Republican candidate for governor Andrew Hemingway will have to read this column online. On Wednesday afternoon he flew to San Francisco to participate in the Coin Congress, a gathering of Bitcoin advocates. Its slogan: “A culture of individuals ready to break the mold.” Hemingway presents his campaign the same way.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, whom he hopes to unseat, “has no plan, no agenda,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “Her State of the State speeches are all Skittles and rainbows.”
Hassan’s catch-phrase is “innovation,” which Hemingway finds laughable. “Her idea of economic development is to get business people around a table like this and have a meeting,” he said. The state needs ideas and leadership, not slogans and make-work meetings, says the 32-year-old.
“It’s pretty simple what New Hampshire needs to get our economy started again,” he said. He then presented a series of detailed white papers explaining major tax and regulatory reforms that he proposes.
First is scrapping the state’s business enterprise tax, business profits tax and Medicaid enhancement tax and replacing them with a “business flat tax” of 2 percent, which would apply to nonprofits as well as for-profit businesses.
To reduce energy costs, which are hurting economic growth, Hemingway would abolish the Public Utilities Commission and devolve many regulatory responsibilities to local governments. To improve K-12 education, he would devolve the issue to local governments, letting them select their own curricula and run their own systems free of state involvement.
He supports right to work, opposes any state involvement in marriage, and says the state should impose no restrictions on gambling, letting localities decide the issue. Hemingway’s agenda sounds more like a libertarian than a Republican one. On issue after issue, he says “this is about free markets” and “I believe in competition.” To improve education, the economy, health care, the answer is the same: competition.
“That doesn’t equal anarchy,” he said. “It doesn’t equal no government. It equals limited government. It’s really that simple.”
Passing such an agenda, though, would be anything but simple.
First, one has to get elected. Hemingway, the first Republican to file for governor this year, has seen the entire state GOP establishment line up behind former BAE Systems CEO Walt Havenstein. The former chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, Hemingway has always been anti-establishment, which has closed a lot of doors within the party. Then there are the questions, which helped derail his 2013 campaign for state GOP chairman, about his consulting practices. They might explain why he has few high-profile endorsements.
Hemingway ran Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign in New Hampshire. Afterward, in the fall of 2012, he ran a group called 4RG, billed as a group raising money to elect a Republican governor. Politico reported in October 2012 that 4RG was one of several conservative organizations raising money on the pitch of helping U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. Politico called them “scams” because they sent no money to West, though their pitches asked for money to help West’s reelection. One of the groups was 4RG.
Hemingway told Politico that he was focused on helping elect Ovide Lamontagne, that year’s Republican candidate for governor. When the reporter asked about a 4RG email purporting to raise money for West, Hemingway said he had a deal to give the money to Western Representation PAC. That PAC’s strategist, Dustin Stockton, told Politico, “We don’t have a deal.”
Recalling that episode and the small amount of money 4RG raised in 2012, some Republicans say privately that Hemingway has the right ideas, but he is not the right man for the job. However, there is a sense among some in the party that 2014 gives Hemingway a chance to prove he has grown up.
One test, I was told by a high-profile Republican, is whether he can make the switch from criticizing others to focusing on what he brings to the table. In a 90-minute interview Wednesday, Hemingway never mentioned opponent Walt Havenstein unless asked. He spoke of his own ideas, going negative only when talking about Gov. Hassan. It was, perhaps, a sign of a changing Andrew Hemingway.
If this is not Hemingway’s year, well, he is only 32. For someone with Hemingway’s ambition, winning the nomination for governor at that age would be a dream. But losing the nomination respectably wouldn’t be so bad either.
Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. His columns run on Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewhampshire.