Steve Marchand On His Run For Governor And Where He Stands On The Issues

Jun 4, 2016

Democratic candidate for governor Steve Marchand.
Credit Brady Carlson / NHPR

  Democrat Steve Marchand has worn more than a few hats in his day - he's been mayor of Portsmouth, worked with the No Labels movement in New Hampshire, worked at UNH, done political and business consulting, and more. Now he's looking to be New Hampshire's next governor. 

Marchand joined Weekend Edition to talk about his campaign and the issues he might face if elected. 

What convinced you this was the right time to make a run for the corner office?

It was not something I had planned on for 2016, but I've spent much of the last 15-20 years around public policy [and] to some extent around politics. I've been an elected official, I've audited cities for a living, I was director of corporate relations at UNH, I love this stuff. I'm a New Hampshire native - I'm a Manchester kid, son of immigrants, first generation American, family up in Coos County, live in Portsmouth now - so I know the state, I love the state and I love policy.

With all due respect to the other candidates, as we got into March, I had a growing number of people who said, the choices are incomplete. With your background, your ability, the story you have to tell, the problem solving background you have, you should consider it. And I'm glad I did - it's been an excellent experience and I'm really optimistic about our chances to win in September and November.

It sounds like the theme is not that you're presenting a different end goal or policies but that you're the person who can best make those policies happen.

I'd say it's two things. My experiences show that we have one really significant challenge in New Hampshire. We have to get younger, and it will not be enough for New Hampshire to simply keep more of the kids that are being raised in New Hampshire. We have to import talent. If you look at our history - the mills in Manchester, if you look at tech more recently, if you look at Portsmouth today - we've had times where we've done a really good job of getting what we'll call the sub-45 set to come to New Hampshire.

The mission has to be, we have to be an amazing place for people, especially 45 and under, to come to New Hampshire to live, to work, to start a family and to start a business. What I see are four policy areas that, if we do them right, we can be where New Hampshire has to be for the next twenty years.

At the top of that list is school building construction, which has been frozen at the state level for a number of years. If that is, as you say, the biggest infrastructure investment the state can make, how do you get that back into the state budget and convince people we need to do it?

First, you've got to have the credibility as a candidate and then as a governor to instill confidence that when you say something, that you need that math, that you need those dollars, and you prioritize it very high, that people will see it's the result of a process that they can trust. This is a guy - me - who's a lifelong Democrat but has been praised by editorial boards from the Portsmouth Herald to the New Hampshire Union Leader for being fiscally responsible and being really smart with how we raise and how we spend money. And yet I'm also somebody who's proudly pro-choice, pro same-sex marriage, transgender rights, a strong environmentalist, anti-casino gambling. You can do that and you can be fiscally responsible.

The number one thing businesses told me was, if the school district around where they're thinking of putting a business or expanding a business, if it is seen as outstanding, they will win time after time the tiebreakers for the kind of talent, particularly from out of state, that we have to get if we're going to be where we want to go in the next twenty years.

Let's talk about some of the policy in the news lately. What, if anything, would you change about the state's response to the opioid crisis?

The good news on the opioid and heroin crisis is that, in a quite bipartisan way, in many examples, we have begun to turn that corner quickly. I praise Governor Hassan and some leaders, especially in the State Senate, Republicans and Democrats who get it, and they're working. However, before I decided to run for governor I was the chair of the Government Affairs committee of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce. I asked a bunch of businesspeople, what are the priorities for the next few years? Because I thought that's what I'd be doing the next few years. They said things like affordable housing and transportation and parking - and then they put in heroin in the same place. The reason they did, they said, is it's now at the point where the labor force is adversely affected by the number of people who can't pass a drug test. They're not in the position to be able to be a productive part of a diminishing workforce.

The good news is that [the solution is] not a ton of money, necessarily. It is some legislative changes, it is more effective use of the state's database. Some of it, frankly, is cultural. It requires that we have to be more aggressive in fully funding drug courts, to really get us in a position where we're not trying to punish and incarcerate, we're trying to rehabilitate and get towards recovery. And in terms of the wait list, which is where the real problem is - we have 13 health zones in the state. In most of those we have a waiting list. We have people on a weekly basis dying, waiting on the waiting list. So I sat down with a bunch of people trying to start recovery centers around the state, and sat down and did budgets with them; that's my background. I asked them to price it out. The price tag? Smaller than you'd think.

So this is where state government is an appropriate place [for funding], because the private sector, the philanthropic sector are not able to provide steady streams of dollars to be able to buttress up what is typically about $300,000-$500,000 a year on average, per recovery center, to be able to give them confidence that they can budget for twelve months out. This is an $8-10 million initiative that I've been looking at. I thought it would be in the context of a Seacoast-based solution. When I started running for governor I realized I could take some of this background and apply it to raising the dialogue at a statewide level. This is a key priority: it's opioid abuse, it's getting America's best pre-K through 12 public education, it's getting our infrastructure from below average to something we can really brag about, and it's becoming America's number one place for an entrepreneur to start a business.

Would you support decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, and if so, under what conditions?

I favor the legalization of marijuana. First of all, I do not think it's a gateway drug to other drugs. Second of all, we have seen lots of studies that we actually reduce use in certain groups. You legalize it, you regulate it, you tax it. We can actually do something here that can help public health by reducing its use under 21 and doing it responsibly for those that, frankly, are probably already doing it over the age of 21.

Governor Hassan recently vetoed a bill essentially to do away with permits for concealed carry of guns. Was that the right decision, or no?

You should have a permit, and I agree with Governor Hassan's decision. I think if you get a background check and you're seen as somebody that is not a threat to others in having a gun, I think that it's totally appropriate to have one. I support the Second Amendment, and I think this is a state where we generally have not had the same kinds of issues as some larger and, frankly, more urban-based states. I'm somebody that is not looking to make big changes on that but I would have supported Governor Hassan's veto of that recently.

In looking back through your background, I found an article from 2008 about how the Democratic former mayor of Portsmouth, Steve Marchand, would get into political debates with his wife, Sandi Hennequin, who was a Republican. Are you two still debating here in 2016, and if so, what have you made of the state of national politics over the past year?

Wow, good Google search. Number one, it took running for governor to get my wife to register undeclared. If I'd known that I would have run for governor a long time ago, right? All jokes aside, we agree on some issues - we both, for example, would repeal the death penalty. There are some other issues where we clearly disagree. I didn't ask my wife when we first started dating what her party affiliation was, and by the time I figured out it might not be the same I was smitten. She's beautiful, she's smart, she's a wonderful person, and it goes back to the belief that if you can get people in a room together - they don't have to get married - but if you can get people in a room together, it is hard to hate each other.

It is easy to demonize other people that you don't know and you don't care to get to know. So I'm really proud that even though I'm socially very progressive and fiscally I'm very responsible - and I'll pay for priorities; I'm not afraid to say that, find that source and make it sustainable and do my homework - I have a lot of folks who are Republicans that are like my wife, and are kind of freaked out by some of the things going on at the national level and don't know what happened to their party. I want them to know that we don't have to agree on all the issues, but they know they can work with somebody like me. I'll never compromise on my principles; I'll also not demonize people if they don't agree with me on everything.