Mark Connolly On His Run For Governor And Where He Stands On The Issues

May 22, 2016

Mark Connolly in the NHPR studios.
Credit Brady Carlson / NHPR

  Democrat Mark Connolly is best known for taking on Tyco, bringing in big settlements from large companies as a state securities regulator, and resigning in protest of the state’s handling of the FRM Ponzi scheme. 

Connolly is now one of three candidates in the Democratic race for New Hampshire governor. He joined Weekend Edition to talk about his campaign and the issues facing the state. 

You've considered running for office before. Why was this the right time to launch a bid for the corner office?

For the last several years I've been out talking about some of my experiences in state government - I, in fact, wrote a book about that - and a lot of what I was talking about goes on in Washington as well as Concord. I think it's time for reform, in terms of how we fund campaigns, who we appoint to government jobs, and when the governor decided that she would run for United States Senate, I said to myself, sometimes it's best to put words into actions.

As we look out and understand where government's going, I do think we need people who are going to go in, do the job define what the problems are, and then articulate that to the electorate. I think that's who I am. We rank 40th in the country in outward migration of young people, per capita. We are now the second-oldest state in the country. Yes, we have a 2.6 percent unemployment rate, but that really belies the fact that we don't have enough educated workers. Some 50 percent of our population has some degree of higher education. It's been shown that by 2025 we need to have almost 70 percent of our population [have] some degree of higher education or certificate learning. If we don't do that, we will not maintain the same standard of living we have today.

If I'm elected, that will be my point. I'll go after demographic challenges, and I'll talk about what we need to do - we're doing it somewhat in terms of education. It includes how we fund it, how we prioritize education, how we get kids thinking - the 58,000 kids in high school today - how we tell them this is where they want to be to start a family, this is the opportunity here, instead of them just leaving and not coming back. If we don't address this challenge in the next couple of years, we could lose a generation. That's what we need to focus on in the state.

Let's take a look at some of the other issues that have been in the news lately. What, if anything, would you do differently about the state's response to opioid abuse.

I don't think I'd do anything differently - this is an issue that we didn't even understand two years ago [or] even a year ago. The legislature [and] the governor - particularly the governor - has shown leadership here, looking at this as a health crisis not as a criminal crisis; drug courts, getting those in place in all our counties; prescription monitoring program and strengthening that. The people who deal in this, we need to put away; the people who are victimized we need to help. I was with some firefighters about a month ago in Manchester. They took me around - they go out and treat somebody, and they put them in an ambulance and bring them to the hospital and then these people check out right away. And they're telling me, the same day or the very next day, they're seeing the same people again.

When we bring them into the hospital, we should have interdiction right then and there, to say, you just almost killed yourself. Let's get you treatment. And we're starting to do that. We ranked number one or two in the country in terms of addiction rate per capita, one of the lowest treatment rates, we're now changing that equation. The governor and the legislature and local city officials deserve a lot of credit for addressing this, but we can do more.

You support passenger rail. How would you try to move rail forward at a time when lawmakers have repeatedly removed rail funding from the state's transportation plan?

This, to me, is about innovation in our economy. This is what my theme is - I want us to be the Live Free or Die state, obviously that's who we are, but I also want us to be the innovation and education state. Innovation to me means you cannot just have an economy based on automobiles.

The actual capital and operating expense to do this is somewhere around $5-6 million in my opinion. Just look at the amount of economic development that will come off of that. We'll have increased taxes for business profits tax, rooms and meals tax, more parking revenue - I'll say this. If you look at the gas tax that we put up 4.1 cents about two years ago - it was the first time we'd done it since 1992 - it didn't happen because of the legislature. It happened because of the business community. The business community said, in order to have an economy that matches what we need, we need good roads and bridges. Now they're saying, we really need passenger rail.

If you look at New England and you look at Boston and you look at GE that's moved from Connecticut to Boston, and you look at the hospitals and universities, we need to tie ourselves as closely as possible to Boston and that community. Linking Boston to Nashua, Manchester, to the Manchester Millyard, that's a home run. It takes the right kind of leadership, someone who understands finance, someone who understands what it takes to get things done. I think my record in terms of what I've done for the state and my business background - I will get it done.

Would you support a bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana, and if so, under what conditions?

Yes, I would. When I look back at the crisis of 2008 and 2009, and see some of these people who almost bankrupted our economy, and none of these people who went to jail. Why would a 19 year old kid who has a quarter of an ounce of marijuana - now what that means if gets arrested, and he doesn't have the right legal representation, they're going to have a hard time getting a loan, getting a job... I'm not saying marijuana should be something we should promote, but we have to be realistic in terms of what's happening in our society. I think it's time for us to do that.

There's a bill moving through the legislature now which its proponents call constitutional carry, which would essentially remove the need for concealed weapons permits for firearms. Is that a bill that, if it passed, would you sign? Or veto?

I would veto. To me, that's a solution in search of a problem. Local law enforcement people understand when there's domestic violence going on, and they have an understanding of what's going on in their community that may not show up when somebody goes in for a concealed carry license. I'm a big supporter of police officers; I'm a big supporter of the Second Amendment. But I think we should be very careful in looking at how we change our laws. And I will say I do think people who been adjudicated [who are] mentally ill or in the state hospital should go through a national background check from the FBI.

Your career in politics began as a sophomore at Dartmouth - you were elected to the State House, scraggly college beard and all?

Yeah, I was a state representative - actually Republican at the time - from the town of Bedford. I was going to drop out of school, literally, because I ran out of money at Dartmouth. And a state representative named Elizabeth Crory told her husband, Fred. He worked for the Army Corps of Engineers, and he took me aside and said, look, I'll get your a job working in the Army Corps of Engineers and I'll send you up to Alaska. And he said, you have two conditions. He didn't say one was a beard! One was, you have to not want to come home, because it takes three days to get to the North Slope of Alaska, basically on the Bering Sea. And you have to graduate with your class.

I saw everything you do in Alaska - polar bears, grizzly bears and fishing and deep ponds, and I grew a beard. So I brought it back and kept the beard for a while.

So you were a bearded state representative Republican in your youth, and a financial services industry Democrat now in your sixties.

Let me say this: I believe I've always been a pragmatic, moderate voice. As I've gotten older and had a chance to view the world as it really is, I believe the Democratic Party is really the values for the average person. I think we can do a better job in government, addressing needs of the average person in the middle class. When I was a securities regulator I saw many instances where people were being harmed in our state, they were being targeted in our state, and I said to myself, that's not the kind of New Hampshire that I want. I think I'm unique in the sense that I have a business background, but I have strong progressive values.