2005: Gov. John Lynch
CONCORD--Gov. John H. Lynch, who directed recovery in flood zones, was key in keeping the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard open and whose biggest challenge -- preserving the first-in-the-nation Presidential primary -- looms, is the 2005 New Hampshire Union Leader Citizen of the Year .
The annual designation goes to the New Hampshire individual or group of individuals having the biggest effect on the state during the year. The newspaper began awarding the title last year, when it named New Hampshire's armed services members for the honor.
Lynch, 53, a Hopkinton Democrat, won his first bid for public office in 2004.
After one year, he enjoys astronomic approval ratings among voters and gets high marks among legislative leaders as well. Lynch says he stuck by his promise to set high ethical standards and to work for results outside the usual political jousting match.
"I am glad we were able to set a new tone for state government, where we put politics to one side and made progress for the people of New Hampshire, and worked in a bipartisan way. I believe when we do that, we can really accomplish some significant things," he said in a recent interview.
Lynch worked with an all-Republican Congressional delegation on some problems, and with Republican leadership in the State House on others. He had his share of victories, such as the Shipyard and eliminating donor towns from school funding law.
He also stumbled, when his effort to repeal the state property tax failed at the last minute, and in a fight over E-ZPass start-up.
When Lynch talks about his work over the past year, he shares the credit.
When Alstead and southwestern New Hampshire were hit by floods in October, he cancelled a trade mission and spent a week on the scene overseeing recovery. He won widespread praise for his approach. But throughout, he praised the work of highway crews, National Guard, local police and fire crews, and almost anyone else on the scene.
While officials in New Orleans were pointing fingers over hurricane response failures, Lynch was handing out cards that carried personal cell phone numbers for him and National Guard officials. He maintains interest in the area, and brought his wife to a Christmas Party in Alstead two weeks ago.
Ask Lynch about the shipyard, which the Department of Defense wanted to shut to save money, and he credits members of Congress, civic leaders, shipyard management and the workers themselves for the result.
"There were people who came to my office and said we should not bother trying to fight this, not to waste our time, and to start work on a transition plan," Lynch said. But he fought to preserve the yard's 200-year tradition and its $350 million annual payroll. In the end, the yard was saved by a 7-1 vote of the base realignment commission.
Lynch repeats the phrase "working together" as he looks back at his first year in office, whether it was flood work, school funding or health insurance. Most of his successes, he says, came from group dynamics.
"(The) power of this office, if one chooses to exercise it, is the ability to bring people together.
I think it's the right way to get things done," he said.
A successful businessman, and former dean of admissions at Harvard Business School, Lynch said "the style that I had as CEO is the same style I have as governor -- I work with people, I respect them, I listen to their ideas, and ultimately bring people together to accomplish specific goals."
In 2006, he says he will work to raise the dropout age to 18, pass a Child Protection Act, and protect the Presidential primary. He plans a Spring summit among educators, business, law enforcement and others to develop programs for high schoolers affected by the dropout age change. And he says he'll work with national party officials as well as candidates on the Primary.
He won't discuss re-election plans, but says, "I love being governor and I hope to continue in this job for some time."
Unlike his predecessor Craig Benson, Lynch is not one to shoot from the hip. He takes time to stake out a position, and stays on message once he's done it. Since he was on the campaign trail, for example, Lynch has referred to health insurance reform as "repealing the onerous provisions of Senate Bill 110." Child sex offenders, he repeatedly promises, "will go to prison for a long, long time."
He says his biggest surprise in government, "is how partisan some people can be."
He mentions the launch of E-ZPass as an example. The program got tied up between the Department of Transportation, House, Senate and Executive Council. If it seemed messy at the time, he says, "whenever a business decision like that gets political, it turns out to be problematic," he said.
Lawmakers who fought him and the council over low-priced E-ZPass transponders say the bargain sales hurt the turnpike system's finances, and could make future construction bonds more costly.
Two of those often who sit across the table from him agree that Lynch puts the search for good policy ahead of political affiliation.
Senate President Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, has known Lynch since their days as students at the University of New Hampshire.
"He listens to people, he talks to people, he gathers information and he makes a decision," Gatsas said. "Talking to people certainly makes sense because it gives you an opportunity to find out what the people of New Hampshire are thinking."
Speaker of the House Douglas Scamman, R-Stratham, said he gets along well with Lynch.
"He's a very easy-going guy who personally is quite non-political. He brings a lot of warmth and positive personal relations with people who come through. All the legislators I talk to say they enjoy talking with him," he said.
While Republicans were encouraged by Lynch's open approach, Democrats weren't quite as happy at first, said House Minority Leader James Craig.
"Sometimes we didn't know where he was going, and that frustrated some of the Democrats," Craig said. "Part of it, I think, was that he wasn't sure how things were going to play out, so he didn't want to play his cards."
He said Lynch enjoys meeting with people from all backgrounds. "I give him credit for changing the whole flavor of the State House," Craig said. "He understands it's important to reach out to everybody. It's those little things that will make you or break you, and he's pretty good with those little things."
Sen. Jack Barnes, R-Raymond, said he differs with Lynch on a number of fronts. But he still likes him.
"I'd go to a ballgame and have a hot dog and a couple of beers with him anytime."