Primary Source: Marchand Builds Some Support

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The 2018 elections are less than a year away, and Portsmouth Democrat Steve Marchand has already been working for months to line up support in his bid to unseat first-term Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

Whether other Democrats will enter the race remains unclear — there is plenty of time, still — but Marchand is emphasizing a blend of progressive values and his experience to appeal to voters.

The former Portsmouth mayor has run statewide before, including an aborted bid for U.S. Senate a decade ago and for governor in 2016. He finished a distant second to Colin Van Ostern in a three-way primary, winning 18,285 votes to Van Ostern’s 37,759.

Marchand also was a supporter of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign — running with a majority of primary voters but against New Hampshire’s mainstream Democratic establishment, which largely supported Hillary Clinton.

Marchand has also worked as director of corporate relations for University of New Hampshire, and he asserts that he has the vision and experience to appeal to Democrats and across party lines.

“There is a desire for leadership with progressive values that has vision, courage and competence associated with it, and that’s what I’m hoping to deliver,” Marchand, who turns 44 in January, said in a phone interview last week.

He says his priorities would include three months of paid family leave, funded by an employee payroll deduction of less than one-tenth of one percent, or about $29 a year for a median income worker; expanding early childhood education and strengthening public education; and moving New Hampshire to some form of universal health care.

“We need to communicate to young families that we should stop acting surprised that women get pregnant,” Marchand said of paid family leave. “This is a very cost-effective way to improve workforce retention.”

Providing universal health care would also encourage more people to start their own businesses, Marchand said.

“These are progressive values that drive growth, entrepreneurship and job creation,” he said.

Though he has been a declared candidate for several months, Marchand said he is trying to do some auditing work around his campaign calendar, and also knows something about juggling work and family. He and his wife, Sandi Hennequin, a vice president of an energy company, have two daughters.

Marchand supporters in the Upper Valley include state Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, and state Reps. John Cloutier, D-Claremont; Ray Gagnon, D-Claremont; Richard Abel, D-Lebanon; Lee Oxenham, D-Plainfield; Tim Josephson, D-Canaan; and Roger Dontonville, D-Enfield.

Hennessey said she didn’t back Marchand last cycle, but now, “I’m impressed by how he has stepped in early this time, but mostly I think his honesty, his realistic perspective, and his experience as mayor of Portsmouth are all important. He is a great listener, very open-minded, but holds strong positions on important New Hampshire issues. I’ve seen him respond effectively with all kinds of audiences.”

Gagnon, a former Claremont mayor who has long been a Clinton centrist, said he backed Van Ostern in 2016 but now likes Marchand’s message and pragmatism in trying to reach across the entire spectrum of New Hampshire.

“He has a very practical and realistic approach to economic development and growth, and how we can rebuild New Hampshire’s infrastructure as well as go after business opportunities and jobs, and increasing the general wealth of New Hampshire,” Gagnon said.

That said, defeating an incumbent governor in New Hampshire isn’t easy, and so far, Sununu hasn’t made any major mistakes.

A Granite State Poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center last month found that 61 percent of respondents approved of his job performance, including 56 percent of independent voters.

Workforce Developments

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday picked two lawmakers for some economy-related jobs. Scott, a first-term Republican who needs to work across the aisle to stay in office, tapped state Sen. Dustin Degree, R-Franklin, to serve as a special assistant in the governor’s office and as executive director of workforce expansion.

Of greater interest to the Upper Valley, Scott also named former state Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, to a new post as director of workforce policy and performance at the Vermont Department of Labor. Buxton is a Vermont Law School graduate who got her start in politics working for Howard Dean and then proved a hard-working legislator not afraid of tough votes.

Scott may also be playing some smart politics.

Naming Buxton to the $80,000-a-year post makes it unlikely she will run for her old seat, now held by state Rep. David Ainsworth, R-Royalton.

Ainsworth, who as a dairy farmer is now a rarity in the Legislature, defeated Buxton last year by a two-vote margin, after two recounts.

John Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.