Gov. John Lynch vetoed right-to-work legislation this spring. Speaker of the House William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has had trouble finding the votes needed to override that veto. Lynch also threatened a veto of legislation that would have withdrawn the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. That caused legislators to rework the program rather than withdraw — though withdrawal has come up in other legislation.
Some viewed Lynch’s actions as token shows of the corner office’s power. But the last couple weeks appear to be much more than tokens.
Lynch vetoed several bills last week, including a measure that would have reformed the state retirement system and a measure that would have required parental notification on abortions. He also vetoed a measure that would have essentially eliminated the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority. It was no surprise to state Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley, who said Lynch has been clear all along he would reject an extremist agenda.
But Lynch was rather quiet on these measures prior to his veto. That’s got some upset.
“Maybe he’s playing his cards right,” said Arnie Arnesen, host of the talk show Political Chowder. “Over the last couple months, the anger, the frustration and shock at the behavior of the House and the Senate, maybe that’s gotten a number of senators a little weak in the knees right now. Like, ‘Gee, I’d kind of like to get reelected.’“
Arnesen and others have criticized Lynch for his wait-and-see approach to controversial issues. He often won’t announce a decision until he absolutely has to.
“Now what he’s doing with this veto, maybe he’s saying, ‘This is over the top and I have to protect New Hampshire from these consequences,’ and then looking to the Senate, ‘Are you willing to go along with them?’” Arnesen said. “It might be a brilliant strategy. He might not even know that it is. This is his M.O., not to do any heavy lifting, not to step out in front. Speaker O’Brien has done all the work.... It both fits Lynch’s nature and it may have turned out to be the right political strategy.”
Some would call Lynch’s style cowardice, but it could easily be interpreted either way. Lynch has taken stands on issues typically when they are bipartisan, such as a plan to reduce the state’s dropout rate.
Republicans have the numbers in the House and the Senate to override Lynch’s veto whenever they choose, but as evidenced by right to work, that’s easier said than done. The House and Senate passed the retirement reform legislation by veto-proof majorities. “I’m beginning to think you could find a number of senators reluctant to do an override,” Arnesen said.
Letting others do the work
Lynch has let others take the praise and the heat.
“There’s very few people who don’t know who Speaker O’Brien is,” Arnesen said. “There’s very few people who don’t know he’s a bully who is basically willing to cut everything and not ask about the consequences.”
That might be a harsh critique, but there’s some validity at least in that O’Brien has become the figurehead for Republican leadership at the Statehouse. O’Brien acknowledged being a lightning rod in a recent Union Leader article.
Lynch’s February budget proposal called for a dramatic cut in services. The House and Senate versions are dramatically pared down from that. There’s not really a group out there statewide that won’t be impacted by the budget slated to hit the books July 1. And however much anger there will be, it will all be directed at O’Brien and potentially Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.
A bill at a time
The retirement reform legislation, which was geared to take on a $3.7 billion unfunded liability, would force firefighters and policemen to work more years. The plan would have increased contribution rates and eliminated end-of-career salary enhancements. As union officials have framed the debate as though Republican legislators are going after unions, Lynch’s veto signals he’s not willing to throw public employees under the proverbial bus. In his statement, Lynch said he vetoed the bill because legislators suggested they might change it during committee of conference.
That Lynch put his foot down on parental notification might simply be throwing a bone to the liberal base. Lynch said he was troubled by the lack of an exception for cases of rape or incest; supporters say there are such provisions.
Lynch also vetoed a measure that would have repealed the state’s minimum wage. He also vetoed a bill that he said would have prohibited local planning boards from requiring installation of fire-suppression sprinkler systems in proposed one- or two-family residences as a condition of approval for local permits.