Should New Hampshire's Governor Serve A Four-Year Term?

Jan 28, 2015

Gov. Maggie Hassan
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

New Hampshire is one of only two states where the governor’s term is only two years, Vermont being the other.

In most other states, governors serve four-year terms.

Lawmakers will once again debate this session whether to amend the state constitution and make the governor a four-year term.

Such efforts have failed in the legislature in the past.

Democratic Rep. Mario Ratzki of East Andover is the bill’s prime sponsor.

He joins Morning Edition to talk about his proposal.

Why make this an issue? Why a four-year term?

A four-year term would give our governor enough time to set long-term goals for the state, long-term policies that could result in better fiscal management and better oversight of the state agencies, for instance. Take the commissioners. As heads of state agencies, they are appointed to a four-, five- or six-year term. We do that because we understand that they’re required an amount of time to administer their agencies productively. Yet, we only give our governor a two-year term to preside over those same agencies. It doesn’t make sense.

So it’s a long-term planning issue for you?

Yes. Take for instance issues like infrastructure, education funding, business taxes, energy policy, health care, the downshifting of costs to towns. These are not issues that can be easily resolved in a two-year term.

Supporters of the two-year term argue that it makes the governor more responsive to voters, more accountable. What’s your response to that?

I’ve got two responses to that. One, there’s plenty of checks on the governor. One of them is obviously the House and the Senate, which will approve the budget that the governor proposes. The other one is of course the Executive Council, which has to confirm any appointments that the governor makes and any contracts over $10,000. But if you want to take that argument to its logical conclusion, why not have the president elected for two years? Or U.S. Senators elected for two years? It really doesn’t hold water.

As a constitutional amendment, even if it makes it through the legislature, it would need two-thirds support from voters. Do you think this is something voters would support?

In 1984, 64 percent of the voters actually voted for such an amendment. It failed by only 2.5 percent or so. Every poll has shown that a great majority of voters in the Granite State support this kind of amendment. They tend to vote for a governor’s second term anyway. Voters are ahead of the legislature on this issue. If I talk to my Libertarian, Democratic, or Republican constituents in my districts, they are tired of constant campaigning and the obscene amount of money that is thrown at those campaigns, the fundraising, the negative ads.

I believe that if the legislature would let the voters decide on this issue, we could pass that referendum.

And do you feel the legislature will this time around?

I’m hopeful.

Under your proposal, how would an election work for the governorship? Would this work on off-year elections?

It would. In 2016, if it passes the legislature, we would have a referendum on the ballot for approving this constitutional amendment. The first election would take place in 2018, which is a midterm election, which kind of evens out the odds for both parties.