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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Candidates for the state’s highest office can say ‘I want to be like Lynch’

To get elected and then re-elected to the same post in four consecutive elections, you must be doing something right.

That’s why Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan and her Republican opponent Ovide Lamontagne told voters they would strive to be like retiring Gov. John Lynch if they got elected. ...

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To get elected and then re-elected to the same post in four consecutive elections, you must be doing something right.

That’s why Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan and her Republican opponent Ovide Lamontagne told voters they would strive to be like retiring Gov. John Lynch if they got elected.

“Gov. Lynch has been an extraordinary governor for a number of reasons,” Hassan said during her campaign.

“First and foremost, because he always puts the citizens of New Hampshire first. That’s certainly the kind of leadership I will emulate.”

And Lamontagne said he would “like to be a lot like Lynch” in working with people and attending to their needs when issues arose.

But Lamontagne said he also would be different.

“I will be fundamentally different than Gov. Lynch on policy and my proactive involvement in government itself,” Lamontagne said during his campaign. Lamontage said he would sign or veto every bill that came to his desk, a reference to Lynch, who often let bills become law without his signature.

Critics of Lynch say he often failed to take bold action despite his popularity.

“Without question, when you ask people what they like about Lynch, they say he’s a nice guy,” said Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the conservative Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

“But if you think of dividing the job of governor into two different functions, one is a manager of state government and the other is politics and policy. Lynch’s strengths lay less in policy function. He preferred to let the Legislature play itself out before he weighed in.”

Arlinghaus said Lynch’s failure to take bold initiatives will make him less of a measure against which to weigh future governors – but, he added, it could potentially send a wrong message to those corner office candidates as well.

“The thing I would worry about with his legacy is that people will take the wrong lesson that you don’t have to take bold initiatives,” he said. “I think he could have been bolder with his popularity. His popularity was unrelated to bold initiatives; it was related to his personal style.”

But District 12 Sen.-elect Peggy Gilmour, who also served in the Senate from 2008-10, said she doesn’t think popularity and taking bold initiatives are mutually exclusive.

“While he wasn’t known to step out in front of a political issue, Gov. Lynch was the first governor in the nation to sign a same-sex marriage law,” Gilmour said. “No one can define that as not taking pen to hand on a highly controversial issue and making New Hampshire first in the nation. I think there’s some lack of data when it’s said that he was ‘just a nice guy.’”

She said Lynch will affect future gubernatorial candidates’ campaigns by simply having given voters a strong frame of reference.

“How many fourth-graders came through the Statehouse, met Gov. Lynch and are now blossoming adults in New Hampshire?” Gilmour said. “There’s a whole generation who has a frame of reference with this very popular, very personable, very even-keeled governor.”

Looking back, the last eight year may have created the “Lynch model of governing” that will serve as a blueprint for others to follow, if you ask Southern New Hampshire University professor Dean Spiliotes.

He said Lynch’s specific kind of style and temperament will be looked at as a model for what works given New Hampshire’s political culture.

“He’s never been overtly ideological or confrontational; you didn’t know where he stood until the last minute,” Spiliotes said. “Some Republicans have criticized him for not pushing a particular agenda, but in 2006 and 2008, those on the left said he wasn’t pushing an agenda. It’s hard to get that general goodwill and popularity, but that popularity, I think, is going to be a benchmark for future governors.”

He also noted Lynch’s success in lowering the dropout rate, handling a number of disasters in the state, and signing the gay-marriage law – which he said Lynch did in way that “wasn’t overly antagonistic.”

And in his last term, some will remember Lynch also for working well with a Republican majority that included an all-Republican Executive Council.

“The all-Republican Executive Council didn’t seem to bother him at all,” said longtime Councilor Ray Burton.

Burton said he had no choice but to get along with Lynch because that’s what his constituents expected him to do.

As far as future governors being measured against Lynch, Burton said everyone in public life has their own legacy to create.

“She’ll set out her boundaries,” he said of Gov.-elect Hassan, and added while Lynch might be criticized for being more behind-the-scenes politically, the Legislature has a big impact.

“The governor proposes, but it’s the Legislature that disposes,” Burton said. “This past session in the Legislature, it would have been difficult to get through any major changes in state law or state government. You need to get both parties on board.”

Gilmour said emulating Lynch will mean being someone who works in a bipartisan fashion, but also having a good human dynamic.

For Arlinghaus, Lynch offered a lesson in accessibility.

“One of John Lynch’s strengths was that it’s not about popularity, it’s not about making change or bold initiatives – it’s about being there.”