The mid-term elections saw Gov. Maggie Hassan hold off Republican challenger Walt Havenstein to be awarded her second term. And though the race wasn’t won by a wide margin (5.2 percent, according to Real Clear Politics), Hassan’s victory was never in doubt, according to Dr. Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center and political science professor. Smith said the last survey, taken one month before the elections, put Hassan’s job approval at 53 percent approve, 29 percent disapprove.
“She was pretty favorable, she had pretty good numbers. The line that we look for is 46 percent. If you’re above 46 percent, you typically get re-elected. If you are below, you typically don’t,” Smith said.
Republican Frank Guinta reclaimed the seat he once held from Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, incumbent Annie Kuster held on to New Hampshire’s 2nd District Congressional seat, easily defeating Republican challenger Marilinda Garcia, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen edged out Republican challenger Scott Brown. So while things down in Washington have been shaken up, with Republicans maintaining control of the Senate and seizing control of the House, the New Hampshire results were predictable, Smith said.
“I don’t think there were any surprises in any of those elections. The Senate race, the fact that Republicans had to recruit someone out of state, indicates to me the people in New Hampshire who may have run understood the difficulty of unseating a popular sitting senator,” Smith said.
Smith said the Republicans now hold more seats in the House than they have since before the Great Depression, and they will be able to control legislation in Washington. Republicans now control the State House and State Senate as well, with 239 seats in the House, up from 180 in the 2010 elections.
“You get big swings in the House because of multimember districts, [which tend] to go all Republican or all Democrat,” Smith said. “They had a narrow majority in the Senate, and they expanded it by 14 seats.”
Smith also pointed to the battle between former House Speaker Bill O’Brien and newly minted House Speaker Shawn Jasper. Jasper was recently censured by the GOP Executive Committee, NHPR reported, but Smith said it’s more about personality than policy.
“They’re [O’Brien and Jasper] not that different, the policies they have advocated. It’s a matter of style,” Smith said. “Democrats are probably very happy to see that fight going on.”
In 2014, a bill to increase the gasoline tax passed and went into effect July 1. The increase — 4.2 cents per gallon — is the first since 1991, according to nh.gov. The funds generated from the increase are to go toward road and bridge work. Beginning in FY 2015, the increase is expected to generate $32 million to $33 million per year.
Dean Spiliotes, political analyst and professor at Southern New Hampshire University, pointed to the Medicaid expansion as big news in 2014. So far more than 26,000 Granite Staters have filed under the expansion, which now includes able-bodied adults up to 138 percent of the poverty line.
“The issue with Medicaid was, Republicans did not want to do a straight federal expansion of the program; they wanted to do it a lot toward the market,” Spiliotes said. “They had an issue with the mechanism.”
But, Spiliotes said, this expansion isn’t necessarily the end of the Medicaid debate.
“It has to be reauthorized this year or next, and now you’re hearing from Republicans that they’re not going to want to reauthorize it. I think you are gonna see some Republicans push toward not reauthorizing,” Spiliotes said.
Also passed in 2014 was the Paycheck Fairness Act, which strengthens equal pay between men and women and prevents employers from discriminating against employees who disclose their wages in the workplace and from retaliating against employees who have filed complaints about pay discrimination. This law will go into effect Jan. 1. Also going into effect on New Year’s Day is the law that created a voluntary Hike Safe Card, which the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department will sell for $25 per person or $35 per family. People who obtain the cards will not be liable to repay rescue costs if they need to be rescued due to negligence on their part during any outdoor activity.
A look ahead
So, what can we expect from our new legislature in the new year? Some more of the same, Smith said. It’s a budget year again, and Smith said most of the legislature’s efforts will be focused there.
“The budget is the biggest thing that gets passed,” he said.
Spiliotes also said the budget will be the big deal in 2015, noting many Republicans have been critical of Hassan and the business tax not bringing in enough revenue, though he said the overall revenue is steady.
“There’s going to be a big debate over the next budget. The bigger economic picture for the state has manifested in the budget and is going to monopolize things until June,” Spiliotes said.
Smith and Spiliotes both anticipate another casino bill this go-round.
“The governor is likely to include revenues from casinos in her budget, like she did last time around. I’m pretty sure you’ll see a casino bill that gets voted,” Smith said.
In 2013, Hassan submitted a budget with $80 million coming from casino revenues, but the bill was voted down 173-144, the Concord Monitor reported.
“Cleary, casino gambling, [Sen.] Lou D’Allesandro is pushing for it very hard. It doesn’t break down on party lines, so switching from Democrats to Republicans, it’s hard to know if it stands a better chance or not, but it will definitely come back up again,” Spiliotes said.
Smith expects marijuana to make its way back into the legislature. In 2013, legislators agreed on a law for the use of medical marijuana. By January 2015, the state is supposed to license two alternative treatment centers. So far there have been murmurs of one in Epping and one in Franklin, and more recently, Concord, according to NHPR, but nothing concrete yet. Smith said decriminalizing marijuana may be on the docket for 2015, but Spiliotes has doubts.
“The House has passed decriminalization bills in the past, a number of times, but the Senate has blocked it. The issue is that we have medical marijuana, but it’s been an incredibly slow process, getting four [alternative treatment centers] open. How are they going to move toward legalization if they can’t get these dispensaries open?” Spiliotes said. “I find it hard to believe they would jump to that right now.”
Another piece of legislation Spiliotes thinks might get some attention is the gasoline tax increase. He said some part of legislature might want to increase the gas tax because gas prices are so low right now, but it’s going to be a “hard sell,” especially with a lot of Republicans occupying office.
As seen in the December 25, 2014 issue of the Hippo.