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Governor John Lynch
Friday, September 16, 2011

Lynch will not seek fifth term as New Hampshire governor

MANCHESTER – Gov. John Lynch declared Thursday that he would not seek re-election to an unprecedented fifth term in 2012.

Lynch, 58, will exit the political stage next winter, already having broken the record for longevity.

The Hopkinton business consultant became the first in history to win a fourth term in 2010.

“I will keep working hard every day for the next 16 months to serve the people of our state, but I will not run for re-election as governor of New Hampshire,” said Lynch, surrounded by his cabinet and longtime friends and political supporters.

Lynch made the announcement at an elementary school on the west side of the state’s largest city.

After Lynch’s eight-minute speech, he took no questions from reporters and instead spoke with a class of fourth-graders gathered in the school library in which Lynch delivered his remarks.

A hallmark of Lynch’s time in office was that he often would drop what he was doing to speak to different groups of fourth-graders who visit the Statehouse nearly every week during the school year.

“Today is not a time for looking back, because the job is not over,” Lynch said, vowing to keep fighting to help residents find jobs, businesses expand during a sluggish economy and residents recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

The announcement gives state Republican leaders hope that they can capture the corner office next year.

Democrats have won seven of the last eight elections for governor, however, and Lynch is giving his potential replacements plenty of time to gear up for a race.

“I think it’s time for the next generation of leadership for New Hampshire,” Lynch continued.

The next election will be only the fourth in the past two decades in which an incumbent governor is not atop the ballot.

And this decision will touch off a dizzying game of dominoes as leading Democratic and Republican political figures consider whether to go for that open seat or perhaps leapfrog to another race next year.

Manchester lawyer Ovide Lamontagne, a conservative Republican, already has signaled that he would run for governor next year, whether Lynch decided to run or not.

Other GOP officials who are likely to get in include 2010 nominee John Stephen and Kevin Smith, of Londonderry, who heads up Cornerstone Action NH, a socially conservative group.

Former Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, already has confirmed that she’s exploring a run for governor in the event that Lynch did not.

Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, said she thought about running but already has decided to endorse Hassan’s 2012 bid instead.

Other Democrats whose candidacies have been discussed in party circles include former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand and former Barrington state Sen. Jackie Cilley.

But both GOP and Democratic leaders refused to publicly engage in the speculation, with Lamontagne stating that talk about a run for governor should come another day.

“While Governor Lynch and I have differed on many issues throughout his tenure, those of us involved in public service fully understand the tremendous sacrifice that public office entails, and I appreciate his years of service and deep dedication to the state of New Hampshire,” Lamontagne wrote in a statement. “His family must also be sincerely thanked for the sacrifices that they have had to make over the past few years.”

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettnecourt, R-Salem, became one of Lynch’s most fierce critics this year but likewise focused only on the good today.

“Gov. Lynch should also be commended for his commitment to a constitutional amendment to fix education funding in New Hampshire, for his strong, willing hand to help those in need during our unfortunate natural disasters, and his staunch opposition to a sales or income tax,” Bettencourt wrote in a statement. “Putting politics aside, John Lynch has always tried to do what he felt was in the best interest of the people of New Hampshire.”

Kevin Smith made the strongest argument for a candidacy of anyone in either party.

“I think it’s time for bold and fresh leadership,” Smith said during an interview. “I really don’t believe this is the time for career politicians and candidates.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said holding the corner office will be a challenge, but he’s optimistic about the next election.

“I feel very confident that our nominee will be the next governor,” Buckley said. “I look forward to a new House speaker and a new Senate president. We will have a fresh start in 2013.”

Former Democratic Chair Kathy Sullivan said Lynch’s departure should energize her party, encouraging others to step up and run for this or other offices next year.

“I think this is really going to be an exciting election year coming up,” Sullivan added.

President Barack Obama joined the chorus of praise for Lynch.

“John Lynch, for nearly four terms as governor, has worked across party lines time and time again to grow the New Hampshire economy, improve high school graduation rates, and make it easier for businesses to invest in research and development,” Obama said. “Through some tough economic times, John maintained key services for Granite State residents, all while keeping faith with New Hampshire’s independent spirit.”

Lynch will be remembered as the governor who completed mandatory public kindergarten for all 5-year-olds and raised the age that students have to stay in school that lead to a major decline in the high school dropout rate.

Under Lynch’s watch, the state Supreme Court ended its strict supervision over school education aid law for the first time since the justices had decided in 1999 that overreliance on the local property tax to pay for public schools was unconstitutional.

Lynch became the first sitting governor in America to sign a state law legalizing same-sex marriage after having successfully won two gubernatorial campaigns in which he opposed the idea. He instead had favored civil unions.

But supporters said they’ll mostly recall Lynch as a stabilizing and calming presence for people in the state, whether it came after a natural disaster like a hurricane or the worst recession since the Great Depression.

“People are really going to miss him. He’s just been a very special leader,” said former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster of Nashua.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.

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