It had its ups and downs. Following the 2010 elections, the political landscape in New Hampshire was like a dream setup for Republicans.
The GOP controlled the state House of Representatives and the state Senate by 3-to-1 majorities. The GOP also held unanimous control of the five-member Executive Council. Yes, Democrats held the corner office, but by all accounts, Gov. John Lynch was a particularly moderate Democrat.
All in all, the stage was set for some sweeping changes. There wasn’t anything Democrats could do to stop the GOP train from rolling. Lynch vetoed a bill here and there, but for the most part, it was no problem for Republican leadership in the House and Senate to generate the necessary support to bypass the governor’s veto.
The first year contained an easy, largely all-consuming top priority in the state budget. Lawmakers faced a potential deficit of as much as $900 million. Spending had to be curtailed. Lawmakers obliged and delivered a dramatically cut-back version of the state budget — it cut spending by 11 percent. Services across the board were cut. Anything deemed extraneous was tossed aside. The cuts resulted in a historic achievement, an achievement that certainly didn’t please everyone, since many of the cuts impacted vulnerable populations. But certainly, the Legislature addressed a major issue from the campaign trail: that it would cut back on government spending.
Some would say the Legislature could have gone even further with cuts, but most were pleased with the level of cutbacks.
“We campaigned last year, we made promises to people that I think we kept, promises that there would not be any new or increased taxes, that we’d live within our means,” said House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, in an interview following the 2011 session. Lawmakers also enacted retirement system reforms and started the process to shift the state’s Medicaid system into a managed care system.
That was then
If the 2012 elections could have been held following the session last year, the guess here is that Republicans would probably keep their massive majorities.
In the first year, lawmakers kept the focus on fiscal issues. Lawmakers tackled retirement reform legislation and business tax reforms and reductions. While the House delved somewhat into dreaded “social issues,” the main focus was clearly on the economy and budget issues — at least in Year 1.
Now, that’s not to say that Republicans didn’t do anything in Year 2. But the problem, at least with regard to political timing, is that the budget happens in Year 1 of lawmakers’ two-year terms. The passage of the two-year budget seems like a long time ago now. The problem in the second session is that lawmakers don’t necessarily have a marquee piece of legislation to hang their hats on. The one they had a shot on was the education funding constitutional amendment, but that fell apart. That’s a big one. Lawmakers in the House were unable to override Lynch’s veto of right-to-work legislation, but perhaps that defeat was mainly symbolic.
Carolyn McKinney, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Liberty Caucus, said the Legislature missed some opportunities. Right-to-work was one, for sure, and so was handling the education funding quagmire. House and Senate leadership and Gov. John Lynch agreed on a constitutional amendment, but it didn’t get the necessary support in the House. (For the record, the Liberty Caucus did not support the proposed amendment, but it did want a solution.)
Lawmakers did get a constitutional amendment that would ban an income tax on the ballot this fall. That’s not to be overlooked.
None of this is to suggest that Republicans squandered their majorities the past two years — they certainly didn’t — but it wasn’t perfect. And there were some things that were ultimately left on the table.
So the charge for incumbent lawmakers — and there seem to be fewer and fewer of those in the state Senate — is to remind voters of all they’ve done. That’s not easy, especially since Democrats are trying to drown them out. One thing is clear though: Republicans are mobilizing.
The New Hampshire Victory program in 2010 was historically successful. The 2012 version was getting up off the ground this past weekend by mobilizing its get-out-the-vote infrastructure. The Victory program, which is a joint effort between the Republican National Committee, the state Republican Committee and the Romney for President Campaign, was expected to include several hundred volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls. The effort was centered at offices in Bedford, Nashua, Derry, Dover, Keene, Stratham, Wolfeboro and Littleton.
The state GOP Committee also hosted a reception with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, this past weekend. Portman is considered a potential vice presidential pick for Romney.
The wheels are turning now.