SO MUCH has happened since the state Republicans’ unexpected triumph on Nov. 3 that it hardly looks like a victory at all anymore.
Bullhorn-blaring protests outside Gov. Chris Sununu’s home over his mask mandate were followed by a quixotic and mercifully short-lived ploy by some Republican House members to impeach the governor over his lawful use of emergency powers.
This was followed in turn by a shambolic Organization Day, where some Republicans refused to wear masks and legislators bickered over the weather, COVID-19, where to sit, State House rules, and whatever else crawled up their backsides.
The unexpected passing of House Speaker Dick Hinch — God rest his soul — last week from this damnable virus is a tragedy on a human level; a chilling reminder that we are all operating on borrowed time, even the most kind, decent, and affable among us.
His passing is a political tragedy, as well. Hinch was seen as one of the few leaders with the talent and temperament to hold the schismatic conglomeration that is today’s GOP together. The death of this veritable embodiment of Republican unity could have dire political consequences.
Regardless of whom House Republicans choose to replace Hinch, they must understand that their thin majority rests on a narrow and specific mandate: protect the New Hampshire Advantage from the twin threats of higher taxes and COVID-19.
The New Hampshire Advantage is always and forever in peril. The pressure to follow some other, far less successful state down the path of higher taxes and more regulations is constant. Those who aim to make New Hampshire just another putrescent Northeast state seek every opportunity to exploit Republican division.
Voters punished state Democrats in November over the party’s cocktail of tax increase proposals, including higher taxes on small and large businesses and a particularly harebrained income tax scheme.
Yet within days of their defeat, which ought to have been humbling, Democrats in Concord ramped up the messaging machine once again with op-eds falsely claiming Republican tax cuts have choked off state revenues.
The other great threat to the New Hampshire Advantage is the deadly virus that upends our personal, professional and family lives.
On this matter, the division is most bitter, even among otherwise like-minded people. Suspicions run deep in some conservative circles that public health measures erode our personal freedom by their very nature.
Meanwhile, at least one state legislator publicly holds his fellow Republicans responsible for Hinch’s death. “Those in our caucus who refused to take precautions are responsible for Dick Hinch’s death,” Rep. William Marsh of Wolfeboro said last week.
Perhaps Hinch’s death can serve as a moment of clarity that mask mandates and other modest measures represent policymakers’ best efforts to stop a pandemic from becoming a cataclysm.
By every measure, Granite Staters insist that elected officials undertake a narrow agenda and execute it effectively. They want responsible fiscal policy and a dedicated effort to end the COVID-19 disruption; in short, they want lawmakers to fortify the New Hampshire Advantage against its two great threats.
According to a recent poll by the UNH Survey Center, 48% of voters say COVID-19 is the most important issue facing New Hampshire. Jobs and the economy (8%) and taxes (7%) were distant second and third. No other issue registered a meaningful mention.
My own HynesSite Influencer survey shows that nearly three-quarters of political insiders believe either balancing the state budget (42%) or speedily distributing a COVID-19 vaccine (30%) is the most important thing for the governor and the General Court to focus on over the next session.
Republican budgets, including business tax cuts, have consistently delivered the responsible fiscal policies the public demands. For example, even during this pandemic-plagued year, the Business Profits Tax and Business Enterprise Tax are performing ahead of projections. This is attributable in part to Gov. Sununu’s prudent reopening of the state’s economy late in the spring.
Nevertheless, the state faces an overall budget shortfall due to COVID-19. Legislators face significant pressure to increase revenues with higher taxes in the next session. A divided GOP makes it more likely they will cave to such pressure.
The result would be disastrous.
As Andrew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy has observed in this newspaper, New Hampshire’s real GDP growth rate over the last 40 years dwarfs that of any other state in New England and the state’s poverty rate is significantly lower.
The New Hampshire Advantage is a choice, not an accident. It is the result of prudent policy decisions guided by a philosophy that believes the government should do a small number of essential things exceptionally well and let communities, churches, families, business owners, civic organizations and individuals take it from there.
As I said, this idea is forever in peril, all the more so when Republican disunity keeps them from protecting it.