Gov. Maggie Hassan delivered her State of the State address yesterday, marking the start of her second-year agenda. We will have more to say about that on Sunday; for now we want to take a moment to assess the governor’s first term. If one cliche could be applied to describe her first year in office, the best might be, “It could’ve been worse.”
The governor did not set an aggressive agenda with her inaugural address. But she made clear within the following weeks that she had four primary goals for the year: Undoing the tax and spending cuts made by the previous Legislature, bringing the University System of New Hampshire back to its previous level of funding, expanding Medicaid and legalizing casino gambling. She failed at each of those goals.
The governor had proven herself a fairly effective leader in the Senate, and many political observers believed she would be successful in passing her agenda. Though she had some small victories, she failed because she abandoned the John Lynch model of consensus-building and adopted instead the Barack Obama model of scorched-earth politicking.
The governor attacked Senate Republicans so strongly that she soured what had been some cordial relationships. She managed to turn many House Democrats against her by putting them in difficult positions. For example, she criticized the Senate for its level of funding for developmental disabilities when the House had proposed spending precisely the same amount of money. She included in her budget $80 million in casino revenue that House budget writers concluded would not be available in time even if a casino bill passed. That pitted House Democrats against her on two crucial issues — the budget and gambling.
These and other missteps stalled her agenda and made her first year largely unsuccessful. The good news for the governor is that she has time to turn this around. If she focuses on genuine consensus-building and abandons the Obama-style rhetorical governing, she can redeem her first term.