The shape of things to come: politicians on policy initiatives
By: Alison Cohen, Special to The New Hampshire Challenge
When New Hampshire goes to the polls on November 4, voters could maintain the status quo or upset the proverbial apple cart. Pundits and prognosticators have been all over the map in predicting the likely outcome, making it seem that New Hampshire’s motto for election years might well be “Live Free and Lie to the Pollsters.”
While the national media has been busy following and analyzing the races at national level, we took a look at what might happen after the state seats are determined and the results trickle down into the policies and legislative actions that have direct and often immediate effect on New Hampshire residents.
Based on the newly adopted Republican Party platform, citizens can expect the conservative wing of the House and Senate to pursue their usual legislative goals, including cutting spending and taxes, advancing the rights of citizens to obtain and carry firearms of all sorts, opposing an increase in the minimum wage and promoting the interests of businesses. The conservative wing and Tea Party members also managed to get a more aggressively conservative social agenda passed.
In contrast, the Democratic Party platform seems prudent, practical and pragmatic. It is designed to promote “governance as usual.” The party wants to pursue measures to ensure “a strong economy, healthy communities, strong families, justice and fairness.” It promises to take action to spur job creation, preserve and protect the state’s infrastructure and to foster business development, all while working in a collaborative, bipartisan way.
Interestingly, the state Republican Party has yet to update its website to include the more radical 2014 platform although it was passed on September 12, 2014. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is enamored of the platform as currently written. Many Republicans candidates for both the state and national seats are busy carving out a more moderate stance on many of its provisions while Democrats are trying to tie those candidates to every provision.
Race to the top
Only once since 1926 has a sitting governor not been reelected for a second term. That bodes well for Maggie Hassan. The unlucky gubernatorial candidate was businessman Craig Benson, defeated in his bid for re-election in 2004, who started his first term by antagonizing state employees, Democratic legislators and a wide range of stakeholders. Much like her predecessor, John Lynch, who won four terms before deciding to retire from government, Hassan has governed in a moderate, collegial and collaborative way.
Hassan touts New Hampshire’s economic recovery – she cites the fact that the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 2008 and 10,000 jobs have been added by the private sector, but says more work is needed to keep the economy moving forward.
“We need to continue to focus on holding down the cost of higher education, on keeping our young people here, and preparing our workforce for good 21st century jobs,” Hassan said. “And we need to do more to help innovative businesses start up and thrive in New Hampshire, and to make it easier for our existing companies to grow.
Rising energy costs were on Hassan’s mind as well, but she wants to balance drawing in new sources of energy such as the Northern Pass project with protecting New Hampshire’s natural resources and strong tourism industry from unsightly power lines cutting a swath through the forests, fields and lakefronts.
She also wants to see the state give working families a better opportunity to make ends meet by raising the minimum wage and by building on the new competition in the health insurance market place to make health coverage more affordable and by sustaining Medicaid expansion for those who are priced out of the market.
“My opponent has made clear that he would repeal the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, which has already provided health insurance coverage to nearly 20,000 New Hampshire residents, “ Hassan said. “That would take health insurance away from thousands of our vulnerable citizens, and undercut our efforts to improve mental health and substance abuse services.
Hassan made clear her commitment to bring more people in from what she calls “the margins” and ensure that every resident is fully included in the community and has the opportunity to succeed.
“We must also continue to build on our efforts to expand community-based care options for people with developmental disabilities, seniors and those with mental illnesses,” Hassan added. “And I support continued funding of the waitlist for people with acquired brain disorders and developmental disabilities.”
Hassan promised to continue her efforts to bring together Republicans, Democrats and Independents to solve the problems facing the state and to balance the budget with no sales or income tax.
“We need to get real results for New Hampshire’s people, businesses and economy,” she said.
Hassan’s opponent, businessman Walter Havenstein has vowed to run New Hampshire like a business.
“My major policy initiatives will center on getting New Hampshire’s economy going again,” Havenstein said, describing the State’s performance as last in the region. “My 8.15.17 plan has three steps that will help spur the creation of 25,000 good paying jobs here in New Hampshire. The first step is to cut burdensome regulations, Second, I want to make it easy for employers to fill jobs and lastly, with these reforms in place, I want to market New Hampshire to the region and to the rest of the country.”
Havenstein describes himself as a pragmatist who is willing to reach out to the legislators on both sides of the aisle and to state employees to accomplish his goals.
“The office of Governor is weak in comparison to other states, which means you need to work with other people to get things done,” he explained. “As a former CEO, I know how crucial it is to listen to all stakeholders and to value their input to get things done.”
Although he did not specifically address social policies he would work toward, he did say that he disagreed with parts of the Republican Party platform.
“I got into this race because of New Hampshire’s abysmal economic growth, so my campaign has been focused on the economic issues that impact every Granite Stater,” Havenstein said.
Havenstein’s economic plans call for lowering the Business Profits Tax, which will cause a drop in revenue for the state before it begins to generate the jobs and profits he expects. He estimates the lost revenue at approximately $42M over two years. Others estimate it at more than double his figure. During the “lag” time between implementing the cut and realizing the increase in jobs, he says the state’s budget should only increase at the rate that revenue growth can support it, he says.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, thinks his plan is dangerous. Writing for the Senate Democratic Caucus website, he said “I’d like to see where he’s going to cut, especially when it comes to health care and public safety. I have been through this budget backwards and forwards and there is no way to cut out $90M without devastating education, health, and the critical services that people depend on and that support our economy.”
Havenstein is adamantly opposed to implementing a sales or income tax to fund state programs and activities and thinks local government should continue to rely on property taxes as their primary revenue source. He also is absolutely opposed to casino gambling as a revenue source.
“Casino gambling should not and cannot be the cornerstone of economic development,” Havenstein said. “It is unwise to count on revenue from casinos in the state budget since it is so volatile. Between the financial troubles of casinos across the region and with Massachusetts opening several in the near future, I do not think a casino is right for New Hampshire.”
When asked about policies benefiting families dealing with disability issues, Havenstein replied, “My plans for the State center on making our state a better place to raise a family and open a business. I know that many of you face challenges above and beyond what most families do. I want to assure you that when I am in the corner office, you will have a tireless advocate on your side.”
The 24-member New Hampshire Senate can’t avoid a changing of the guard with four members opting to retire, including Senate Majority Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord and Republican senators Peter Bragdon of Milford, New London’s Bob Odell and Jim Raush of Derry. Whether control will remain in Republican hands or move across the aisle to the Democrats is anybody’s guess. Longtime political observer and analyst James Pindell calls it a tossup with a 12-12 result not out of the question.
Although Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, declined to respond to questions about the potential policy initiatives in the coming year, Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro didn’t hesitate.
“I will work to make sure that the waitlist for those with a disability is fully funded in the next budget,” Bradley said. “I will also work to insure that moving to Phase 2 of Managed Care is done carefully, with full consultation of those impacted, and implemented in such a way that those impacted receive the quality services they need.”
Bradley also signaled in that the University System won’t find increased funding a slam dunk. He said UNH and its sister institutions must improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of its current operations if they wanted to collect any additional state money in what promises to be a tight budget year.
D’Allesandro had plenty to say about the policies that need to be pursued going forward. He called fulfilling the terms of the Mental Health settlement a major priority as is reauthorization of Medicaid expansion.
“Dealing with disability issues is my top priority,” D’Allesandro continued. He also wants to restore money to public health programs and find ways to deal with the rise in homelessness, particularly the increasing numbers of children living on the streets. Increasing the minimum wage and establishing wage equality are also important to him.
“The challenge is always getting enough money,” he said. “We have to get more revenue.” He vowed to bring forth another casino bill, seeing that as the best way to raise the revenues necessary to fund essential government services.
He fully expects some of the far right members of the Legislature might try to bring forth bills to implement some of their more conservative social agenda.
“That’s not going to happen,” D’Allesandro said. “It’s just bluster.”
He expects most moderate Republicans will choose to focus on economic issues and not waste time trying to turn back the clock.
For the Democrats, policy initiatives won’t be an either-or proposition. “We want to pursue our social agenda and see the economy grow.” D’Allesandro said. “We will pursue our goals with vigor and enthusiasm.”
A House Divided
At present, House Democrats enjoy a 40-seat advantage over Republicans. Pindell and other pundits see a likely Republican takeover when the votes are counted based on the way the Republicans redistricted the state.
Rep. William “Bill” O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has made it no secret that not only does he want to keep his seat, he’d also like to regain his former position as Speaker of the House. A member of the ultraconservative wing of the Republican party, Obrien famously slashed the public higher education budget by half, cut funding that would have reduced the waitlist for people with acquired brain disorders and developmental disabilities, compared Obamacare to the Fugitive Slave Act, attempted to disenfranchise college students, closed the visitor’s gallery, and blocked a reporter from the Concord Monitor from attending a press conference as payback in a pique over a political cartoon mocking him. Some call his style of governance speakership controversial, contentious and autocratic.
If re-elected to the speakership, he would advance the agenda of the House Republican Alliance whose primary issues include across-the-board cuts in government spending, defeating reauthorization of Medicaid Expansion, support for Charter Schools, opposing Common Core, and upholding tax credits for businesses that make donations to scholarships for parochial and private school students.
If the Republicans take control of the House, O’Brien might face competition for the Speakership from other House Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader Gene Chandler and House Republican Policy leader Laurie Sanborn
None of the House leaders responded to our questions about policy initiatives they foresee or granted an interview prior to going to press. The party platforms offer some sense of the blue print House members will follow. Additionally, incumbent House members filed 110 LSRs, the acronym used for requests for bills to be drafted, before their deadline. All members will have another chance to after the election. Requests so far include such things as:
- repeal of the death penalty
- changing the governor’s term of office to four years, effective with the 2018 general election
- raising the state minimum wage
- prohibiting the state, cities and towns from acquiring military vehicles or equipment not readily available in an open national commercial market.
- barring unions from charging a fee to non-union members to cover contract and wage negotiation activities, the so-called “Right to Work” law.
- requiring installation of cameras in state police vehicles
- repealing laws permitting payment of sub-minimum wages to persons with disabilities
- requiring hospitals, colleges and other non-profits to pay the state Business Enterprise Tax and lowering the rate of that tax
- support for Charter Schools and tax credits for businesses making donations to scholarship programs for parochial and private school students as well as opposition to the national curriculum frameworks known as Common Core.
Many of these proposed bills have been introduced before, some of them numerous times. Whether they succeed or fails depends on whom voters send to Concord to make decisions on their behalf.