Government reform: a modest proposal

The commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services should be out of his job. Not because Commissioner John Stephen is not doing a good job. To the contrary, he is one of the few bright spots in state government. But a new governor should get to appoint his own team, which means that all agency heads should be out of a job whenever we elect a governor.

According to the Constitution, the governor “shall be responsible for the faithful execution of the laws.” But governors serve two-year terms, while agency head terms are twice as long. Since the conventional thinking is the governor cannot fire an agency head, this often leaves a governor stuck with agency heads appointed by his predecessor. Which gives rise to an obvious problem if a holdover agency head’s opinion of the faithful execution of a law differs from the governor’s.

Two current examples are Stephen’s Medicaid reforms, which Governor Lynch opposes but Stephen is moving forward with. And Attorney General Kelly Ayotte’s appeal of the state’s parental notification law to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Lynch also opposes.

I happen to agree with Stephen and Ayotte on these issues. But apparently a majority of voters agree with Lynch, and it is their view that should prevail.

While increasing the governor’s term to four years, which is periodically suggested, would make for a more level playing field, it also would make the governor less accountable to the voters. The better solution is to keep the governor’s term at two years, but let new governors nominate their own agency heads.

This would increase the power of the governor, and for the time being lead to policy results with which I don’t agree. But in the long run it would be a good thing because unelected bureaucrats shouldn’t be acting as a check-and-balance to elected officials. On matters of policy, it is the Legislature that is supposed to act as the check-and-balance to the governor, and vice-versa. That allows the voters to settle any disagreements at the next election.

While we’re on the topic of folks who should be out of a job, do we really need 400 state representatives?

For example, in Ward 1 in Manchester where I live, we elect three state reps. Why not just elect one, with a corresponding decrease across the state? This should increase the quality of our representation in Concord. For example, fewer races would allow the voters to become better educated about the candidates, reducing the chances of unknowingly electing empty suits.

The Senate presents just the opposite problem. There are not enough senators, which makes it far too easy for the lobbyists to run the show. Increasing the size of the Senate from its present 24 to 36 should attenuate the influence of lobbyists.

And while we’re at it, can anyone tell me why we need an Executive Council? I’ll grant that it probably seemed like a good idea back in the late 1700s, when the memory of the excesses of royal government was still fresh. But it has been nearly 230 years since our last royal governor, John Wentworth, fled New Hampshire.

We could make the Senate responsible for deciding whether to confirm the governor’s nominees for judges and cabinet positions. Having the Senate perform this role, rather than the far less representative five-person council, would increase the voters’ say over these appointments.

All of this is probably wishful thinking. While death and taxes may be the only things certain in life, I still would advise against holding one’s breath while waiting for politicians to voluntarily relinquish political power.

Ed Mosca is a Manchester attorney and former chairman of that city’s Republican Party.

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