Walking down the hallway near his corner office at the New Hampshire Statehouse, Gov. John Lynch says he has mixed feelings. After serving eight years-- more than any other elected governor in the state-- Lynch says he feels a little sad having to say goodbye.
"I really do appreciate the trust that the people of New Hampshire have placed in me," Lynch said. "I am so honored to have served as governor for eight years. I have loved the job. And hopefully I have made a positive difference."
To find that difference, you don't have to look very far. The walls of Lynch's office are adorned not with pictures of dignitaries as one might think, but rather keepsakes from countless children. A fitting reminder that during his four terms in office, education has been a main focus.
"At a time where high high school dropout rates were literally of epidemic proportions in other states, which is what they are, we have reduced our high school dropout rate to a remarkably low 1 percent," Lynch said.
Unlike past governors who tried and failed, Lynch was able to raise the state's dropout age from 16 to18. He says he did it by reaching across the aisle. Not just under the golden dome, but outside its walls, as well.
"It is not just legislators but it is also talking with superintendents, school board members, principals, teachers and get them to understand why it is so important. Eventually, success had to do with them at the local level embracing the program," Lynch said.
But when it comes to education, a contentious topic in the Granite State that's paid for primarily through property taxes, Lynch was not always successful.
"I wanted an amendment that will affirm the state's responsibility for public education, but at the same time allow the state to spend more money on the communities and children who needed it more than others," Lynch said.
The amendment never passed. Lynch says he's leaving office with no regrets, but when it comes to education funding more work needs to be done.
"There were those who wanted an amendment to allow the state to walk away from its responsibilities for public education if the Legislature so chose," he said.
The back and forth battle at the Statehouse was inflamed during Lynch's fourth and final term. Republicans controlled both bodies in Concord with an agenda focused, in part, on repealing the state's gay marriage law. Lynch signed the gay marriage bill into law during his third term and vowed to veto any repeal bill. However, multiple attempts to pass repeal legislation were unsuccessful. He calls it a difficult couple of years.
"The House leadership has refused to have regular meetings," Lynch said. "They have not wanted to communicate either with me as governor or with the Senate. In some cases, they haven't wanted to communicate with Republicans in their own caucus."
At times, Lynch's approval rating while in office has been upward of 70 percent-- one of the highest in the nation. But being popular among voters does not always translate to smooth sailing at the state capitol.
"The other thing that was missing here during the last few years, that was primarily driven by House leadership, was civility," Lynch said. "People want us to work together. They want us to be civil in our discourse."
During the last election the balance of power in New Hampshire, at least in the House, shifted back to the Democrats, which in some ways, affirms Lynch's intentions of leaving partisan politics at the door.
"Most of the voters are in the middle," he said. "They want us to be centrist in our approach and be balanced in the way we govern."
And from that he offers advice to his successor, Governor-elect Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who Lynch worked closely with while she served in the state Senate.
"The advice that I would give to Governor-elect Hassan is the same advice I tried to follow myself: Put partisan politics to one side, work with both parties and work together to solve problems," Lynch said.
As for after he leaves office, Lynch says you may find him in a classroom teaching students about what it is like to be an executive of both the private and public sector in what he calls the great state of New Hampshire.
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