Gov. Maggie Hassan is facing criticism for failing to take a position on whether she supports or opposes the Northern Pass project.
Others say the Democrat’s rhetoric is appropriate for the time as the project continues being debated throughout the state.
Northern Pass is proposal to run about 180 miles of new power lines from Canada through northern New Hampshire to Concord and then Deerfield. Proponents say the lines would bring much-needed jobs and new tax revenue to a struggling part of the state. Opponents say it would offer only temporary jobs and hurt tourism by defacing the Granite State’s forests.
As of Friday, the Connecticut company leading the project was optimistic about its future and confident of Hassan’s support, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
Yet the Union Leader published an editorial on Saturday criticizing the governor for not being clear if she backs the project or not.
“Gov. Maggie Hassan has been entirely consistent on her position on Northern Pass. She’s in favor of whichever side you’re on,” the editors wrote. “If she’s afraid of alienating voters who don’t agree with her, perhaps U.S. senator isn’t the right job for her.”
The New Hampshire Republican Party also said the governor “has attempted to play both sides in the ongoing debate.”
“The governor is like a weathervane in a hurricane as she continues to show voters that she is willing to blow with the political winds instead of taking a firm position on anything,” said Ross Berry, executive director of the NH GOP, in a statement to NH Journal.
It’s true that Hassan hasn’t been clear where she is on the current proposal, but Dean Spiliotes, civic scholar at Southern New Hampshire University, said that isn’t necessarily a bad idea politically.
“You can say, she’s being kind of vague and needs to take a clearer stance,” he said in an interview with NH Journal. “She has been fairly consistent on making sure all the potential concerns are addressed and getting feedback from all stakeholders. I think she can be cautious on the project and realize that this is a very complex project with a lot of different moving parts.”
In a Democratic gubernatorial debate in 2012, Hassan said: “I opposed the first Northern Pass proposal because it did not honor the views of the community where the towers were going to be situated. For any new Northern Pass proposal, it needs to respect the views of the communities. It needs to make sure New Hampshire has access to the power and would gain something from the project. We need to look at burying lines, and as governor I will make sure we do a very rigorous review of any proposal that comes forward.”
In 2013, Hassan published an op-ed in The Boston Globe, responding to its editorial calling for passage of the Northern Pass. “As it stands, for the people of New Hampshire, the project is all costs and few, if any, savings. All people in New England deserve better, and the people of New Hampshire will continue to demand better.”
When Northern Pass officials released a new version of the plan in 2015, Hassan sent out a statement saying the public deserved to have input as the plan advanced.
“From the very beginning, I, along with many other Granite Staters, have pushed Northern Pass officials to listen to our concerns,” she said. “I have made clear that if Northern Pass is to move forward, it must propose a project that protects our scenic views and treasured natural resources while also reducing energy costs for our families and businesses.”
On Friday, after the phone call with Northern Pass executives, the Union Leader reached out to the governor’s office and received a similar statement to those from previous years.
“The governor has made clear that if Northern Pass is to move forward, it must propose a project that protects our scenic views and treasured natural resources while also reducing energy costs for our families and businesses,” spokesman William Hinkle said. “New Hampshire deserves the latest technologies in order to protect what we all love about our state.”
Some of the governor’s critics say it’s her dealings behind closed doors that matter most — and make her position on this issue unclear.
Hassan’s rhetoric changes around Eversource executives, the Union Leader claimed in its editorial, echoing a narrative that Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s campaign pushes.
Ayotte, the incumbent running against Hassan for the U.S. Senate seat, also argues the governor is trying to play both sides on this issue.
“Unlike Hassan, Kelly has led the call for Northern Pass to fully bury the transmission lines in order to move forward with the project, and Hassan should quit the political games and tell voters where she really stands,” said Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson in a statement to NH Journal. “Governor Hassan has a troubling history of trying to play both sides of this debate — including her acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions from pro-Northern Pass unions and her attempt to stack a key review panel with supporters of the project.”
The case Johnson referenced saw Hassan return $24,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC, a pro-Northern Pass union.
Hassan has long faced criticism for trying to have it both ways on Northern Pass. Immediately after the union donation in 2014, Hassan posed for a picture with a group of union members holding pro-Northern Pass signs. But that same week, Hassan attended an anti-Northern Pass protest to thank opponents of the project.
Hassan has also been criticized for trying to “stack” a key agency responsible for reviewing large utility projects with Northern Pass supporters.
Neither Hassan’s campaign nor the governor’s office responded to multiple requests for comment on this story.
The Northern Pass project is expected to be debated heavily in New Hampshire’s gubernatorial and congressional races this fall.