Cook On Concord: New York’s Pataki, Kansas’ Brownback test N.H. waters

More presidential candidates came to New Hampshire in the last couple of weeks to test the waters. One was the governor of New York, George Pataki.

Historically, the governor of New York occupies an important place in American politics. In the 1900s, two Roosevelts, Al Smith, Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller and Mario Cuomo all figured in presidential politics.

Add to the prominence of New York governors the fact that they all have presided over a state that is in some ways similar to running the country, there being so many parts of New York, and the training a governor of that state gets for national office is interesting to contemplate. Indeed, state executives have been more successful than legislators in recent history in attaining the presidency.

With this as background, George Pataki came to New Hampshire on April 27 and 28 to meet with groups, large and small. His largest appearance was at the April 28 Politics & Eggs breakfast at C.R. Sparks in Bedford.

Pataki is largely unknown to New Hampshire voters, except as a figure in the newspapers or on television, especially after September 11, 2001. Frankly, he has appeared somewhat stiff and colorless in the press and the nature of the serious matters discussed at the time of the World Trade Center attack did not afford him much opportunity to be light, engaging and funny.

One of the great advantages of the New Hampshire primary is the opportunity to see candidates up close and in person. In this light, Pataki is obviously intelligent (Yale University and Columbia Law School), engaging, funny and on top of his facts. Apparently speaking without notes, he addressed the subject of homeland security and answered questions on many topics.

He pointed out what has been done in New York after 9/11 to shore up security, add police, reinforce federal efforts at border security and what he has done to make the streets safe overall.

He also pointed out that we need to fight terrorism wherever it exists, especially overseas, and expressed support for the war in Afghanistan, and somewhat for the war in Iraq.

Pataki energetically recounted what he has done in New York in other areas, with over $100 billion in tax cuts, cuts in the state work force, research efforts for business that have resulted in 600,000 more private sector jobs and the emergence of regional efforts in technology and alternate fuels.

Pataki’s address was attended by many reporters, notably from New York. Interviewers wanted to know whether he had a chance in the New Hampshire primary and were assured by many that at this juncture, everybody has a chance. Pataki has engaged media and political advisers familiar with New Hampshire politics and obviously is serious about his exploratory efforts.

Given the importance of New York state, the experience of Governor Pataki, his obvious charm, wit and energy, it is apparent that he should be taken seriously in this effort. Whether his candidacy can be differentiated sufficiently to put him in the front of the pack has yet to be demonstrated but those considering whom to support should give him serious attention.

Whether Pataki’s rather moderate positions on social issues will disqualify him in the minds of voters in other parts of the country is a matter he will have to address and seek to explain as he goes forward.

Also coming to town was the aforementioned Senator Brownback. Brownback, a very conservative Republican, is known for his stance against abortion. Speaking at Southern New Hampshire University on alternate energy sources, he pushed the use of ethanol from agriculture as a renewable alternate energy source. This is not surprising for a Kansan. What sets him apart from the stereotype, however, are his efforts to help eradicate diseases in Africa and his knowledge on how to get dollars turned into medication and delivered to those who are sick in Africa.

When discussing this question at a reception after the appearance, Brownback said he believes in life after birth as well as before and thinks that for a reasonably small investment, many of the problems in Africa can be solved. He also pointed out the irony that there are “popular” problems and crises and those that are not on most peoples’ radar screen and need attention.

Personable, intelligent, attractive and sincere, Brownback will be an interesting person to watch, especially if he catches on in Iowa, although his connection to New Hampshire and ability to score in its primary seems a long shot at this point.

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