In Campaign for Governor, Marchand Emphasizes Both Liberalism and Bipartisanship

Sep 6, 2016

Democratic candidate for governor Steve Marchand says he is the most liberal person in this year’s race.  But he’s asking people to put aside some assumptions about what the term “liberal” means.  Speaking with All Things Considered host Peter Biello, NHPR's Emily Corwin explains.

Biello:  First of all, tell me a bit about Steve Marchand. He may be more familiar to Seacoast listeners than to folks elsewhere in the state.

Corwin: Yes, Marchand's been involved in politics for a long time, both in public office and out. He's a Manchester native and moved to Portsmouth in 2000 with a background in auditing and consulting. There, he quickly won election to the city council, then was elected mayor.

He also worked on many Democrats’ political campaigns – Mark Fernald for governor, for instance, in 2002. This is the last time he was associated with an unabashed liberal cause. You may recall Fernald’s campaign for Governor centered his push for an income tax.. 

He also worked as director of corporate relations for UNH. And more recently he opened his own consulting firm.

So, while he’s well known to insiders, this is his first time running for statewide office.

Biello: Steve Marchand’s platform seems to ask voters to rethink some common assumptions. For example, he boasts that he is  the most liberal among his democratic rivals, but he spent much of the last decade fighting for bipartisanship in politics. Some might see a tension there – no?

Corwin: He doesn’t – but others may. He says he is only Democratic candidate for governor this year to vote for Bernie Sanders, which he describes as a badge of honor. He believes Sanders' landslide is a far-left mandate from state Democratic voters. He also believes New Hampshire needs to become more progressive in order to attract young people into workforce.

But he also worked with the group No Labels, as state director from 2014-2016. This group is known for trying to elect a voting bloc in Congress that is basically committed to bipartisanship. Their agenda is to create jobs; secure Social Security and Medicare; produce a balanced budget; and energy security.

He tried to put the No Labels philosophy into action in Portsmouth’s city council election last year. He wasn’t running, but spent a lot of time promoting the eight candidates he believed were about positivity and problem solving.

At the time, this is how he described his motivation to promote these candidates in Portsmouth:

After the last election, in 2013, I was very disappointed with what I saw as the relative success of anger, as the motivation for people getting involved in politics. We need to get away from being against things, and we need to be FOR people.

So this year, he’s trying to inject that philosophy into his own campaign.

Biello: So what does that mean in the context of the Democratic primary?

Corwin: UNH Political Scientist Dante Scala says Marchand may have a hard time selling the idea that bipartisanship isn’t akin to being a centrist, or compromising on principals.

You would find a fair number of progressives here in NH saying "No, the problem is Democrats have not behaved in a progressive enough fashion." I do think that’s something Marchand would probably find himself in a serious argument with NH progressives.

That may explain, in part, why Marchand has gone out of his way to talk up the more progressive pieces of his candidacy – like abolishing the death penalty or legalizing marijuana.

Biello: This idea of committed liberalism one and and bipartisanship on the other isn’t the only way Marchand seems to be subtly challenging some political assumptions.

Corwin: Right. Here he is in a forum held by NHPR’s The Exchange:

One of my missions as a candidate is to prove that you can be fiscally responsible AND have very progressive social values, those are not inconsistent in fact I think that’s the future of New Hampshire

He’s trying to sever the idea of fiscal “conservatism” – a rallying cry for the GOP --  from the idea of fiscal “responsibility.” Marchand is advocating cutting corporate tax breaks to fund what he describes as very progressive social agenda. In some ways, he’s hearkening back to Mark Fernald’s campaign for governor, back in 2002, which advocated an income tax in NH. Dante Scala says Fernald also saw himself as a far left candidate for whom fiscal responsibility was essential:

From Fernald’s perspective, only a broad-based tax would put NH on truly sound fiscal footing.

Of course, Fernald only won 38 percent of the vote, and since then no major candidate for Governor, including Marchand, has advocated for an income tax.