Looking back on the Benson era
The recent and brief administration of Gov. Craig Benson calls to mind Harry Truman’s explanation of why he considered General Douglas MacArthur “worse than the Cabots and the Lodges—they at least talk to each other before they tell God what to do. Mac tells God right off.” We hazard no guess as to what the former governor may have told God during the past two years, but few mortals were favored with any insight into the governor’s deliberations. Indeed, the former chief boasted that no one ever knew what he was going to do next - “that’s the beauty of me,” he once famously said. Legislators, various state officials and, most importantly, a majority of New Hampshire voters failed either to discern or to appreciate the beauty of the governor or the humility of his self-appraisals. There were too many zigs and zags on where the governor stood on various bills and a bit too much political theater when a bill arrived at the governor’s desk that was not to His Excellency’s liking. A judicious use of the executive veto is a legitimate and often wise use of a governor’s constitutional power. Staging a press conference with a giant veto stamp, as Benson did in his first year in office, was an “in-your-face” affront to the lawmakers. It didn’t help when the governor signed a nearly identical budget a few weeks later. His dealings with state department heads were equally cavalier — and often quirky. Some were given little or no explanation as to why they were not being reappointed. (The state Constitution doesn’t require one, but common courtesy might.) At least one learned of that decision through a message left on the telephone voice mail. The insurance commissioner was replaced, the governor explained, because he wanted someone in that office who would “blow up bridges” — a task that might more logically be assigned to the Department of Transportation or, perhaps, the Army Corps of Engineers. Gov. John Lynch may bring a different style to the governor’s office, though the substance remains a mystery. The next few weeks should give us some idea of how the new governor intends to bring about a repeal of the state property tax, provide for an adequate funding of education, keep his pledge against a general sales or income tax and cope with an anticipated $300 million deficit. All we can say at this point is that Governor Benson has left him with a tough act to follow. Let’s hope he doesn’t follow too closely.