December 04. 2012 10:17PM

NH GOP looks to the future

New Hampshire Union Leader

Executive Councilor Raymond Wieczorek, right, laughs with Cliff Hurst, vice chairman of the NH GOP, during the Josiah Bartlett Dinner Tuesday night in Concord. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
CONCORD - The Republican Party must get back to its principles and do a better job of communicating them to people in order to succeed in the future, three former Republican New Hampshire governors told an audience at the Grappone Conference Center.

"It's hard to give a remedy if you don't know what the disease is," said former Gov. John Sununu, who was joined in the discussion, which was hosted by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, by former Govs. Stephen Merrill and Craig Benson.

"I think that what the party has to do in this state is get back to those principles and explain to the people why those principles made this state good," he said.

Merrill said a "cult of personality" helped President Barack Obama win reelection.

"Certainly, Barack Obama did not get reelected based on his performance," Merrill said. "But his personality, particularly in campaign mode, is something that they liked and were attracted to and helped drive that base.

"What Republicans need to do in New Hampshire to bring it back here is we need to get back to basics because the next election may not be about personality," he said. "In fact, I guarantee you it won't be because every election is different from every other."

Benson said the Democratic Party tries to appeal to people by promising "stuff" and convincing people that the government's role is to provide for people, rather than allow people the freedom to succeed on their own.

"What the Democratic Party does is it takes people's dreams away, period," he said. "We need to do is do a better job of connecting with people to let them know that in America, and New Hampshire especially, you can make your dream happen and you should make your dream happen."

Each former governor said he had to work to make sure no broad-based income tax was imposed. Merrill said that, after he took office in 1993, members of the Republican Party told him they would "cover" him if he imposed an income tax.

"I had to fight the perception that an income tax was the only thing that would solve New Hampshire's budget," he said.

Each governor was also asked by the moderator, former gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith, what "unexpected" thing happened during their tenure. And each one said Benson had it the worst when the famed Old Man of the Mountain collapsed in May 2003.

"I'll never forget the day I got the call that the old man fell down," he said. "It had stood for 10,000 years and it had to fall down? Come on."

Merrill recalled serving on a committee to study the mountain's restoration, which ultimately decided to "leave it the way nature intended."

But it was Sununu who drew the night's biggest laugh when it was his turn.

"I didn't do it," he said.

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Tim Buckland may be reached at