Young Activist Vies for GOP Nod
Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway talks with David Ramsey of Gilmanton at Murphy's Tap Room in Manchester on August 13, 2014. Ramsey had not heard of Hemingway before the candidate went from patron to patron introducing himself, but he approached Hemingway afterward and engaged him in conversation after looking him up on his smartphone. Ramsey said he asked Hemingway about business and keeping young people in the state. (WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
Concord — Andrew Hemingway doesn’t hesitate to share his ideas for New Hampshire — even when he knows you’ll be skeptical.
Take his flat tax plan. It would reduce taxes on businesses and start taxing local governments and nonprofits. It’s a major restructuring of the state’s tax policy, which is bound to turn heads and raise eyebrows.
But that doesn’t make him afraid to talk about it.
“I’m not afraid of a challenge, I’m not afraid of negative feedback,” Hemingway told the Monitor recently. “Maybe we determine there are some things that need to be changed. Great. Let’s do it. We as a state are stuck in this current malaise. We do the same thing all the time, every single year, no matter who’s governor.”
He hopes to change that. At 32, Hemingway would be the youngest governor in state history, but he’s already made a political mark in New Hampshire. He flirted with a congressional bid in 2009, served as chairman of the New Hampshire chapter of the Tea Party-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus from 2010 to 2011 and ran Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign for president in New Hampshire.
Later that year, he put in a bid to be chairman of the state party but lost to current chairwoman Jennifer Horn.
As an activist, Hemingway was never afraid to call it how he saw it, and he’s brought that same approach to his bid for governor. For Republican voters looking for a fresh face and bold ideas, that’s an attractive quality in a candidate.
But it’s also caused Hemingway to clash with members of the party establishment, most of whom wrote Hemingway off early and endorsed his Republican primary opponent Walt Havenstein without so much as blinking.
The Republican primary is Sept. 9. The winner will face incumbent Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, in the general election.
Hemingway lives in the Grafton County town of Bristol with his wife, Katie, and two children. Outside of politics, he’s a technology entrepreneur who has started at least three businesses. His current venture is Grassloot, a one-click donation portal for nonprofits and political candidates. (Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal uses it, he notes.)
Grassloot makes money by collecting a fee off each donation it processes. Hemingway’s campaign manager, Alicia Preston, said Hemingway has structured it so he is excluded from internal profits from donations to his campaign.
Aaron Day, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, said Hemingway was one of the first Republicans who saw how much the party was lagging in technology, something that was central to his bid for party chairman in 2012.
In 2013, Hemingway launched an initiative called the “#RevoltDC Hackathon,” aimed at finding new ways for campaigns to use technology. That kind of desire to constantly create something new is something that attracts supporters.
“Andrew is a young man who is bright and, at a very young age, created businesses,” says Harold Turner, a Concord business owner. He’s “a millennial who is smarter and wiser beyond his years and wants to do the right thing by New Hampshire.”
If elected, Hemingway said he sees a number of ways technology could improve state government. Some of his ideas are simple, such as making more business forms available online and thinking with a digital-versus-paper mindset.
Others are more complicated. Hemingway is one of a handful of candidates nationwide who takes donations in bitcoin, a digital currency not backed by the U.S. Treasury. The key technology behind bitcoin, called the block chain, could be applied at the state government level to streamline permitting and licensing processes, Hemingway explained recently over lunch and a Mountain Dew.
“It can all be managed, literally, by algorithms. You’re going to be able to move the entire state government into, like, 12 cubicles is what’s going to happen,” he said.
“That may sound scary to some people because they’re like, ‘My job!’ ”
Instead, he says, those workers can find jobs in the free market. The fewer people that work in state government, he reasons, the less tax money the government takes from individuals and the more money goes into the free market.
“There is a direct correlation between the size of government and free market,” he says. “Now these people are in jobs contributing to the economy instead of pulling out of the economy.”
Hemingway’s political beliefs are wedded to free-market principles; his explanation for nearly every one of his policy positions is based on the idea that the free market always has the answer. He opposes the Common Core educational standards, the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, and the state government awarding licenses to one casino operator.
In every case, he says, government has no role in solving the issue. He also favors repealing the death penalty, partly because of the financial burden it puts on the state, and partly because of his pro-life views.
Hemingway’s only experience in elected office is as a member of the Bristol Budget Committee, which he was elected to in 2007 and later served as its chairman. In that role, he says he started crafting the town’s budget from zero, rather than building off the previous year’s budget. He came up with most department budget proposals, he said, by taking the average of each department’s budget every year in the past decade. If elected, he says he’ll approach New Hampshire’s budget by looking for inefficiencies.
A number of people who worked with Hemingway on the budget committee weren’t willing to talk about his chairmanship on the record, but one did say he often came across as brazen and unwilling to listen to others.
On a statewide level, Hemingway has burned bridges that many state Republicans, as of now, aren’t ready to rebuild. Hemingway organized a protest against Mitt Romney during the 2012 election when Romney was scheduled to speak at a Tea Party event. He also accused a Washington Post reporter of misquoting him after she printed something negative he said about former governor John H. Sununu.
In the past, he hasn’t been shy to go after candidates who didn’t follow a rigid adherence to the party’s platform. Under his leadership, the Republican Liberty Caucus backed Bill O’Brien’s bid for House speaker and often took on lawmakers it didn’t see as conservative enough.
“Like a lot of the young people, sometimes his exuberance overtook him,” said former state Senate Republican leader Bob Clegg. “I think there are some people who won’t forgive him.”
Hemingway also ran a political committee billed as a support group for Ovide Lamontagne’s 2012 gubernatorial bid but came under fire when some of the group’s accounting didn’t line up. Hemingway brushes off those concerns, saying the group did what he said it would.
Now, Hemingway is working to change his image from activist to serious candidate.
Hemingway has a number of state representatives who are backing him, such as Weare Republican Neal Kurk and Epsom Republican Dan McGuire, but all of the state’s biggest Republican names have thrown their weight behind Havenstein. Some of those Havenstein supporters include Senate leaders Chuck Morse and Jeb Bradley as well as former governors Craig Benson and Steve Merrill. Hemingway said he would have welcomed their endorsements, but did not expect them.
“Steve Merrill and Craig Benson are guys that I look up to in a big way, (and) they came out immediately for Walt. It’s what they’re supposed to do,” Hemingway said. “Nobody talks to me; they’ve never talked to me. No, they didn’t give me a chance. And you know what? I’m OK with that. . . . We are earning it piece by piece.”
Republican primary voters seem to be responding. Hemingway has won two straw polls — albeit ones with small turnout — at gatherings this summer, one coming from the conservative Coalition for New Hampshire Taxpayers.
Plus, he’s young, energized and knows how to work a crowd. In any election, those qualities can make a big difference.
“He can bring the crowd up to a peak, drop them down and bring them back up again,” Clegg said. “He knows how to get you interested, get you active, get you involved. And all the issues that bother you? He has an answer.”