Lynch's Ethics Push Wins Over New Hampshire

 

New Hampshire Gov.-elect John Lynch is an anti-tax, socially moderate Democrat who beat an anti-tax, socially conservative Republican incumbent by stressing one key moral issue: integrity.

It was a coup unmatched in Granite State politics in nearly 80 years the first time since 1926 that New Hampshire voters denied a first-term governor a second two-year term and Lynch achieved it by pounding relentlessly on ethical lapses in Gov. Craig Benson's administration.

He accused the freshman governor of bringing a "culture of corruption" to the Statehouse. He pointed to Benson appointees who left government because of questions about possible conflicts or questionable behavior. He said he would set a higher standard.

"The people of New Hampshire expect great things, they expect change, they expect integrity, they expect to see progress on the issues that matter to them, and that's what I will deliver," Lynch told cheering supporters on election night in repeating his top campaign promise.

A neophyte to elective politics, Lynch, 51, a multimillionaire former business executive, served a term as executive director of the state Democratic Party in the 1970s, when he was just out of college, and later worked on one of ex-Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's campaigns. Former aides to Shaheen, who was national chairwoman of John Kerry's presidential campaign, had prominent positions in Lynch's campaign.

Lynch has a master's degree in business from Harvard and a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He served for a time as admissions director for the Harvard Business School.

But he says his years at Pennsylvania furniture-maker Knoll Inc. gave him the credentials to be New Hampshire's governor.

Lynch engineered a dramatic turnaround at Knoll from 1994 to 2001. During the campaign, he often cited that success in portraying himself as a consensus-builder and a tough but empathetic manager.

"I believe my record shows and my experience at Knoll is a good example that I can keep the eye on the bottom line and still look out for people," he said in a standard campaign line. "That's what I did at Knoll and that's what I would plan to do as governor."

When he took over, he said, the company was losing about $1 million a week and faced closing. A year later, it turned a $64 million profit. He remains on the board of the firm.

Like the conservative governor he is replacing, Lynch says New Hampshire must live within its means and any spending increases must be offset by budget reductions, if necessary. But he accused Benson of having unnecessary and unproductive feuds with the legislature, and said his inclusive style would enable him to accomplish more.

Lynch's campaign ads featured testimonials from Knoll workers praising him for saving their jobs, as well as for starting scholarship and retirement programs and rewarding employees with bonuses.

In an interview with the Concord Monitor last May, Burt Stainar, who hired Lynch to turn Knoll around, called his approach "down-to-earth" with a "disarming way of approaching people." Stainar added: "He brings everyone into the process and rallies them to the idea of running things better. He pulled the solutions out of them as opposed to lecturing the solution. He got in the trenches with them."

Lynch said he would use what worked at Knoll to resolve a potential $300 million shortfall, roughly 10 percent, in the two-year state budget he must write this winter. He said he does not anticipate a need for layoffs.

The governor-elect grew up in a working class family in Waltham, Mass., and credits his success to a good education. He went to the University of New Hampshire on a scholarship, washing dishes in the dining hall to help cover costs. A former chairman of the state university system trustees, he strongly believes state college tuition must remain affordable. State funding for the college system is one of his top priorities.

Lynch said he would be as tough against taxes as Benson was, and both pledged to veto general sales and income taxes. Only one governor has won office in New Hampshire in 30 years without making that pledge. The state has neither a sales nor an income tax.

Lynch lives in Hopkinton, a prosperous and picturesque town just west of Concord, with his physician wife and their three children.

 
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