Looking for a secure job? Look no further than Governor of New Hampshire. That is, as long as you are a Democrat who is pragmatic enough to pledge to veto an income or sales tax, who can exude an air of likability while running a ruthlessly negative campaign, and who can give the appearance of governing from the middle even when you are not.
Jeanne Shaheen: three terms, then left by her own choice to pursue higher office. (Yeah, I know she won without taking the pledge her last term, but that campaign against Humphrey could have made even a David Axelrod wince.) John Lynch: four terms, then made an early (some would say premature) decision to retire to his dacha in Hopkinton because he didn’t foresee Narwhal eating over one-half of the House Republicans. While, on the other hand, poor Craig Benson (that’s poor in the figurative sense of course) was retired after one short term spent primarily butting heads with House and Senate Republican leadership (which in part was why he was a one-and-done Governor).
So history suggests that, if the New Hampshire GOP wants to stop Maggie Hassan from having a long shelf life, they better pull out all the stops in 2014.
It should be self-evident after nine elections, and a winning percentage of barely above 10 percent, that the best possible candidate is essential. No sacrificial lambs or sentimental favorites this time. This race, not the United States Senate race or the Congressional races, is the most consequential for the future of the New Hampshire GOP and the future of the State.
While it is often said that New Hampshire has a weak Governor, the Governor still wields a veto and has the power to nominate judges and senior bureaucrats. Despite all the histrionics about a “tea-party legislature” gone wild, 2011-2012 was far from transformative. We still have a fiscally irresponsible defined-benefit retirement plan for public-sector employees, a fiscally irrational education funding system and a plethora of destructive, rent-seeking regulations. And despite an Executive Council consisting of five Republicans, Governor Lynch succeeded in putting not just a committed Claremontista on the Supreme Court, but a committed Claremontista who made no bones about being a committed Claremontista. The New Hampshire GOP is never going to fundamentally change the political culture of this State without holding the Governor’s office.
It is also essential that Republican legislative leadership understand that the race for 2014 started as soon as the vote counting ended in 2012, and act in a manner that helps, not hurts, the next GOP gubernatorial nominee. Shaheen and Lynch were able to portray themselves as bipartisan while governing as pragmatic partisans, and look at the political success they enjoyed. Hassan, obviously, means to follow in their footsteps.
This doesn’t mean that Republicans in the House and Senate should obstruct simply for the sake of obstructing. But they must not compromise simply for the sake of compromising. There is considerable cause for concern because Senate Republicans and, based on their selection of Gene Chandler as Minority Leader, a small majority of House Republicans are smaller-government conservatives rather than small-government conservatives.
Smaller-government conservatism –moderating Democrat policies rather than presenting alternatives– plays into the hands of pragmatic partisans like Shaheen, Lynch and Hassan. They get to grow government while wearing the mantle of bipartisanship. While their base may grouse about the pace of change being too slow, the base clearly learned its lesson from the Mark Fernald debacle in 2002. Just ask Jackie Cilley.
Two areas are particularly concerning:gambling and an education funding amendment.
Any gambling bill that does not dedicate all gambling-generated revenues to reducing existing taxes is a grow-the-government bill. If the State Senate passes a gambling bill that provides some tax relief, but also materially increases spending, we might as well just ask Hassan how long she would like to serve and then tell Bill Gardner to leave the Governor’s race off the ballot until that point. She will be able to run as a tax-cutter while doling out cash to her special interest supporters. No Republican support for gambling unless it is a true tax-relief measure.
Senate Republicans, and many House Republicans, have shown a willingness to support an education funding amendment that, while giving the elected branches more control over how to divvy up the education funding pie, cedes to the Court the authority to determine the size of the pie, its ingredients, and how it gets made. Republican support for such an inadequate amendment would allow Hassan to run as the Governor who solved Claremont, without losing the support of the teacher unions. Republicans need to stick to the amendment that passed the Senate last session and narrowly failed in the House.