Cook on Concord
Gov.-elect John Lynch continues to shape his upcoming administration. While the ceremonial aspects of planning the inauguration are fun and full of adrenaline, the real business of government became apparent as department heads presented their proposed budgets to legislative committees in late November.
The size of the economic problem facing the state has not changed because a new governor has been elected, and the governor-elect was careful to urge fiscal constraint if things are going to be manageable.
In that connection, Commissioner John Stephen of Health and Human Services received the go-ahead to make preliminary contact with the federal government concerning Medicaid funds. However, the details of his new Medicaid health plan will get close scrutiny and require legislative approval before they are implemented. Lynch has been careful neither to reject nor accept all of the details of the plan which undoubtedly will evolve as it is discussed and evaluated.
On an interesting exit note, Gov. Craig Benson, now a lame duck, submitted a host of nominations to the Executive Council for approval prior to his departure. They included several candidates for various district judgeships around the state. Benson claimed that he was making these because of the need to bring staffing levels up to their full complement, and that he had been urged to do so by the heads of the Supreme and District Court systems.
There was some debate about that rationale. The real controversy, however, came on the quality and identity of the nominations. There has been a tradition in district court judgeships that the judges live in the districts where the courts are located, and Benson’s appointments did not meet that criteria in all cases. Likewise, certain background factors of some nominees were called into question.
On Dec. 1, the Executive Council approved the judges, demonstrating the philosophical flexibility of the majority of Republican Executive Councilors.
More importantly, Benson nominated potential officeholders in the executive branch that will soon be headed by Lynch.
Notably among these nominations was one for commissioner of education.
Governor Benson nominated Newfound Area School District Superintendent Dr. John Graziano to succeed Nicholas Donohue. This is notable in that it is the first time a governor has had the opportunity to appoint an education commissioner. Also, since the commissioner serves for a term, confirmation of Graziano would require Lynch to work with someone he did not appoint in the important education position. Lynch will have the opportunity to consider whether to keep or replace state Board of Education Chair Fred Bramante, who does have a term concurrent with the governor’s.
As a matter of good government, when a governor has been defeated, he or she should not nominate and the council should not confirm nominations, giving the new governor maximum flexibility. However, good government and politics are not always consistent.
On the legislative front, what seemed apparent one column ago turned into dust.
Gene Chandler, renominated by the Republican caucus, announced on Nov. 29 that he would not be a candidate for speaker of the House, after the Legislative Ethics Committee voted to bring certain charges forward surrounding his fund-raising committee and the non-reporting of proceeds from fund-raisers known as “Corn Roasts.”
This threw the House into turmoil, coming two days before the House organizational meeting on Dec. 1.
Michael Whalley, the deputy speaker, announced that he was a candidate for the speakership. There was some rumor that Chandler had made the decision to step down sometime before he announced it, giving Whalley the opportunity to campaign for the office.
In any event, Whalley appeared to have had a head start.
Other candidates included Representative Ken Weyler, a conservative veteran, and former House Speaker Douglas Scamman, returning to the House after a 14-year absence. Also running was newly selected Democratic Leader James Craig, an attorney from Manchester.
In a surprising upset, Scamman won the speakership on the second ballot with the support of the Democrats and Weyler supporters.
All of this intrigue is fascinating and good copy for slow news days. So are such poignant transition events as having both Governor Benson and Governor-Elect Lynch on the same stage when the Red Sox came to town for a victory celebration in Manchester. The obvious poignancy of defeat and the enthusiasm of victory showed on the faces of the respective governors, but both conducted themselves as adults, as would be expected. Transition is awkward but also a time of hope and optimism.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.