Hassan Talks About Senate Run, Ayotte's 'Far Right' Stance, Phillips Exeter Teacher

Apr 4, 2016

Governor Maggie Hassan at an NHPR forum in 2014
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race is one of the most watched races in the country, and one that may help decide who controls the senate after November's election. As the first of a series of conversations NHPR will be having with the candidates in all the statewide races leading up to November, Democratic candidate and two-term New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan spoke to Brady Carlson, host of Weekend Edition.

They started their conversation on Friday in the governor's office with news from Phillips Exeter Academy, which it announced it had banned a former teacher from campus in 2011 after he admitted to hacing sexual relationships with students in the 1970s and 80s. Hassan's husband, Tom, was principal at the time of the banning, but the following year that teacher was on a list of community members who endorsed her campaign for governor.

Listen to the radio interview, or read below:

Hassan: First of all, my heart goes out to the two victims who have come forward. I think it really speaks to the importance of institutions like this school having strong policies against sexual misconduct, having clear policies about how to investigate it, and how to help people come forward, and then, address the aftermath of it. And I think what I understand from the letter the school sent out was they reported immediate to the authorities and then worked with the victim to make sure they were balancing her privacy and confidentiality needs with also the needs to protect the school community. I was surprised to learn that he was moving off campus when he did. It was abrupt, and I sensed that the teacher had done something wrong, but I didn't have any additional details. My husband and I both have jobs where we have to keep some things confidential, even within the marriage. And so I was surprised, I certainly had known this teacher for our entire time at the school, because he had been there the entire time we had been.

Carlson: I remember hearing your name come up as a potential candidate in the 2016 Senate race basically when you started in the corner office. Has this campaign always been in the cards for you? And when and how did you decide to go forward?

I think a lot about what brought me into public life in the first place, and a lot of that had to do with my husband Tom's and my oldest son Ben. Ben is a wonderful young man if I do say so myself, who also happens to experience very severe and pervasive disabilities. When Ben went off to school for his first day of preschool at age three, that got me thinking about the families that went before ours, their advocates, and elected leaders who really stood up and included - did the work to include people like my son so that he could go to school in his home town and make friends and have the opportunity to learn. That's what drew me into public life, that understanding that each generation of Americans, each generation of Granite Staters, works hard to include people who've been on the margins or who've been shoved out back into the heart and soul of our Democracy so that we all get stronger together.

And as we have come together in New Hampshire over the last few years, built a stronger economy, our unemployment rate is down to 2.7% right now, we've been rated the best state in the country three years running based on more than a dozen quality of life measures, community safety measures, and economic strength measures. You know we froze tuition at UNH and lowered it at the community colleges, we passed a bipartisan Medicaid expansion program so now nearly fifty thousand Granite Staters have the health and financial security that comes with coverage.

When I think about all the progress we've made, we've made it the New Hampshire way, and I really think Washington could benefit from the same approach. Unfortunately what I hear from constituents is they feel that Washington is broken, and on every one of the issues I just listed, my opponent in this race votes the other way. She's voted to repeal Medicaid expansion multiple times. She voted to make deep cuts to Pell grants, and against students refinancing their loans. She is against Roe v. Wade and has voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood. So the progress that the people of New Hampshire have asked me to keep working on as governor gets thwarted by Washington and my opponent at every turn. And I think its really important that we keep making this progress, and that's what drew me in to the senate race. 

New Hampshire Governor and Senate candidate Maggie Hassan in the Governor's office on Friday
Credit Brady Carlson for NHPR

In hearing you talk about how you first got in to politics, and hearing about your son's experiences in public school, there's a passion that you have that some of the national political reporters who've paid attention to this race - and it is a high profile senate race - have not always detected in you. I'm thinking of a Politico article, I'll just quote what they said when they came here and talked with you: "Hassan also hewed relentlessly to talking points and political bromides about a Washington that's 'rigged' against the people." Is that a fair criticism?

I'll leave those observations to pundits and to writers. What I focus on each and every day is how we come together in New Hampshire, we cross party lines, we have our arguments from time to time, but we follow the example of the people of New Hampshire about how we solve problems. We can do that by focusing on bi-partisanship, and by focusing on promoting education and innovation so that everybody can share and be included in our economic success. Right now my opponent is standing with the far right of her party in refusing to even have hearings on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. We've seen just this week some gridlock on the Supreme Court because of that vacancy. We should be focusing on all the things we know how to do together, instead we see a rigged D.C. where special interests and this far right of the Republican party have captured Washington, and they are pulling us backwards. 

One party's 'obstructionism' is another party's check on the President's power or sometimes another branch of the government. What do you make of that power the senate has and sometimes uses?

What the senate Republicans including my opponent are doing is absolutely unprecedented. The are refusing to do their duty. The Constitution says they "shall advise and consent." Past dysfunction in Washington or the potential of dysfunction in Washington isn't an excuse for this dysfunction. My opponent had the chance to demonstrate real independence here, and real leadership, and instead, she is furthering the dysfunction that has pulled Washington, ground Washington to a halt. That is unacceptable, that is not how we do things in New Hampshire.

You've broken with President Obama and members of your own party on some foreign policy issues, for example, resettling some people in Syria who are fleeing the violence there in the United States, you called for a pause on that. Potentially closing the military base at Guantanamo Bay and moving the detainees that are held there. Overall though, how closely do you think you and President Obama are on the same page when it comes to foreign policy issues?

Well, my first priority as governor is the safety and security of the people of New Hampshire and that will be my first priority as a United States Senator. It is very clear that we have more to do to defeat ISIS, and we have to do that and make sure that we get even stronger in the eyes of our enemies and allies while working with the international community to keep the country safe but also to make sure we protect the globe's most vulnerable citizens. I continue to believe that it would have been wise to take a temporary pause to double check our vetting system for refugees as well as all our other entryways into the United States in light of what's been happening with the war on ISIS. Having said that, I'm pleased that communication between the White House and this state have improved around these systems, and it's also extraordinary important that we remember who we are as Americans and our values and that means we shouldn't ever demonize any single group, and I've worked very hard as governor to make sure that's the case. 

Governor Maggie Hassan and Senator Kelly Ayotte at a March event in Nashua
Credit Josh Rogers for NHPR

I've noticed at a number of the public events where you and other top New Hampshire officials are attending that you and Senator Ayotte are often seated right next to each other. Is it awkward for the two of you to sit next to eachother knowing that you're running for the same job in the fall?

New Hampshire has a terrific tradition of political activism and of citizen representation, and we all run into each other in both political parties all the time, and I would say that Senator Ayotte and I are very accustomed to being at the same events, and we're quite used to it.