How Gov. Lynch serves up such sweet victories.
Democrat John Lynch made history last fall when he was elected to a fourth term in office, the first governor of this state to do so in nearly 200 years. This wasn’t the first time Lynch made history when it came to elections – his margin of victory for re-election in 2006 and 2008 were state records. These victories stunned people from other states given that these huge victories are really only seen in overly Democratic or Republican states with popular candidates for governor of the same party.
But New Hampshire voters are evenly divided between political parties. We are considered a political “swing state.” And Lynch didn’t come into office as a popular celebrity. In 2004 Lynch won his first term to office by just a 51-49 percent margin.
There are many theories as to how Lynch became suddenly popular. Some say it was the way he competently and compassionately handled his first crisis, the devastating Alstead floods, which came immediately after President George W. Bush bungled Hurricane Katrina. Others contend that a weakened state Republican Party and legislative leaders never pushed back enough to convince the general public that he had flaws. These explanations don’t explain the years of sustained popularity.
Whenever Lynch leaves office it is unlikely that the state’s most popular governor will have used his power to bring about any transformational change. And any changes to the state – like legalizing same sex marriage – were not policy changes that Lynch requested.
So here is my theory: Lynch is a “do-nothing” governor and that’s exactly how New Hampshire likes their Concord politicians.
New Hampshire voters are generally happy with the frugal way the state governs itself. We begin our elections, after all, with a conversation and a pledge on what a candidate won’t do, namely push for an income tax or sales tax.
Doing nothing, except in the margins, has worked out well for Lynch. The worst his Republican critics or the conservative editorial boards could say is that he wasn’t much of a leader.
But our state’s Constitution doesn’t give the governor much power. Some studies say that structurally our governor is among the weakest in America. If Lynch isn’t leading or doing much, he is actually carrying out his constitutional duty.
When President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address one could see a lot of similarities with Lynch’s fourth inauguration address. Both men had to deal with Republicans for the first time in years. Both talked about the need to create jobs, cut the deficit, improve education and transportation infrastructure. But they couldn’t be farther apart when it came to the overall tone and the overall point.
Near the end of his speech Obama challenged his Republicans that this was their generation’s “Sputnik moment” and repeated twice that “we can do big things.”
Lynch, however, read from a laundry list of polls and rankings suggesting that the state was an amazing place to live already and warned them not to do big things. “In New Hampshire we have a strategy that is working,” he said. In other words, follow my lead and do no harm.