Hassan urges bipartisanship, new way of thinking, in inaugural address
CONCORD - In her second inaugural speech, Gov. Maggie Hassan stressed bipartisanship, and called for creative approaches by state lawmakers to tackle such issues as affordable housing, energy, health care and education.
The Democratic governor used her address to push for restoring and increasing the state's minimum wage, and she backed commuter rail service from Boston to Nashua and Manchester, a new natural gas pipeline, and revising state security laws to make "it easier for innovative businesses to raise the capital they need to grow and flourish."
In her nearly half an hour speech, Hassan touted some of the achievements reached during her first term in office, saying "thanks to our bipartisan progress, we're in a better positon that most other states. Our unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 2008, last month New Hampshire's credit outlook was restored to ‘stable', and our private sector has recovered all of the jobs lost in the recession."
And she touted that "a recent report ranked New Hampshire as the best state to live and the best state to earn a living, and in 2013, our median household income was the highest in the nation."
But Hassan admitted many in the middle class face difficult times, saying that "to the hard-working people across our state, statistics don't always reflect the individual struggles that some face."
The governor was anything but complacent, saying "we must not let ourselves believe that if we simply do things the same way we've always done them, the future will take care of itself."
"We are capable of finding that new way forward, because that's what Granite Staters do," Hassan added. "What it will take, throughout our work together, is moving past the inevitable arguments, identifying our challenges, and then finding the solutions that nobody has thought of yet, the New Hampshire solutions that will help build a more prosperous future for all of our people."
Oath of office
Hassan, the second woman elected New Hampshire governor, was given the oath of office by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, the first female chief justice in Granite State history. Then Hassan administered the oath of office to the new five member executive council, which now has a Republican majority.
That's just one of the changes facing Hassan as she begins her second term. While she won re-election, grabbing 53% of the vote in her victory over GOP challenger Walt Havenstein, Republicans not only won back control of the executive council, but also convincingly grabbed the majority in the state House and increased their majority in the state Senate.
The new lay of the land in Concord may be on reason why Hassan made a number of pitches for bipartisanship, saying "We know better than to think that any one political party has all the answers."
"Over the past two years, we have not allowed the partisan divide to be an obstacle to getting things done. Democrats, Republicans and independents worked together, and we found that when we did, the sum of our progress was far greater than our individual ideas or perspectives," the governor added.
But some of the proposals Hassan highlighted in her speech may not find much support among GOP lawmakers.
"In order to maximize our regional position, and to spark economic growth for decades to come, we should bring commuter rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester," urged Hassan, to loud clapping from Democrats in the chamber. But Republican lawmakers refrained from applause.
It was the same story when the governor made her pitch on the minimum wage, saying "increasing the minimum wage will have a ripple effect on wages higher up the pay scale, while supporting businesses and encouraging job creation by putting more money in the pockets of consumers so that they can buy goods and services. It is long past time that we take this critical step forward for our economy."
"The two big things she is for are going to present real problems for us. Commuter rail? Where is the money going to come from and we haven't raised the minimum wage for a long time in this state because frankly it's a jobs killer,'' said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley.
-On health care, Hassan touted "we have already worked together to provide that peace of mind, with more than 30,000 Granite Staters receiving coverage through our bipartisan health care expansion plan. This uniquely New Hampshire solution is helping reduce uncompensated care and the resulting cost-shifting to New Hampshire's families and businesses. And we must recognize that the benefits of our expansion plan are a critical component of our economic future."
-On energy, the governor called for an increased focuse on conservation and efficiency, but added that "we must also acknowledge that we need to increase the supply of natural gas and diversity our energy resources."
-On education, Hassan called for holding down the cost of higher education, saying "we must make sure that tuition at our universities is affordable enough to help attract and retain young people rather than drive them away."
The governor also mentioned making sure that Granite Staters have "access to full-day kindergarten."
-On job creation, Hassan pledged to help innovative businesses expand, saying "we are proposing to update and modernize our securities regulations act, making it easier for innovative businesses to raise the capital they need to grow and flourish."
In urging a new approach to solve the state's problems, Hassan highlighted the accomplishments of Deepika Kurup, a sixteen-year old sophomore at Nashua South High School, who was in attendance at the inauguration ceremony.
"On a family trip to India, Deepika was troubled when she saw children drinking dirty water. So she spent her summer vacation developing a system to purify water using solar energy," Hassan said.
"She discovered that by combining two chemicals and adding sunlight, her sustainable, cost-effective system could destroy bacteria and decontaminate water. As global challenges go, it doesn't get much bigger than the scarcity of safe drinking water. But rather than be daunted by the magnitude of this challenge, Deepika found a new way forward. "
Politics at play
Hovering over Thursday's events and the entire 2015 legislative session is campaign politics. Thanks to the upcoming parade of presidential candidates to the first in the nation primary state, New Hampshire will increasingly be under the national spotlight. And there's also the increasingly intensive guessing game on Hassan's political future - whether she'll run for re-election in 2016 or challenge Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
In an interview Wednesday with NH1, Hassan demurred when asked about her future political plans, instead saying that "I'm very focused right now on our budget and the legislative session and that's where I intend to place my focus."
"My job as the governor of New Hampshire is the best job anywhere," Hassan added.
Despite the comment, state Democratic leaders are keen on convincing Hassan to move on, believing she is the only popular politician who could knock off Ayotte, a rising star in the national GOP.
A veteran Granite State Republican strategist believes Hassan hasn't made up her mind.
"The person most uncertain about the move in 2016 is Maggie Hassan. I'm convinced she hasn't made her mind up. If she took political advice from me and I'd probably be the last one, I'd say do all you can to accomplish a great deal in this first year because it sets you up well no matter what your decision,'' said Tom Rath, a former state attorney general.