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Oct 21, 2014 2:22 PM

NH1 Debate Preview: NH Gov. Maggie Hassan hopes history repeats itself


CONCORD - The odds and history are clearly on the side of Governor Maggie Hassan.

But after a rocky start, retired defense contractor Walt Havenstein recovered and has already made this a more competitive race than many observers thought it would be.

New Hampshire is one of only two states in the country without a four-year term for governor; Vermont is the other.

But historically voters have looked very kindly on any incumbent's request to get a second, two-year term.

In 2004, Republican Governor Craig Benson was the only governor in the past 90 years who voters denied and there were extenuating circumstances.

Benson's administration was marked by several scandals and he often did battle with a Legislature of his own party, the first chief executive to veto a state budget in more than a generation.

Hassan, 56, has faced some obstacles but not hardly the drama of the brief Benson years.

She did have a different experience than her predecessor, popular Governor John Lynch who set a modern day record by serving four terms in office. Hassan, an Exeter Democrat had to deal with a divided Legislature, friendly Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives and more combative Republicans running the State Senate.

In large part her actions in response has been used by both sides to frame this race.

Havenstein, 65, said all of Hassan's claimed accomplishments were the work of Senate Republicans who bailed her out.

Hassan points to lawmakers approving a two-year, balanced state budget that restored spending cuts the Republican-led Legislature had made in 2011.

But Havenstein says Hassan embraced the spending plan a month after she had criticized as ``draconian'' the Senate GOP budget that was quite similar to the final version.

Likewise, Hassan points to expansion of Medicaid health insurance for low-income adults as another signature achievement.

Havenstein notes the final product to utilize private insurance was the brainchild of Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, to replace what Hassan originally proposed, a government-run only health insurance open.

An assortment of more well-known Republicans turned down the chance to run against Hassan such as former Congressman Charles Bass, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Bedford businessman Chuck Rolocek.

Then the party elders turned to Havenstein, best known for having been the state CEO of BAE Systems in Nashua during years of booming defense industry spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Havenstein said he managed a budget at BAE three times the size of the state budget and would instill a teamwork culture to make state government more efficient.

While Havenstein wanted to talk about his New Hampshire work, the Democratic Party focused on his tenure of SAIC, a Virginia-based defense contractor.

Havenstein took that job at the height of the national recession which caused SAIC to lose tens of millions a year in federal contracts. As a result, the company's stock plummeted by 30 percent and the firm shed more than 5,000 jobs while Havenstein was in charge.

Even before that criticism, Havenstein's very candidacy was put in jeopardy. NH 1 Chief Political Correspondent Kevin Landrigan broke the story that Havenstein had claimed in-state status in Maryland to receive two tax breaks in 2010 and 2011 while the state Constitution required he live here for the past seven years.

The Ballot Law Commission voted, 3-2, to keep Havenstein on the ballot even though its supportive chairman called it a "close case.''
The cornerstone of Havemstein's campaign has been his plan to create 25,000 private sector jobs by mid-2017. He's been critical of Hassan's management of the economy noting the state's job growth of less than 1 percent in 2013 was lower than neighboring, New England states.

Hassan said her move to dramatically increase state aid to higher education and eliminate most of previous cuts to it led to a tuition freeze at four-year colleges and a five percent cut this year in charges in the two-year community college system. She created a task force to best study how to foster more future graduates of studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that can help fuel a recovery of cutting-edge manufacturing fields.

Havenstein said he will push to cut the state's corporate tax on business profits by eight-tenths of 1 percent that he said would encourage more employers to add jobs. Hassan has warned the tax cut would blow a $90 million hole in the next state budget and likely lead to a return to the GOP-driven cuts to higher education, human services and public safety.

To make up for any revenue loss, Havenstein said his budget plan would cut net state spending by 2.5 percent though he's failed to identify how he would accomplish those reductions without changes to existing state services.

In addition to the sluggish economy, New Hampshire's credit rating was put on alert after a lawsuit by the state's hospitals against a tax on Medicaid expenses put in jeopardy an essential source of revenue.

Hassan negotiated privately with hospital executives a settlement to the lawsuit; only St. Joseph Hospital of Nashua agreed to sign on to the agreement. Going forward, the tax starting in mid-2015 will bring in about $50 million less over a two-year period than the existing tax has.

The governor also reached agreement to a lawsuit that advocates for developmentally-impaired adults had brought against the state alleging it failed to offer enough treatment in the community. The agreement commits the state to spending another $25 million a year.

Hassan has said some of these demands for higher spending could be met through her support of one high-end casino in the southern part of the state. The State Senate approved legislation last spring for a two-casino plan but the House of Representatives retained its long opposition to casinos and killed it.

Havenstein has said casinos are not a reliable source of income for the state, requires the state to incur social costs and he's been against Hassan's plan.


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