By: Derek Dufresne and published in Fosters Daily Democrat's Sunday edition.
As Granite Staters, we pride ourselves on our independence and the fact we have varying views on the many important issues facing our state and country. Yet, regardless of our differences, there seems to be a single thread that binds us all together - a mutually held disgust that the political culture in Washington and in Concord is broken. We rightfully are tired of elected officials saying one thing, but doing another. We are sick of them believing they don't have to live by the same rules they expect others to abide by. Put simply, we have no use for hypocrisy, and rightfully so.
Regrettably, our own Governor Maggie Hassan is shaping up to be hypocrisy's greatest offender. On May 22, the Governor appeared before the Senate Finance committee to address New Hampshire's current fiscal crisis and discuss her new Executive Order freezing all out of state travel paid for with money from the general fund (i.e. taxpayer dollars). The order was implemented about a month prior to the Governor's scheduled trade mission with the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) to the nation of Turkey, which is scheduled for June 20th - June 27th.
While we had expected Governor Hassan would abide by her own Executive Order, we wanted confirmation. Thus, we began inquiring with DRED as to whether she had canceled the trip to Turkey. To our surprise, she had not, even though the price tag for the trip hovered around $15,000. Faced with what appeared to be blatant disregard for the rule she set in place, our Executive Director, Matthew Murphy, issued a Right to Know request of Governor Hassan's office and DRED on May 22nd. We specifically began probing whether she would still be going on the trade mission and whether or not taxpayer money from the general fund would be utilized for the trip.
While we awaited responses from our Right to Know requests, the media began to ask questions. Hypocrisy from the Governor's office quickly turned into arrogance as her spokesperson confirmed to the press the cost and the fact that it would be paid for with money from the general fund. When asked whether she would put the trip on hold, Governor Hassan's spokesperson actually said "there's no point in turning back now." We were stunned at such a nonchalant response blatantly admitting that Governor Hassan would not be holding herself to her own travel freeze.
By May 30, we received final confirmation of what had been reported in the press with an email from DRED on our Right to Know request. The commissioner confirmed that $15,000 in taxpayer funds had been allocated for the trip and gave a cost-benefit analysis for why the trip was still going to take place, despite the Governor's own Executive Order. Governor Hassan decided to hide behind the Deputy Attorney General who sent us a letter on June 2nd informing us that Governor Hassan did not have any additional information beyond what we received from DRED. As an aside, it truly is a sad day in New Hampshire when Granite Staters have to use Right to Know requests instead of Town Hall meetings to get answers from their Governor. However, it is even worse when she uses lawyers to respond on her behalf.
Our organization is not opposed to efforts to grow New Hampshire's economy. In fact, we are consistently advocating for policies that will expand business. Truthfully, while we believe on principle that taxpayers should not be fronting the cost of this trip especially during a budget crisis, the merit to the trade mission is irrelevant. In addition, Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire has a very strong record of supporting policies, like a legitimate travel ban, that would save taxpayers money. However, what we are firmly against are career politicians who somehow believe they are above the rules and laws they expect others to abide by. Sure, the $15,000 for the state's share of expenses for the Governor's trip to Turkey was included in the budget passed by lawmakers last year, but so was money for other out of state trips that are now being put on hold. Why should her trip be any different?
As the chief executive of our state, Governor Maggie Hassan should lead by example. If she actually implemented a travel ban for an emergency budgetary reason, there should be no excuse, whatsoever, for anyone to break it. That goes especially for the Governor. Sadly though, with the "leadership" she has exemplified thus far on her hypocritical "travel freeze," we are left wondering if the budgetary emergency in Concord pales in comparison to the leadership crisis currently going on in the Governor's Office. Put simply, New Hampshire deserves and expects better.