A year ago, when the federal government shutdown due to politics and gridlock in Washington, Concord politicians wagged their fingers down south to DC. In New Hampshire, both parties worked together on several pieces of legislation, including passing a state budget 24-0 in the Senate.
But in the aftermath of the 2014 midterm elections, political logic suggests that next year it will be Washington politicians working together and pointing their fingers up north at the political gridlock in New Hampshire.
The hot Potomac fever will now be on the Merrimack.
Structurally Washington and Concord will look the same next year. Both feature Republicans dominating the House and Senate with a Democratic executive on top. The difference, however, is that in Washington President Barack Obama is a lame duck and not running for president anymore. In Concord, Gov. Maggie Hassan is most assuredly running for something in two years, whether for re-election or to take the local GOP's biggest name: U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
Since Obama has just 793 days left in office his political incentive is to focus on what he can do for his legacy. This might mean unilateral executive action like he is proposing to do on immigration this upcoming week or working with the Republican Congress on a broader immigration bill, on a veteran's jobs bill, tweak the health care law, reform Social Security, or pass some kind of tax reform bill.
Republicans also have the political incentive to work with Obama. As is stands the only approval rating lower than Obama's is the national approval of Republicans. Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry pointed out in New Hampshire that in the midterm election, voters weren't exactly voting for Republican ideas. Exit polls prove Perry right, with 6 out of 10 voters said they are dissatisfied with Republicans. (The same percentage said they were dissatisfied with Obama.)
Heading into the 2016 presidential election, Republicans in Washington are already talking about the need to stand for something other than just opposing Obama's agenda. With control of Congress they will be called upon to propose their own ideas that Obama can accept, amend or reject. This is particularly true of potential Republican presidential candidates, who need to add legislative achievements to their resume.
Either way, in Washington there is the incentive of both sides to talk.
In Concord, there is incentive to stay in their own corners and complain about the other side. In theory, Hassan wouldn't reject signing into law some major piece of legislation, but politically she cares more about her approval rating number than the number of bills that become law.
The sad reality of politics is that is it often better for a politician's approval ratings to not get something done if they can convince voters that it is someone else's fault. For Hassan she can tell voters that if only Republicans didn't block her agenda everyone in the state would have a job and that all Nor'easters would be confined to ski areas. She might be right or might be wrong, but at least she will have someone to blame if the state goes in the wrong direction.
This is part of the reason why this week's vote on who Republicans will pick to be House Speaker matters. Both of their options — Bill O'Brien and Gene Chandler — have their own baggage from previous stints as speaker. However, O'Brien is the more polarizing option. Fearing Hassan would just make O'Brien a boogeyman, it is not surprise that Ayotte forcefully endorsed Chandler last week. Ayotte and Republicans want to keep the focus and criticism on Hassan and minimize how much it goes the other way back on Republicans.
All that said, like in Washington, New Hampshire Republicans still have to deal with the fact they don't have majorities so large they could override votes on major bills. If Republicans continue to push bills that would make their base happy they are risking that a Hassan veto would play well for them. It is possible that it will, but it is often hard to take on a governor no matter which party holds the office.
As a new Congress and a new Legislature is sworn in there could be a lot more handshakes in Washington and bruises in Concord.
(James Pindell covers politics for WMUR. You can see his breaking news and analysis at WMUR.com/politicalscoop and on WMUR-TV.)
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