Cook on Concord

The Red Sox win the World Series. The voters of New Hampshire defeat a governor after one term. Both recent events occurred for the first time since 1918 and 1926, respectively.

On Nov. 2, New Hampshire was one of only a couple, if not the only, state to change the party whose presidential candidate it endorsed in 2000 by voting for John Kerry by a slim but decisive margin. This indicated that New Hampshire and New England are certainly not reflective of most states in the United States, as virtually all of the central, mountain, southern and non-coastal western states voted for President Bush.

Approximately 30 percent of New Hampshire’s voters voted for a 94-year-old woman for the U.S. Senate against the third most senior member of the Republican Senate leadership, Judd Gregg. This somewhat surprising fact seems to indicate that there were a lot of straight Democratic ballots cast in the election. That fact, coupled with remarkable dissatisfaction among Republicans and independents with first-term Gov. Craig Benson provided enough votes so that he lost to newcomer John Lynch, a centrist Democrat who now faces the task of rebuilding the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government.

Benson’s election night actions — leaving his supporters stranded without a word — did nothing to soften his abrasive image, which had been repaired somewhat during the campaign in which he performed well in debates and public appearances.

No newspaper used the following headline which might have come to mind: “Voters to Benson: You’re Fired,” but that in fact is what happened. Traditionally, New Hampshire voters have afforded first-term governors a second term since our two-year term is not deemed sufficient time to effect a program. Benson’s style, problems with appointments and apparent ethical issues, demonstrated and rumored, all combined to do him in. Substantial numbers of Republicans joined the “Republicans for Lynch” effort, making it seem a bipartisan effort. Lynch will now have to work with Republican-dominated legislative and executive bodies, which changed in the election as well.


In the Executive Council races, three of which were contested, Republican incumbent David Wheeler of Milford was defeated by former N.H. Sen. Deborah Pignatelli of Nashua.

Democrat Pignatelli will join four Republicans on the council, which traditionally has cooperated with whatever governor is in office, as the majority of items that come before them are routine business.

In the Senate, where Democrats went into the election with six of the 24 members after a Republican landslide two years ago, they were thought to have a shot at electing as many as 10.

If recounts do not change the results, they will probably have eight of the 24. GOP Senator Russell Prescott of Kingston was defeated by Maggie Hassan of Exeter. David Gottesman of Nashua edged out GOP Rep. Harry Haytayan of Hollis in a tight race that resulted in a 140-vote margin to put a Democrat in a seat formerly held by Republican Jane O’Hearn, if a recount does not change the result.

With two-thirds of the Senate, the Republicans remain firmly in control, tempting Democrats to claim they are too few to have any influence. However, with a Democratic governor, they will be critical in helping him accomplish his goals and their ability to work with the GOP majority becomes more important than ever in that effort.

In the House, the overwhelming Republican majority was reduced by a number of seats. Democrats will have more influence and will have a new leader, Peter Burling having moved on to the Senate. There will be many new faces in leadership on the Democratic side, while the assumption is that the GOP leadership will stay the same.

Speaker Gene Chandler’s troubles because of fund-raising matters may change that situation, but his team appears to be in control now. There may be enough moderate Republicans who can join with the increased Democratic minority to give Governor-elect Lynch a manageable House of Representatives.

But in the next two years, as always in New Hampshire government, there are so many players, and power is spread to so many entities, that consensus and cooperation are the required tools to get anything significant accomplished. Lynch’s style commends him in this situation, as did former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen’s.

Governing for the next two years will be affected by the election returns and the people elected are expected by their constituents to get something done.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

Categories: News