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Editorial: Hassan’s Vision of the State’s Role

Yes, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan’s inaugural speech struck the right notes — ones that resonated with moderation and civility — for a state emerging from two years of captivity by ideological radicals. But the first-term Democrat used the opportunity last Thursday to do more than that; she articulated a governing philosophy that will, we hope, guide her administration in repairing the damage and eventually improving the services it delivers to residents.

The Republicans who two years ago took control of virtually every major office except the governor’s had their own philosophy, of course, and it was starkly simple, straightforward and wrongheaded: Government is the problem.

From that central belief arose the corollary that the less government there was, the better off New Hampshire residents would be, not just in terms of lower taxes, but also in expanded liberty and improved economic prosperity. The ruling clique wasn’t always consistent — it notably arranged for the intrusion of government into women’s health care decisions — but was generally dutiful in worshipping at the altar of minimal government.

During her campaign, Hassan proved an able proponent of engaged government — a message that was particularly poignant because it arose partly from personal experience. One of Hassan’s children is disabled, and she spoke passionately about what government’s advocacy and services meant in allowing her son to participate in the life of the community. She used her inaugural speech to expand upon that vision.

“To support (innovative) businesses, we must recognize that there are some tasks that can only be accomplished in partnership with government,” she said. “Chief among those are ensuring access to education for all, protecting public safety, and building and maintaining the infrastructure that businesses and citizens need.”

That echoes the point made by President Obama during his re-election campaign and for which he was hammered — not because he was off base, but because his critics twisted his observation to suggest that Obama was discounting the role played by individuals and the private sector in creating wealth. In a different era, it wouldn’t be necessary to pay tribute to the complementary roles played by individual and collective economic effort, but at a time when anti-government rhetoric has inordinate influence, occasional correctives from people like Hassan and Obama are vital.

“Needs do not go away simply because we don’t fund them,” Hassan said. “And opportunities for innovation and growth can evaporate if we fail to make smart investments in a timely way.”

One of the investments she mentioned was restoring full funding to higher education — it was cut nearly in half by the anti-government crowd — while working with the university system to freeze in-state tuition and increase enrollment of New Hampshire students. Hassan also called for state government to encourage innovation and job growth through a doubling of a tax credit for research and development.

State government improves people’s lives not simply by investing in infrastructure or by creating a healthy business environment, Hassan argued, but also by eliminating obstacles that impede equal opportunity and full participation. Praising the state for its leadership in protecting the civil rights of its gay residents — the Legislature was one of the first to open up marriage to same-sex couples — she argued that the state has reaped dividends from doing the right thing: Sanctioning gay marriage has proven to be an excellent tool for recruiting talented people in the private sector, she said, because it shows “the kind of welcoming state that we are.”

New Hampshire is not Vermont, of course, which is to say that it retains a strong preference for low taxes and small government. But there’s a difference between small government and crippled government, between frugality and penury, and between prudent skepticism and knee-jerk cynicism. Hassan knows that, and her inaugural speech gives hope that she will be able to help the state regain its bearings.