They are married and live in Concord with their two young children.)

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