Grading Gov. Hassan's First Year
After a year, not bad
Illustration by Peter Noonan
It is not easy following John Lynch as New Hampshire’s governor. Lynch left office a year ago known not only as the state’s longest-serving governor in modern history, but also its most popular.
Still, someone had to do it. And that person was Maggie Hassan, who, like Lynch, was a Democrat.
Hassan’s first year in office has largely been viewed, even by opponents, as a political success. She hasn’t been able to accomplish some of the big items on her agenda, which is interesting given that she is the first governor in a dozen years to have prior legislative experience. What she has done well, however, is set the right tone for a New Hampshire executive.
In the middle point of her first term it is an appropriate time to give Hassan some grades.
Emergency Management: A
For most of his first year in office, Lynch was an average governor. He struggled to get his budget through a Republican-dominated legislature. In the summer of 2005, the public was blaming him for the bungled roll-out of E-ZPass on the state’s toll roads. Then in September there was a devastating flood in Alstead.
Lynch’s handling of that natural disaster revealed his leadership style at its best. When Hassan took over the reins, her first test came in the form of a massive spring snowstorm. New Hampshire residents would be forgiven if they thought Lynch was still in charge as she passed that emergency management test and every one since.
What Hassan hasn’t been passing are signature pieces of legislation. It is important to note here that Granite State governors are structurally among the weakest in the country.
Coming into office, Hassan wanted to do some big things. She wanted to implement as much of the national Affordable Care Act as possible, she wanted to restore all of the cuts made to the state’s university system and she wanted to pass a gambling bill. She also pledged to prevent an income tax or sales tax.
By the end of the year she wasn’t able to pass Medicaid expansion, the major component of the state’s role in the Affordable Care Act. She only got half of the cuts restored to the university system, and the casino bill was voted down. The state still doesn’t have an income tax or sales tax, but that was a non-starter in the Legislature anyway.
Hassan wasn’t elected on much of a mandate other than just to continue on in the Lynch tradition, which brings us to:
This is the area where Hassan has excelled. Granite Staters don’t want to see their governors in the news pounding their fists, but they do want to see them running the state competently and trying to get something accomplished.
Hassan’s predecessor, Lynch, was the state’s caretaker. Even during times of the recession, his message to the state’s residents was that there would be some tweaks here and there, but nothing to worry about.
Hassan has successfully adopted that tone, but she does have further political ambitions. That means she has to strike a balance between a measured approach and trailblazing to show a record of accomplishment.
The proof that she has struck that balance well is obvious; as of this writing no Republican has stepped up to challenge her for re-election.