Steve Marchand found out about Moneyball — from a book he read at age 10 “in the back of a Chevy Caprice Classic,” on a road trip, with the parents. They handed him a book — with a baseball on the cover — to keep him occupied.
Bill James’s Historical Baseball Extract was an eye-opener.
“I’m not claiming I understood it all,” he said, but the book did more than change the way he looked at sports.
“It changed how I looked at life,” he said.
Marchand dug into the data and didn’t take too long to figure out the same strategies that built championship baseball teams could also be applied in other arenas, including politics.
Although it would be almost another 20 years before he himself ran for office — and he would earn a college degree and a master’s in public administration, in the meantime — he credits the lessons he learned from James’s book with helping him build Portsmouth into one of the Granite State’s thriving cities — one of few communities where tax increases have not outpaced inflation, a district with some of the best elementary schools in the state and one of just two New Hampshire municipalities with a AAA bond rating, he told New Hampshire Journal this week.
A Democrat, he decided to run for governor because he “saw the other candidates on both sides not addressing the key challenges, much less offering solutions.”
“The difference in this race is depth of experience, understanding, and decision-making ability in a public setting,” he said. His opponents “offer solutions that show they haven’t spent a lot of time talking to people,” he said.
Looking at the demographics, Marchand says New Hampshire has become one of the nation’s “oldest” states. Over the past 25 years, he added, the number of school age children has steadily declined. Simultaneously, people have stopped moving into New Hampshire from other states.
The change poses a “major threat” to New Hampshire’s economy and way of life, he said. As director of corporate relations at University of New Hampshire, he talked to more than 125 business leaders and the demographics issue “came up time and time again.”
Business leaders are “afraid the future workforce will not be here to warrant future investment,” he said.
But New Hampshire could become an “outstanding place for people — particularly people under 45 — to move, raise a family and start a business.”
As he sees it, state government must “deal with the heroin epidemic;” improve education from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade; upgrade the infrastructure, which is “seen as a relative weakness,” and be “seen as friendliest state for an entrepreneur.
“If nothing else,” he said, he’d like to have reporters “come back in five years to see how New Hampshire successfully reversed the opioid” crisis and became a model for the rest of America. The solutions would save lives, improve the state economy and salvage New Hampshire’s “brand.”
Marchand is a first generation American, who could become New Hampshire’s first governor of French-Canadian descent, an irony he noted given the number of French-Canadian citizens here.
He was born in Manchester and grew up in a French-speaking household “that was very ‘real world.’”
Many of his relatives still live in Quebec; he has U.S. aunts and cousins in Coos County and in Pittsburg, N.H., on the Canadian border.
His parents worried about finances and healthcare. Neither one finished high school, although his mother did earn a General Education Development certificate.
She worked in the Pandora Mills on the Merrimack River and later started her own business.
His father was a carpenter, who built starter homes. His houses are still standing today all over the west side of Manchester. His family lived the
“story of immigration, of people coming to America legally, working hard and building a better life,” he said.
That experience is “so critically important to our economy,” explained Marchand. “I want to be the champion” for those people.
Through life experience, Marchand gained “deep understanding and affection for three parts of the state” and knows a one-size fits all solution will not work for New Hampshire.”
“You can’t apply one size fits all,” he said, but “thoughtful management principles can apply to city or state” government.
“I am not an ideologue,” he said. “I like to ask big questions, use data and have the confidence to lead.”
He also has used analytics and old-fashioned shoe leather to win political campaigns. He worked on other candidates’ campaigns before he ran for Portsmouth city council.
Marchand had lived in Portsmouth for only about 2 and a half years and didn’t have a lot of connections.
He figured “about 2,200 homes were kind of key.”
“I started knocking.” When people opened the door, he talked to them about “very specific policies” with the emphasis on solving problems. He won that first race and became mayor two years later. But with young children at home, Marchand opted not to run again. His two daughters are 12, and 10, now, so he feels the time is right for another campaign.
“It would be overstating it to say I could predict the future,” he added, but most Major League baseball clubs for more than 40 years have used moneyball to navigate the free agent market by figuring out “what skills are undervalued and deliver a lot of return at the same price,” he explained. “That’s what I did in government.”
“It’s Moneyball for politics and policy,” he said. “You’re looking for value and using data to find results.”
He still has that Bill James book from 1985. To make it sweeter, James now consults for the Red Sox – a dream come true, his favorite team and his favorite baseball writer.