Cook On Concord: Is common-sense leadership a thing of the past?

House Speaker W. Douglas Scamman’s surprise announcement that neither he nor his wife, Rep. Stella Scamman — both Republicans from Stratham — would seek re-election to the New Hampshire House next term was as unexpected as his becoming speaker a year and a half ago.

Propelled to the speaker position for a second time after a hiatus of 14 years, Scamman was the bipartisan choice of many Republicans and most Democrats in the House after former Speaker Gene Chandler withdrew his candidacy in the face of ethics issues.

Scamman showed the common sense, moderate and practical leadership that gets things done. Criticized by many Republicans for being insufficiently partisan, Scamman’s concern was to get the business of the House done, let the committees make policy decisions and consider legislation, and give all 400 members the opportunity to do the job for which their constituents had selected them.

In announcing his decision to retire, Scamman expressed frustration at the increased ideological partisanship that has crept into the House since he last served and expressed the hope that representatives would figure out a way to get along in the future.

In a well-reasoned Union Leader column, Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center, praised Scamman’s leadership. His style is largely that of Republicans of another era, that of proud members of their party who seek to involve everyone in the governing process to get the people’s business done. Under his leadership, the House cooperated with a Democratic governor, produced a balanced budget, helped fashion an education funding plan, and draft a couple thousand bills.

Others who come to mind in that same mold are both Republicans and Democrats. At a recent fund-raising affair, Gov. John Lynch was introduced by former Republican Gov. Walter R. Peterson, who served from 1968 to 1972. Peterson’s tenure in office was cited by Democrat Lynch as the standard to which he and other governors should aspire.

Peterson’s two terms resulted in a complete study of New Hampshire government, the replacement of the stock in trade tax by the business profits tax, and many other measures that modernized state government and made New Hampshire more competitive. His tenure was complemented by the presence in leadership of such moderate statesmen as Stuart Lamprey, Kimon Zachos, James O’Neill, Marshall Cobleigh and David Nixon.

Lynch comes out of the same mold and apparent philosophy. His bipartisan inclusion and style of governing has won Lynch kudos, high approval ratings and an almost non-existent negative rating — valuable assets for a politician going into an election season.

With a virtually unknown Republican opponent, Lynch’s greatest enemy is complacency and the assumption by voters that he will be re-elected so his supporters will not have to work very hard. He will need to guard against that inclination, raise his money, run a spirited campaign and, with the common advice of political consultants to incumbents throughout history, “Run as if you are one vote behind at all times.”


Visiting New Hampshire recently was Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. He struck observers as a moderate, consensus-builder, like Lynch, Peterson and Scamman.

Speaking at a “Politics ‘N Eggs” breakfast at the Bedford Village Inn, Vilsack noted the care with which Iowans and New Hampshirites evaluate presidential candidates and pass judgment and noted that keeping them in the forefront of the process is good for America.

This found a receptive audience in New Hampshire.

Vilsack’s analysis of America’s health-care needs sounded similar to those of another recent visitor, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Vilsack appears reasonable, knowledgeable, intelligent and thoroughly versed in the issues.

If Vilsack, Romney, John McCain, John Engler, Chuck Hagel and other intelligent, sensible people get to be known here, perhaps New Hampshire can contribute to elevating a sensible, moderate and intelligent person who makes consensus and bipartisanship a priority to national leadership. Maybe.

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

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