It was the year of the Republicans and as usual the Granite State provided excellent political theater across the board.
Much of the past year was understandably absorbed by the New Hampshire primary, but plenty was happening on the state level, particularly with the legislature’s massive GOP majorities. Republicans began the year with nearly a two-to-one advantage in the state House of Representatives, a 19-to-5 advantage in the state Senate, and a five-to-nobody advantage on the Executive Council.
And Republicans weren’t afraid to use those majorities. Here’s a look at the year that was in state politics, as well as in primary politics.
With little resistance due mostly to a lack of numbers, Republicans were able to pass just about anything they wanted, including a dramatically pared back state budget that took effect in July. Many were and remained concerned about the budget’s impact. While Republicans were able to pass legislation to reform the retirement system, reduce regulations on businesses and cut 10 cents off the state’s cigarette tax, the GOP wasn’t able to pass controversial right-to-work legislation. Just this month, right-to-work supporters failed to override a veto by Gov. John Lynch.
On the legislation front
Right-to-work, which would have made it easier for state employees not to join unions, sticks out because it was just about the only piece of legislation GOP leaders wanted but couldn’t get. The Senate, in the end, opted to re-work New Hampshire’s involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program, rather than opt out entirely. The House had voted decidedly for opting out.
The state budget cut funding just about everywhere, including reimbursement funds for hospitals, which had previously used the funds to cover uncompensated care. Hospitals responded and sued the state. The case awaits a court ruling.
One of the only places where there appeared to be common ground between Republican leaders and Democratic Gov. John Lynch was education funding. The state’s role in education funding has long been controversial and essentially unresolved in New Hampshire. It appeared all sides wanted to get something done. It still seems that way, but not everybody was on the same page. The House killed proposals by Lynch and the Senate last month. A House proposal awaits a hearing in the Senate come January.
A bill that would have required voters to present identification before voting created quite a stir and ultimately fizzled out. Supporters saw presenting identification as a way to avoid voter fraud and as fairly basic, since people must present identification for myriad other things. Opponents saw the bill as potentially hurting the thousands of state residents without IDs.
While many on the left had feared Republicans would try to repeal the state’s gay marriage law, Republicans pushed off the issue, though it is expected to get plenty of attention in 2012.
The still-coming-together gubernatorial race
Lynch, who is in the middle of a record fourth term as governor, announced in September he would not seek a fifth term in the corner office. He would have been particularly difficult to beat, since he was more or less the lone Democrat standing following the 2010 election. If he could win in 2010, it would be difficult to picture Lynch losing, period.
With Lynch out of the picture, on the Republican side, Ovide Lamontagne, who narrowly lost a bid for the GOP nomination for Senate in 2010, entered the fray, as did Cornerstone Research’s Kevin Smith. Smith has since resigned from his post with Cornerstone. There is speculation Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas could run for governor as well.
As far as Democrats go, former state senator Maggie Hassan is running, and another former state senator, Jackie Cilley, may be joining her in a primary. WMUR reported that Steve Marchand, former Portsmouth mayor, won’t be running. Apparently neither will Stonyfield Yogurt CEO Gary Hirshberg.
The state lost a former governor this past year, as Walter Petersen, a Republican governor who served from 1969 to 1973, died this past spring after a bout with lung cancer (though he never smoked). Petersen was known for his ability to work across party and ideological lines and the label “Walter Petersen Republicans” had come to signify a more moderate brand of Republicanism than the social conservatives and Tea Party supporters who came later. Petersen was 88.
On the presidential front, Mitt Romney has remained fairly constant in New Hampshire but that’s about it. Romney consistently has grabbed 35 to 40 percent support in polls. Other candidates have risen and fallen quite a bit along the way.
For a brief period of time, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took the field by storm, quickly becoming a national frontrunner. Romney remained consistent and on message, and Perry bumbled his way along during debates. Soon Romney was back on top again.
Then it was Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. Cain, with his humor, political outsider standing and straightforward take on the issues, rose quickly in the polls this fall before a barrage of sexual harassment allegations came forth. Once again, Romney remained consistent and on message, and soon was the frontrunner again. Cain has dropped out of the race.
And perhaps finally, it was the former House speaker Newt Gingrich who sprinted up the polls. Gingrich may have peaked a week or two ago but appears to present a serious challenge to Romney, who went on the attack to a certain extent. The Iowa Caucuses, which take place Jan. 3, will go a long way in determining just how much support and momentum Gingrich has. Ron Paul is very much in the running to take Iowa.
Along the way, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann jumped up in the polls right before Perry entered the race. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and Ambassador to China, was supposed to be a major obstacle for Romney, but thus far, that hasn’t materialized. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was another seemingly strong candidate who many thought could challenge Romney — but it didn’t work out. Pawlenty has since dropped out and endorsed Romney.
Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has worked hard all over New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, but he hasn’t seen that translate into success in polls. Former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer and longtime Republican operative and gay rights activist Fred Karger have also worked hard in New Hampshire to get their messages out. Congressman Thad McCotter ran briefly before bowing out. Gary Johnson has campaigned hard for the last year and a half, but without much success in the polls, he recently announced he’d instead seek the Libertarian nomination for president.
There was also Donald Trump. The Donald flirted with a presidential run and as yet hasn’t ruled out an independent bid.
Sarah Palin, always keeping her intentions close to the vest, mysteriously popped up on the seacoast on a bus tour the same day Romney formally announced his presidential bid. She ultimately decided against running, as did former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The date of the primary saw its own political roller coaster. For a time, it looked possible that Secretary of State Bill Gardner would schedule the primary for either the first or second week of December. That was thanks to Nevada trying to move up on New Hampshire’s territory — but most of the blame lies with Florida, which disregarded the previous schedule and moved its own primary to Jan. 28. That caused everybody to scramble. Ultimately, Nevada relented and New Hampshire got its primary locked in on Jan. 10.
It hasn’t been the same old traditional retail politicking here in New Hampshire that people are used to. New Hampshire is all about getting out there, shaking hands, answering questions and maybe even squirming a little, but several candidates — Gingrich, Cain and even Romney to an extent — have focused on a broader, more national approach, with heavy emphasis on social media, cable television and a regular debate schedule to gain momentum. Huntsman is the only major candidate to essentially stake his campaign on New Hampshire, but so far it’s been to no avail.
And now the primary vote looms in the distance, less than two weeks away.
Adam Coughlin contributed to this report.