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Friday, January 4, 2013

Hassan offers promises, encouragement during inaugural address

CONCORD – Maggie Wood Hassan became the state’s second woman elected governor of New Hampshire and offered an upbeat and sobering inaugural that calls for ending the era to a “hasty, reactive government.’’

The Exeter Democrat and seasoned state senator vowed to offer bipartisan leadership and challenged state government leaders to embrace innovation as private company owners had to during a struggling economy. ...

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CONCORD – Maggie Wood Hassan became the state’s second woman elected governor of New Hampshire and offered an upbeat and sobering inaugural that calls for ending the era to a “hasty, reactive government.’’

The Exeter Democrat and seasoned state senator vowed to offer bipartisan leadership and challenged state government leaders to embrace innovation as private company owners had to during a struggling economy.

Hassan, 54, campaigned for the job with a thorough rebuke of the super-majority Legislature that adopted a lean state budget and policy changes she promised to try and reverse.

“The people of New Hampshire have made it clear that they want to restore balance, that they want us to work together,’’ Hassan said in historic Representatives Hall. “Let us promise ourselves today that we will meet our challenges by focusing on commonsense solutions borne of collaboration. That we will together end the era of hasty, reactive government.’’

Hassan’s top priority to turn the ship of state around is to restore a 45 percent cut in state aid to higher education within the current budget and to repeal the 10 cents per pack cut in the state’s tobacco tax lawmakers adopted in June 2011.

“Cutting state support for public education in half while lowering the tobacco tax two years ago was short sighted. It hurt our young people and, if not quickly addressed, will impair our future economic prosperity. We must begin to reverse course,’’ Hassan said.

University of New Hampshire System trustees have already said, if state aid is raised back up to 2011 levels, they will answer Hassan’s call to freeze in-state tuition for the next two years and raise targets for graduates in science, math, technology and engineering.

Hassan blamed the state’s fourth highest tuition in the country with driving out of New Hampshire many of the state’s most gifted college graduates.

And she spoke of her recent visit to Girls Inc. in Nashua and the responsibility policy makers have to build a brighter future for the next generation.

“In order for the girls I met at Girls Inc. – and all of our young people – to realize their dreams, we must ensure that at each step along the way, their education is providing them with the skills, knowledge, and innovative thinking needed in a 21st century economy,’’ Hassan said.

She also called for doubling the state’s tax credit on business and research development, something her predecessor, outgoing Gov. John Lynch, tried, for two years, but was unable to get lawmakers to do.

“Now, I will make one more promise: I will work as hard as I can to honor your trust. And I will strive to do so in the tradition that has guided us throughout our history: The tradition of openness, bipartisanship, and collective problem solving,’’ Hassan said.

“No one has exemplified that tradition more than the person I am succeeding, someone I want to thank on behalf of all of our citizens for his four terms in the corner office – thank you, Gov. John Lynch.’’

A Boston native and mother of two, Hassan clearly sought to embrace the ideological middle emphasizing her opposition to a broad-based tax while placing stress on the state’s obligation to take care of the less fortunate.

“Granite Staters are frugal and the history of our state government reflects that,” Hassan declared. “To those of you who believe deeply in an income tax, I ask you to put that aside. I will veto an income or sales tax. And as we build our next budget, though we have much to address, we must acknowledge that we will not be able to do everything all at once.’’

Hassan then made a direct appeal to like-minded Republicans who refuse to abandon a role for their work in Concord.

“To those on the other side, I ask you to recognize that there are some things that government must do – not only to help our most vulnerable citizens but also to provide the platform for economic growth,’’ Hassan continued.

“Needs do not go away simply because we don’t fund them. And opportunities for innovation and growth can evaporate if we fail to make smart investments in a timely way. But if we work together we can fund our priorities and balance the budget.”

The speech was a celebration of the state’s strength – low poverty, unemployment and crime rates, high scores on livability and child health – and an admission that these are tough times to govern.

“Scripture refers to something called, ‘gladness of heart,’ an appreciation of the opportunity and freedom to do difficult things,’’ Hassan said. “In this time and in this place, let’s choose to move our state forward with the optimism and pragmatism that is our hallmark. With ‘gladness of heart,’ let’s choose to remember what a gift it is to be citizens of the Granite State.’’

Hassan became the state’s 81st governor with a convincing win last November over the favored Republican nominee, Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester.

As the only woman, pro-choice governor to be elected on Nov. 6, Hassan became the conduit for hundreds of thousands in donations from across the country.

She won the pre-primary endorsement from Emily’s List, the preeminent, abortion rights fund-raising machine and one of its key aides, Matt Burgess, returned to New Hampshire to run her campaign.

This allowed her to match Lamontagne dollar for dollar up to $2.4 million while the Democratic Governors Association spent a NH record, near-$7 million on attack ads branding Lamontagne as a socially extreme pariah.

Her victory helped complete a thunderous crash of the glass ceiling with voters electing the first, all-women congressional delegation in New Hampshire that attracted a prominent, New York Times story Wednesday.

She continued a Democratic streak of winning eight of the last nine races for governor and becomes the first Democrat in much longer than a generation to replace a Democrat in the office.

During her race, Hassan used the Lynch playbook to replace him, vowing to veto a sales or income tax while promising a no-drama approach to making state government more efficient and more innovative.

As Senate majority leader in 2009-10, Hassan was Lynch’s chief lieutenant helping broker his agenda during the last term Democrats were in charge.

But there will surely be chief policy differences with the new boss, most notably her support for legalizing casino gambling, no doubt to help her finance the two-year state budget blueprint she will present to lawmakers early next month.

Yet Hassan has tried to sober expectations for her spending promises telling voters she won’t be able to “undo’’ all she would like to and asking agency heads to prepare spending plans with 3 percent cuts next year and 2013 budget levels for 2015.

Hassan also breaks with Lynch in supporting legal access to medical marijuana for the seriously ill and for repealing the death penalty which Lynch expanded during his eight years in office.

She’ll face plenty of challenges during her first term but one of them won’t be an openly-hostile Legislature that dogged Lynch his last two years in charge.

Hassan now has a Democratic majority, albeit a slight one, in the House and a workable, 13-11 Republican majority in the Senate that includes many of her former legislative colleagues.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).