Opinion: Derek Dufresne: Hassan does not believe in being accessible or accountable
"The people of New Hampshire expect and deserve the office of the governor to be as open and accessible as possible."
- Gov. Maggie Hassan
Sounds logical, right? In fact, it actually seems like government transparency is one of the few areas in modern politics where all Granite Staters, regardless of ideology, could find common ground. Gov. Maggie Hassan is correct in her premise that the people of New Hampshire deserve two things: openness and accessibility. However, despite the aforementioned quote from the governor being predominantly displayed in the opening paragraph of her taxpayer-funded website, our state’s chief executive has failed to meet even her own two parameters necessary for transparency.
An open government is perhaps the most important aspect of transparency. Without our elected officials cooperatively sharing information with their constituents, it is nearly impossible to hold policy makers accountable. When leaders fail to produce requested information, there must be a legal process available for the general public to acquire it. This is why we have a right-to-know law. Regrettably though, Hassan has consistently used her legal council to avoid complying with it.
An organization I work for, Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, submitted a right-to-know request to Hassan last May regarding her taxpayer-funded “economic development trip” to Turkey. The Deputy Attorney General responded to us by saying, “You have made your request to the Governor pursuant to the state’s Right-to-Know Law, RSA 91-A. It is the long-standing position of this office that RSA 91-A does not apply to the Governor’s Office.”
More recently, the New Hampshire Republican Party submitted a request regarding Hassan’s out-of-state travel records. Chairwoman Jennifer Horn received an almost identical response. It was so similar that it appears as if she has the same pre-scripted refusal ready to respond to every right-to-know document that hits her desk. Even the press has been stonewalled. Hassan’s refusal to comply with the Concord Monitor’s requests resulted in some of the most hard-hitting headlines and editorials she has ever received.
Granite Staters are tired of their governor hiding behind legal technicalities. Fortunately, legislators are listening. State Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, has introduced Senate Bill 205, which would ensure that the governor’s office is subject to New Hampshire’s right-to-know law. Legislators on both sides of the aisle in both chambers should support it. This law’s passage is of crucial importance considering Hassan’s blatant refusal to be open with her constituents.
Accessibility is, by definition, the practice of making oneself reachable or easy to approach. Like openness, it is of utmost importance for a governor to be directly available to her constituents in order for her to accurately reflect their beliefs in her decisions. The best way for her to be accessible is through town hall meetings. While they might have originated in New Hampshire’s past, in the 21st century these public forums have become one of the last ways for an average citizen to directly engage with high-level elected officials.
As the number of staffers working for our public officials grows, our leaders are better able to hide from their constituents under the guise of accessibility. It is a reality that letters, emails, tweets, and faxes are almost always only read and responded to by paid operatives. Interns typically answer most of the phone calls that come into the office, and the notes they jot down rarely make it further than their paid counterparts’ desks.
If one truly wants to ensure that the governor hears his thoughts, it has to be face to face. Unless you have a fancy title or a large bank account, private meetings are a rarity; thus, public forums are the only option for a majority of Granite Staters. Sadly, Maggie Hassan has never hosted a single town hall meeting during her entire career as governor.
She has been quick to argue the importance of an “economic mission” to Eurasia to discuss international trade. However, not once has she thought it was of value to hold a public forum in Manchester to ask Granite Staters their thoughts on job creation. That is wrong. How can Hassan claim to be a transparent leader when she refuses to provide a forum for her constituents to engage with her?
The purpose of government is to serve the people. It can only effectively do so when our elected officials are transparent, but Maggie Hassan has been a downright failure at ensuring that the office of the governor is open and accessible. She will likely continue to pretend otherwise and even disingenuously use her taxpayer-funded website to highlight her support for government transparency. However, as the old adage goes, you should not believe everything you read on the Internet. The reality is that there is a serious crisis of transparency in Hassan’s corner office.
Derek Dufresne is a partner and co-founder at RightOn Strategies, a consulting firm based in Manchester, New Hampshire.
This opinion piece was originally published in the Union Leader on February 16, 2015. It can be viewed HERE.