CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Moderate Democratic Gov. John Lynch overcame an anti-incumbent groundswell Tuesday to defeat conservative Republican John Stephen for a fourth consecutive two-year term as New Hampshire’s governor.
Lynch will be the longest-serving governor in New Hampshire since colonial times. The last governor to serve longer than six consecutive years was John Gilman, who served from 1794-1805 after being elected to consecutive one-year terms. Governor’s terms changed to two years around 1870, and no one has won four consecutive terms since then.
Lynch survived one of his toughest re-election tests since taking office in 2004. Stephen attempted to capitalize on voter unrest by promising to cut state spending without raising taxes.
Stephen claimed Lynch’s mismanagement would leave an $800 million budget deficit for the next governor to fix. Stephen also appealed to businesses, promising to cut their taxes after he balanced the budget. He said he would veto all new spending measures.
Stephen was bolstered by anti-Lynch television ads paid for by the National Organization for Marriage and Cornerstone action. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Lynch for signing a law last year legalizing gay marriage. Two years earlier, Lynch signed a civil unions law granting the same privileges and responsibilities of marriage to gays, but not the name.
Stephen opposes abortion and gay marriage and said he would sign a bill repealing a gay marriage law.
Lynch, a millionaire businessman turned politician, countered that he could produce a balanced budget with spending cuts and a moderate growth in state revenues. He pointed out that he and the Democratic-controlled Legislature used a mix of spending cuts,potential land sales and borrowing to balance the budget in 2010 and leave the state with a projected $70 million surplus.
Lynch consistently defused a potent Republican issue by pledging to veto any general sales or personal income tax in a state that has neither.
Stephen also criticized Lynch for signing a law requiring prison inmates to be released nine months before the end of their sentences so they could be supervised. Crime victims asked for the new law to monitor felons once they leave prison.
Stephen said the law made no exceptions for violent and sex offenders from being released early. He also criticized the law for setting a 90-day limit on the time that parole violators spend in prison.
Lynch insisted it is better to supervise the inmates than simply let them walk out the door. He also said he is monitoring the new law to see what, if any, adjustments are needed.
Lynch then criticized Stephen for his decision as Health and Human Services commissioner to let some felons be foster parents.
Stephen changed the rules in 2004 to let social workers decide if someone would make a good foster parent even if he or she had a criminal record. Stephen said anyone convicted of a violent crime or a crime against a child would still be banned, but the old policy was too strict.
Lynch also criticized Stephen, a former prosecutor, for seeking a pardon for a convicted arsonist and for refusing to fire from his 2002 congressional campaign a worker who was accused of stalking.
Lynch, 57, of Hopkinton, won the first of his three two-year terms as governor in 2004 when he unseated an unpopular Republican governor by promising to restore integrity to government.
Lynch is a native of Waltham, Mass. Before his 2004 election, he was president of a Manchester consulting firm, The Lynch Group. Prior to that, he was an admissions director of Harvard Business School and president and chief executive of Knoll Inc., a Pennsylvania furniture company. He has degrees from the University of New Hampshire, Harvard Business School and Georgetown University Law Center.
Stephen, 48, of Manchester, is no newcomer to politics. He twice failed to win his party’s nomination in the 1st Congressional District. This was his first attempt to win the governor’s seat.
Libertarian John Babiarz of Grafton also was on the ballot.
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