Charlie Arlinghaus works in the basement of a down-on-its-heels apartment building a few blocks south of the State House. The building, and the no frills feel of the office, would work in an odd, very New Hampshire-politics film noir, one where the detective decorated his office with posters of free-market economists Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek and pitched himself as connected to the budget process.
“If you get good information, you get a good budget, and if you don’t get good information, you don’t," Arlinghaus said in an interview. "And, frankly, what I’ve been doing for 13 years is information gathering.”
As president of the Josiah Bartlett Center, a free-market think tank, Arlinghaus has watched the state budget for years. Before that, he worked in electoral politics, including stints directing the NH GOP and with the Republican National Committee.
“I think my world-view, fiscally, is that government has to be careful about every dollar it spends," he said. "It has to set priorities and realize that every dollar you spend on one thing is a dollar that’s not available to spend on something else, because money is finite.”
That mindset is shot-through Arlinghaus’ regular columns for the New Hampshire Union Leader. There, he’s called for free-market approaches to health care and education, and warned against what he sees as "boondoggles": passenger rail and allowing communities to borrow to fund broadband expansion. Along the way, Arlinghaus has fought loudly for government transparency, in product and process. Democrats get the worst of his criticism, but Republicans get some too.
“Well, Charlie Arlinghaus has always been my biggest critic. I read about it all the time in the newspaper.”
That’s Senate President Chuck Morse.
“Charlie often looks at the policies in a manner that his organization is looking from. I have no problem with that. He’s a good person. He has no problem picking up a phone and calling me. And I think he’s a good one to look at where we are right now and where we should be.”
And Morse has relied on Arlinghaus as a talent scout. The past two state Senate policy directors worked for Arlinghaus at the Bartlett Center. Democratic budget-writers, like Stoddard state Rep Dan Eaton, say they rarely agree with Arlinghaus on policy but respect him.
"He’s a solid choice as far as being a conservative to lay out the budget numbers, but I think he’s also reliable, he knowledgeable, and we will let things fall where they may," Eaton said.
And as for Arlinghaus himself, he says however things fall, he doesn’t plan to stick around once Chris Sununu's budget goes to lawmakers.
“I am very fond of the Bartlett Center and my lovely basement abode.”
Spoken like a true fiscal conservative.