N.H. voters sent us a message about what they want
Elected officials need to listen and pay attention to the feedback we received on Nov. 4
New Hampshire’s elected officials had our annual performance review on Nov. 4. Our bosses – New Hampshire voters – gave us some clear feedback and expectations for how to succeed moving forward.
Like the performance reviews that many New Hampshire employers and employees participate in every year, elected officials need to listen and pay attention to the feedback we received. How well we listen will determine how successful we are in continuing to move our state forward.
Here are four key lessons from the 2014 election results to guide our work in 2015 and beyond:
• Keep working together. Once again, New Hampshire citizens have given us a state government divided between Democrats and Republicans. They expect us to work together.
This is not new. The extraordinary accomplishments of the past two years – such as expanding Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands of citizens, freezing university system tuition, doubling the research and development tax credit, and more – all emerged from policymakers of both parties working together.
The secret is to start by identifying goals and outcomes that are broadly shared. I believe the most pressing issue facing New Hampshire is how we attract and retain more people, businesses, young families, college graduates, entrepreneurs and startups to fuel our economic growth and balance our aging population. That is a goal embraced by leaders from both parties and by businesses and nonprofits. It transcends partisanship.
Of course, sometimes the inputs for how we get there fall along traditional lines. Many Republicans start by looking at reforming business taxes, and many Democrats favor spurring demand through a higher minimum wage, to name just two. Other inputs – cutting the cost of higher education, easing commutes (I-93, rail) and tackling energy costs – are widely popular across party lines. It will take negotiation between state leaders to craft the right mix of inputs that can pass political muster to achieve our goals. Doing so is a duty every elected official holds.
• Voters value progress on local issues more than national or generic partisan fights. Three leaders – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster – exceeded all pundit expectations and brought home impressive wins amid a national election that was stacked against them in a historic way. How? Listen to what they touted in their campaign: Images of Jeanne Shaheen’s work to save the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard; Maggie Hassan’s success doubling the state R&D tax credit and freezing university system tuition; Annie Kuster’s work for a New Hampshire National Guard veteran, or a brewery in Woodstock.
Meanwhile, Republican state senators who drew right-wing primary opponents after working across party lines on select issues (like Dave Boutin and Nancy Stiles) triumphed in both their primaries and in the general election.
Voters reward progress and the most fertile ground for it in 2015 and 2016 will be on local topics unique to New Hampshire. The issues being pushed by out-of-state interest groups are often merely a recipe for wasting time.
• New Hampshire citizens trust Governor Hassan’s leadership. Policymakers should too. She was outspent 2-1, including all outside groups, and the final UNH poll predicted a one-point race. She won by more than five points. Meanwhile, famously independent voters gave her a wide margin of support at the same time they supported Republican majorities in the legislature and the Executive Council.
The point is New Hampshire voters like and trust Governor Hassan and the accomplishments we’ve made together as a state these past two years. They want us to keep moving forward.
• After the extraordinary progress in the last two years, we have a lot of work ahead of us, just in making sure we move forward. There is zero room for fights over whether to undo this progress, for obstructionism or for wasting time. We’re on the right path and we need to work together to proceed in a way that is responsible, fiscally prudent and effective.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and work together. Voters told us that’s what they want. It’s up to us to do it.
Democratic Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern was re-elected Nov. 4 to represent 49 towns, from Keene to Rochester.