Gov. John Lynch (D)
Elected: 2004, term expires Jan. 2011, 3rd term.
Born: Nov. 25, 1952, Waltham, MA .
Education: U of NH, B.A. 1974, Harvard U., M.B.A. 1979, Georgetown U., J.D. 1984.
Family: Married (Susan); 3 children.
Professional Career: Ex. Dir., NH Dem. party, 1975-77; Dir. of Admissions, Harvard Bus. Schl., 1982-86; Partner, consulting firm, 1987-94; Pres. and CEO, Knoll Inc., 1994-2001, Pres., Lynch Group, 2001-04.
John Lynch, a Democrat, was elected governor of New Hampshire in 2004 in his first run for public office. Lynch grew up in Waltham, Mass., the fifth of six children. His father ran a local Boys’ Club and his mother was a schoolteacher. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1974, got an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1979, and earned a law degree from Georgetown University in 1984. He took an interest in politics in college, interned for Democratic Sen. Tom McIntyre in 1975 and not long after became executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic State Committee. He left state politics to attend business school. In 1994, he became president and chief executive of Knoll Inc., a Pennsylvania-based office-furniture maker. He maintained his New Hampshire political network, however, and commuted from Knoll’s headquarters in East Greenville, Pa., to his home in Hopkinton. He also was the president of the University of New Hampshire alumni association. In the mid-1980s and 1990s, Lynch worked for the Merrimack County Democratic Party, contributing to various campaigns and working to establish a New Hampshire chapter of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. In 2001, he left Knoll and later opened his own management consulting firm in Manchester. In 2000, Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen appointed Lynch to the University System of New Hampshire’s Board of Trustees; he served as chairman from 2001 to 2004, when he resigned to run for governor.Lynch challenged incumbent Republican Gov. Craig Benson, a wealthy political outsider who won his first term in 2002 in the state’s most expensive gubernatorial race. A high-tech entrepreneur, Benson was one of three Republican former CEOs elected to New England governorships that year. (Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney and Rhode Island’s Donald Carcieri were the others.) Benson was the only one with the advantage of a Republican-controlled Legislature. He had a rough transition to the public sector, however; his brusque and heavy-handed style alienated legislators from both parties. Nonetheless, the governor fared well in public opinion polls in his first year. Voters gave him high approval ratings for his hard-charging style and his call for a constitutional amendment to limit tax increases. But Benson’s popularity began to fade after frequent missteps and controversies. Several of his appointees were forced to step down for ethical lapses. Benson and his state safety commissioner were accused of interfering with an investigation of sexual-harassment allegations against Attorney General Peter Heed. Benson was ultimately cleared, but the safety commissioner was disciplined. In the Democratic primary, Lynch easily defeated former legislator Paul McEachern, who was making his fourth try for the office. The general election was dominated by two issues: taxes and ethics. In his campaign kickoff speech, Lynch said he would “restore integrity, trust, and a bipartisan spirit” to state government. He highlighted his opposition to a sales or income tax but did back an increase in the cigarette tax. He said he would provide targeted aid to schools while phasing out the state property tax adopted in 1999. Benson hewed to a hard anti-tax position and insisted that Lynch’s plan to repeal the state property tax would lead to a “back-door income tax.” Lynch insisted that existing revenues would enable him to pay for his spending priorities. He focused on what he called Benson’s “culture of corruption,” and pointed out that Benson had been cited twice for having illegal landscaping in front of his beachfront home. The candidates, both multimillionaires, largely self-financed their campaigns. Benson, after spending more than $9 million from his deep pockets in 2002, put up $3.3 million of his own money, out of a total of $4 million raised. Lynch raised $3 million, $2 million of it his own money. That was enough to keep him competitive through Election Day. He won 51%-49%. The election results closely tracked presidential returns that year: Democrat John Kerry ran just 600 votes ahead of Lynch, carrying the state 50%-49% over Republican President George W. Bush. Lynch and Kerry won the same six counties, both carrying western New Hampshire and Concord’s Merrimack County and both losing in Manchester’s Hillsborough County and Rockingham County. Benson became the first freshman governor in 78 years to be denied a second term. Ever the outsider, he failed to give a concession speech or to speak to campaign supporters on election night. In Lynch’s first act in office, he issued an executive order requiring everyone who worked in the governor’s office to file a financial disclosure form that detailed their sources of income, loans of $5,000 or more, the location of real estate holdings other than homes, and businesses that they or their spouses were involved in if the investment was 1% or more of the outstanding stock or securities issued by the business.
|John Lynch (D)||479,042||(70%)|
|Joe Kenney (R)||188,555||(28%)|
|Susan Newell (Lib)||14,987||(2%)|
|John Lynch (D)||44,549||(91%)|
|Katy Forry (D)||4,444||(9%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (74%), 2004 (51%)
His mild-mannered and cautious style offered a marked contrast to Benson and enabled him to work productively with the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lynch stressed the importance of bipartisanship. “I was not elected to represent a party,” he said. In October, the governor drew praise for his leadership when severe flooding devastated parts of southwestern New Hampshire. He flew back from a European trade mission to oversee recovery efforts and surprised homeowners and local officials by handing them laminated cards that included phone numbers of key state and National Guard officials, as well as his own personal cell phone number. Lynch failed to achieve everything he wanted in his first year—he was unable to repeal the statewide property tax, for example—but his work with the state’s congressional delegation to help keep the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard open and his response to the flood led to high approval ratings. He was able to establish an ethics commission for the executive branch; he signed a tough law cracking down on child sexual predators; and he pushed through “Michelle’s Law,” which required health insurers to continue covering severely ill college students whom doctors certified were unable to maintain their status as full-time students. The law was named for a cancer-stricken student who had to continue attending classes to keep her insurance benefits.
Vermont and New Hampshire are the last two states with two-year gubernatorial terms and, Benson the exception, voters in both states are inclined to grant their chief executives a second term. With 70% job-approval ratings, Lynch in 2006 was far ahead of his Republican challenger, state Rep. Jim Coburn. In September 2006, the state Supreme Court ruled that New Hampshire’s system of funding education was unconstitutional because its heavy reliance on local property taxes resulted in inequities in per pupil spending. The court set a June 2007 deadline before it would impose its own financing system. Coburn supported a constitutional amendment to remove control of the education financing system from the courts. Lynch argued that the state could fund the public schools without a sales or income tax and said he would consider a narrowly written constitutional amendment designed to give the state more flexibility. Coburn argued that Lynch’s position left open the possibility of broad-based taxes. But Lynch won 74%-26%, the largest victory ever for a gubernatorial candidate in New Hampshire. Democrats also gained 89 seats in the state House to give them a 239-161 majority, along with their 14-10 majority in the state Senate. For the first time since the Civil War era, New Hampshire had a Democratic Legislature and governor.
In 2007, the Legislature enacted one of Lynch’s priorities, raising the legal school dropout age from 16 to 18, and lawmakers also increased the minimum wage and hiked the cigarette tax. The Legislature repealed the state’s parental-notification abortion law, and Lynch also signed a measure that made New Hampshire the fourth state to allow civil unions. But the state House rejected 253-108 Lynch’s fix for the school financing problem. He proposed a constitutional amendment requiring the state to pay for 50% of school funding, up from 7%, as a way to lessen the schools’ reliance on local property taxes, which varied widely by locality. Even so, Lynch was able to avoid signing an income or sales tax, and in June 2008, the budget included $80 million in bonds for school construction. The November 2008 election was anticlimactic: Lynch beat state GOP Sen. Joseph Kenney 70%-28%, although Republicans gained seats in the state House and reduced Democrats’ majority to 225-175.
Lynch faced new challenges in his third term. When the recession hit New Hampshire hard, the governor was forced to lay off hundreds of state workers and to close the Laconia prison, eight district courts, and several state liquor stores. Also in early 2009, the Legislature considered passing a mandatory seat belt law, which would end New Hampshire’s distinction as the only state without one. The Senate put off action, however. In April 2009, both chambers passed a law legalizing same-sex marriage. He said in a statement that he saw no need for the law since the state had adopted civil unions two years earlier. When the bill arrived on his desk, Lynch said he would sign it provided the Legislature added a clause allowing religious organizations to refuse to conduct same-sex weddings if they contradict their beliefs. In June 2009, the Legislature approved his condition and Lynch signed the bill. He said he had come to agree with “compelling arguments that a separate system is not an equal system.”
Lynch said in 2009 that he would not run for Republican Sen. Judd Gregg’s U.S. Senate seat when it comes up in 2010, and that he had not decided whether to seek another term as governor. No New Hampshire governor has been elected four times since the state extended the term of office to two years in 1880. No one has served longer than six years since Federalist John Gilman won 11 one-year terms from 1794 to 1804.