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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mending the fences of betrayal

Telegraph Editorial

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan traded places with Republicans for a while on Monday, and don’t think those in her own party didn’t notice.

Some traditional Democratic constituencies were apoplectic when Hassan vetoed a bill intended to prevent state employees from being bullied in the workplace. ...

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Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan traded places with Republicans for a while on Monday, and don’t think those in her own party didn’t notice.

Some traditional Democratic constituencies were apoplectic when Hassan vetoed a bill intended to prevent state employees from being bullied in the workplace.

“Among its most onerous provisions, this legislation defines abusive conduct in a broad and unworkable manner based on an individual employee’s subjective perception, not on an unbiased objective standard,’’ Hassan wrote in her veto message. She also criticized the bill for attempting to legislate politeness and said it would open the state up to lawsuits.

Business groups – the traditional constituency of Republicans – immediately came out in support of the veto, offering the governor a modicum of political cover. Their fear was that, if the bullying law aimed at state employees passed, their members in the private sector could be next in line.

“Signing the bill would have been the easy thing to do. She did the right thing instead and that’s great to see in politics these days,” said Jim Roche, president of the Business & Industry Association.

The House version of the bill – co-authored by Nashua Democratic state Reps. Janice Schmidt and Sylvia Gale – passed on a voice vote last January, and the Senate version also passed on a voice vote, with no dissent. The final version that came out of conference committee also enjoyed broad bipartisan support, said Rep. Andy White, D-Lebanon.

If you don’t count the governor, that is.

“As much as she didn’t like the bill, she hasn’t offered anything in the alternative,’’ said State Employees Association President Diana Lacey. She also criticized Hassan for failing to issue an executive order that she said could have addressed 90 percent of the ills the workplace bullying legislation was designed to cure.

She wasn’t alone.

“I guess I am really disappointed the governor would veto something that is so important to the lives of 10,000 state employees without some alternative in place,’’ White said. “She has been willing to tell us the bad things about this bill but hasn’t given the Legislature or state employees anything to improve a real systemic problem.’’

Hassan blamed the Republican-controlled Senate – her favorite whipping boy, since her party controls the House – for voting out a flawed bill, but that smacks of what hippies back in the day used to call a cop-out.

The criticism is that the governor sat on the sidelines and brought nothing to the table on this issue. It might be easy to dismiss that as mere political windage if the claim were coming from Republicans in the Senate – but the charge is coming from fellow Democrats.

It’s not entirely true that Hassan was disengaged on this issue beforehand. She worked behind the scenes to try to get the Senate to pass a version to her liking, but leadership is about standing up – in public – and being accountable for your position.

Had the governor done that ahead of time, it seems likely that she wouldn’t now be faced with the task of mending the fences of betrayal within her own party.

At the end of the day, Democrats will have little choice but to grin and bear the dissatisfaction of the veto. Undermining their party leader by staging a nasty override fight in the middle of an election year would do them little good, stand no real chance of success and could do Hassan harm at the polls in November.

At the same time, however, the criticisms – coming as they do from within – should give her pause.