For Hassan, Some Administrative Lessons from Lynch

Charlie Arlinghaus

January 2, 2013

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader


As Gov. Maggie Hassan takes over the ship of state, many of the management efforts of Gov. John Lynch’s four terms hold practical lessons for her, especially for her next six months in office.

Gov. Lynch is the most recent man to serve four terms as the state’s chief executive (By the way, the first four-termer in the state’s history? My friend Josiah Bartlett).

In New Hampshire, the role of the governor can be divided into two segments: on one side, the governor is an administrator, a sort of city manager for state government. This area is often seen as Lynch’s greatest strength. His approach to administrative management is one that the incoming governor can emulate.

Because New Hampshire’s executive branch is independent of the governor in many ways (as opposed to a cabinet-style executive branch common in most states), the governor’s ability to select managers is limited. In Hassan’s case, many of her most critical department heads aren’t up for appointment for years, in some cases for another three years.

Lynch, over time, changed every department head, but the way he did it provides a good lesson. None of his appointments involved anyone seen as having a political future or as being rewarded for long service to Lynch’s political party. Few appointments were controversial because most had experience in the field they were being appointed to and were seen as competent managers rather than politicians.

A small number of his fellow Democrats were even critical of the governor for not doing enough to reward the party faithful. This sort of partisan griping generally speaks well of a governor. Early in her tenure, the incoming governor will have a chance to demonstrate her administrative mindset. The position of commissioner of resources and economic development is vacant, and under the commissioner the director of economic development is also vacant. After the budget, doing something about economic development is probably the most important task in the first weeks of the governor’s term.

The second half of the governor’s job is not administrative but might be described as policy and leadership. This half of the job was less dear to Lynch’s heart and might be an area in which the new governor will chart a different course.

Lynch always seemed comfortable as a manager, doing things such as checking on road projects after flooding or worrying about administrative qualifications. On policy, he seemed much more content to let the Legislature, whether it had a Republican or Democratic majority, play itself out before he offered an opinion.

Lynch was often seen as having been done with the budget after he delivered his budget address. We think of Rep. Marjorie Smith or Sen. Chuck Morse, Rep. Ken Weyler or Sen. Lou D’Allesandro as prime movers on the last four budgets. On many other issues, Gov. Lynch’s opinion was reserved while he studied the issue and waited to see how legislative deliberations went.

That detachment may have been possible for John Lynch when one party or the other had control of both legislative houses and was likely to chart its own course anyway. It would be a huge mistake for Hassan to be similarly disengaged. It may also be impossible.

Today, one party controls the House and the other party controls the Senate. They have very different ideas on how to govern. On many issues, the status quo will prevail because the Senate and House will be unable to agree on any change. But budgets are somewhat different.

A budget of some sort has to be passed. This isn’t Washington, which can go without a budget for four or five years at a time. In New Hampshire, the budget must be balanced and passed. That will almost certainly require a new governor spending political capital and engaging with the Legislature to find compromises.

This should be easier for Hassan. Her political experience is legislative. She comes to the State House as an insider. She served in the Senate with many of the people who are there now, worked on budgets, and saw the good, the bad and the ugly in the halls of the legislative building at midnight the night a budget was due.

Hassan will ultimately form her own executive personality, but Lynch’s term provides important lessons, both good and bad.