New Hampshire Democratic Senate hopeful Maggie Hassan has angered her liberal base by nominating a former bank lobbyist to regulate the industry.
The two-term governor nominated Gerald "Jerry" Little to be the commissioner of the New Hampshire Banking Department in February, praising the first-term state senator for his "extensive experience in the banking industry."
"The New Hampshire Banking Department is critical to ensuring strong protections for New Hampshire’s citizens while also supporting a strong financial sector," Hassan said in a release. "Senator Little has extensive experience in the banking industry and working in state and local government, and I am confident that his expertise and integrity will help him fulfill the Banking Commissioner’s important responsibilities to protect New Hampshire consumers and support our financial sector."
Before joining the state senate as a Republican in 2015, Little served as a top official, spokesman, and lobbyist at the New Hampshire Bankers Association for more than two decades. He left the organization in 2011.
Hassan has had close ties with the organization during her tenure in the state senate and governor’s mansion. She received nearly $4,000 in contributions from the group’s political arm, NHBA Bank PAC, between 2006 and 2014, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Neither the Hassan administration, nor her campaign, nor Little returned requests for comment.
The nomination drew criticism from liberals and government watchdogs. The Nashua Telegraph, which endorsed her run for governor, proclaimed in an unsigned editorial, "This is why people are disgusted with politics." A MoveOn.org petition calling on Hassan to "rescind the nomination" garnered nearly 800 signatures within days of the announcement.
"We urge her to seek a qualified individual who will not be compromised by years of aggressive defense and support for an industry that he or she would be called upon to regulate. Prudence, fairness and trust demand a new appointee who has, at a minimum, an arm's length relationship with the Banking Industry," the petition says.
The move also drew the ire of radio host Arnie Arnesen, a former state representative who was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 1992. Arnesen has known Little for decades and described him as a "nice guy," but said that he was unfit for the post given his experience and "the sense that he represents the interests of the banks" over consumers.
"Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican you should be concerned about … the fox guarding the henhouse," she told the Washington Free Beacon. "You just don’t appoint the chief lobbyist as the chief regulator. … I’m not saying he shouldn’t be in government, just not this position. Make him the head of [the Department] of Fish and Game."
Arnesen called the appointment "tone deaf" and said that it points to a disconnect between state leadership and voters on the ground. She credited the massive primary victories of outsiders Donald Trump and socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in the February primaries as evidence that New Hampshire voters distrust the political establishment. She said the nomination represents of importing the "revolving door" or Washington, D.C., to New Hampshire.
"This appointment raises questions about [Hassan’s] lack of understanding about what is happening on both sides of the aisle," she said. "Given the tenor of the election why the hell would you do that?"
Little can only be approved for the regulatory board if he is confirmed by the Republican-controlled state Executive Council.
Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern both sit on the board and are seen as the frontrunners to succeed Hassan as governor. Arnesen said this vote could send a signal to voters about how they will govern. It’s especially important for Democratic voters because the party is at odds with its base.
Arnesen said that primary voters are frustrated with Hassan, who is seen as a member of the "Democratic elite."
"There are two parties in New Hampshire: there’s the Democratic elite party and the progressive liberals looking for public policy results," she said. "They [the elites] go where the money is. We knew that she [Hassan] was going to be there. There’s no shock to this."
Neither Van Ostern nor Sununu returned requests for comment.
The Executive Council is expected to vote on the nomination in the coming weeks.