The New Hampshire Union Leader originally published this column on August 31, 2012:
If Jackie Cilley wins her gubernatorial primary — and she could — New Hampshire Democrats will have their most liberal nominee since Mark Fernald in 2002 and Arnie Arnesen in 1992.
Cilley argues that her humble beginnings, business background and legislative experience qualify her for the corner office. In reality, Cilley is thinly prepared to be governor.
It is true that Cilley grew up working-poor in Berlin. She glosses over the following years, when she married young and struggled as a single mom before eventually finding the traditional path to upward mobility: higher education and a stable marriage. She enrolled at the University of New Hampshire as a 29-year-old freshman, remarried and got her life on track. It’s a story Cilley deserves to be proud of, but on the stump Cilley tells it selectively, with a chip on her shoulder and oozing class resentment like a zombie oozes blood, as in a now somewhat famous campaign ad of Cilley’s.
Cilley’s business experience is more than a little puffed up. After earning an MBA from UNH, Cilley stayed at the university as an adjunct instructor. She was not a full professor; hers was not a tenure-track position. While teaching, she also did marketing and research consulting work under the name Cilley & Associates. By all appearances, this involved the sort of project work someone does to make ends meet or until a full-time job comes along. There’s plenty honorable about working two part-time jobs to stitch together a living, but given that Cilley continued teaching for 20 years, the consulting work looks more like side gig moonlighting than what most people would consider a going business.
Cilley adds that she is a partner in her husband’s business. Again, she keeps it vague on the stump, not naming the business, letting listeners imagine a Knoll or Cabletron. The business is Horseshoes Plus, a farrier supplier that operates from their home. Small business and self-employment is always worthy of respect, but tending to horses is not exactly the job-creating industry of the 21st century.
I asked the campaign whether Cilley & Associates or Horseshoes Plus had employees, that is, whether businesswoman Cilley met a payroll. The campaign did not respond to multiple messages.
Nor is Cilley’s political experience particularly impressive. Howard Dean’s lasting contribution to politics was the large number of new liberal activists his 2004 presidential campaign brought forth. Cilley was one of them. That year, Democrats recruited her to fill out the slate for state representative in a sprawling six-town, eight-member district. She did not expect to win, but placed a mediocre sixth, good enough to win a seat in Concord.
Two years later, she became an accidental state senator. Cilley again agreed to help her party fill out the ballot against then-incumbent state Sen. Dick Green. Green had won his previous election by 19 points; Cilley entered the race as a sacrificial lamb with little realistic expectation of winning. But when Green withdrew after the filing deadline to become executive director of the Pease Development Authority, Cilley walked into the seat. She was reelected in 2008, a strong Democratic year. Sometimes politics comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Her luck ran out in 2010 and she was defeated.
In Concord, Cilley was a liberal zombie, voting with the pack. Her priorities were unions, Obama-style health care and radical environmentalism. One of her first acts as senator was joining a union protest against Frisbie Hospital for using construction contractors who didn’t guarantee health insurance for workers. She sponsored a bill requiring annual emissions testing of Zambonis. She tried to create a state director of climate change position. She attacked Walmart, celebrated Earth Day and wished her constituents Happy Kwanzaa in a letter to the editor.
Cilley voted to raise taxes some 84 times, including voting for the LLC tax and extending the rooms and meals tax to campgrounds. When the resulting uproar prompted Democrats to repeal those taxes, Cilley tellingly proposed increasing two other taxes — on life, fire and property insurance premiums and on Seabrook — to pay for the repeal instead of cutting spending.
Throughout it all, Cilley danced on The Pledge. “What I am personally in favor of and what I would do as a legislator … are two different things,” she nonclarified at a 2008 candidate’s forum.
Zombies. They want to eat your brains.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.