Fergus Cullen: A lonely Lynch lectures the Legislature in his last big speech
John Lynch doesn't seem to be having as much fun being governor these days as he used to. After seven years in office — the longest tenure of any New Hampshire governor since the early 1800s — the man who took the podium in Representatives Hall this week to give his fourth and final State of the State address sounded frustrated and disappointed.
"There's a harshness in the air, in the tone and nature of our communication, and particularly within this building," Lynch said, sounding like a parent let down and embarrassed by the behavior of his teenagers.
Gov. Lynch is not a man of passion or charisma, let alone public anger. A plodding speaker, his tone and demeanor are invariably even and deliberate, his gestures a bit awkward and mechanical. For a guy who doesn't get animated, his speech this week passed for heated.
Reading through the governor's collected works of eight inaugural and State of the State addresses, they all read like different drafts of the very same speech. Here's the formula: recognize your wife; honor those serving in the military; talk about education, health insurance, workforce development, the environment and current transportation projects; discuss a modest new initiative and your weakness for subsidizing green businesses; thank public employees. The only thing that changes in the fill-in-the-blank Lynch speech template is which type of natural disaster to reference. This year it was back to floods.
All his speeches are sprinkled with references to bipartisanship, cooperation, and, above all, working together. The governor used the word "together" in the closing two sentences of all eight of his major addresses over the years; even the summations are the same. In his 2006 State of the State address, he employed "together" 15 times to describe his working relationship with the Legislature.
The difference this year was how isolated and alone the governor was when he said "together." The Republican Legislature he worked with in his first term did cooperate with him. He had to rein in the liberal Democratic majorities of his next two terms. This Legislature is openly hostile, and the audience's body language showed it. The best the governor can do with legislation is stop the worst bills, as he sees them, from becoming law. Often he can't even do that against three-to-one, veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. This can't be satisfying or fulfilling for the governor, and the frustration came out in his speech.
Two years ago, Gov. Lynch congratulated a Democratic Legislature for having made "difficult" but "necessary" spending cuts during a recession. This week he chided Republican legislators for being "shortsighted" in cutting spending he favors, especially in higher education. He blamed Republican cuts for causing a slight uptick in the dropout rate. He criticized their decision to cut the tobacco tax as "nonsensical."
Throughout the lecture, the Republican-dominated audience responded mostly with indifference. House Speaker Bill O'Brien, sitting on a couch behind the governor's left shoulder and looking slightly bored, hardly reacted to anything the governor said. O'Brien's expression dismissed the governor's plaintive recommendations as all but irrelevant.
Even when the governor did receive some bipartisan applause for his positions, it was muted and hardly universal in any part of the chamber, right, left or center. For the sixth consecutive year, Lynch had the political courage to voice his support for a constitutional amendment about education funding, but the issue continues to divide Republicans and Democrats alike. Same goes for the expansion of gambling, which the governor opposes. About the only topic that drew an inclusive bipartisan ovation came when the governor ad-libbed a line expressing hope that the Patriots win this weekend's Super Bowl. Other than that, they didn't agree about much.
Before the speech, the Dartmouth Aires a cappella group sang a medley of songs by the rock group Queen including "(Find Me) Somebody to Love." For Gov. Lynch, that musical interlude might have been the most enjoyable, and most fitting, part of the entire program.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.