By John Celock
In her valedictory State of the State Address, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) put a focus on her accomplishments, along with Democratic Party themes as she prepares to run for the U.S. Senate this year.
Hassan spent much of her annual address to lawmakers touting her accomplishments since taking office in 2013, along with an agenda heavy in issues that will likely play a role in her coming campaign. Hassan announced last year that she would forgo seeking a third term as the Granite State’s governor to instead challenge U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R), in what will likely be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country this year.
“Our greatest strength is and always has been is the citizens of New Hampshire,” she said. “It is that all hands on deck spirit that keeps our state moving forward.”
Hassan put empathies early in her speech about addressing the heroin and opioid drug crisis that has been impacting the state. She has made the drug issue a top one in the last year, including calling lawmakers into special session last November to focus on the subject. Hassan used the speech to praise lawmakers for what she said is a bipartisan solution to the crisis.
Saying that more than 400 people died last year from drug overdoses in the state, Hassan said that more needed to be done from both a law enforcement and treatment standpoint. In addition to saying that more support needs to be given to law enforcement, particularly in hard hit communities, she said she wants to focus on more counseling for addicts along with those who are treated for drug overdoses.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Hassan said. “Strengthening our treatment programs and ending the stigma of addiction is part of a comprehensive approach.”
The heroin and opioid issue has been a growing issue for governors around the country, including in New England. Earlier this week, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) made the issue a top part of her State of the State speech. In a speech to New Hampshire lawmakers last month, Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) focused entirely on the drug issue. Christie has made increased drug treatment program a top priority of his in New Jersey.
Hassan said she wants to expand New Hampshire’s drug court system, along with treatment programs.
“There is also board consensus that we should expand the drug courts and creating new drug courts around the state,” she said. “Drug courts can only work if they are backed up by increased treatment capacity. New Hampshire has for too long lagged behind other states in treatment capacity.”
Hassan then moved into an almost laundry list of issues that will likely make up a large part of her Senate campaign. She called on lawmakers to continue the state’s Medicaid expansion, saying that it has increased insurance for 46,000 New Hampshire residents. She also said that she wants to increase aid to education, keep college affordable, increase homeland security functions in state government and provide job skills to teenagers.
Hassan said that she wanted lawmakers to raise the minimum wage and used her speech to focus on infrastructure, saying the state needed a more modern transportation system, including commuter rail.
Hassan’s economic development section focused heavily on the innovation economy, which has been a top concern of hers since she first took office.
The innovation economy and helping start-up businesses has been a top issue for a number of states. Raimondo has made it her central focus in Rhode Island, while Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has been touting General Electric’s recent announcement that they will move to Boston from Connecticut. Kansas lawmakers on Wednesday considered a bill for angel investor tax credits in their state to help start-ups in the Kansas City metro area.
Hassan did not directly address her Senate race in the speech, but eluded to it by saying she was looking forward to working on the issues she addressed longer than her remaining year in the governor’s office.
“These are the priorities I have fought for since becoming governor and these are the priorities I will continue to work on with Republicans, Democrats and independents in the future,” she said.