But if I thought I would encounter a scene from Preppy Heaven, what I found instead at the Hassans' was rather more prosaic: the overscheduled life of a high-powered professional couple, one half of which just happens to get picked up for work by a state trooper. The house in Exeter turned out to be a symbol of what Maggie Hassan represents as a politician—just not in the way I expected.
At seven o’clock, Hassan, 56, descends the stairs to the kitchen, pantsuited and in stocking feet. Her 25-year-old son, Ben, who has cerebral palsy, is in his wheelchair being fed breakfast by his caregiver, Joyce; Hassan addresses him as “knucklehead”—the nickname is unmistakably, endearingly affectionate—while the family's adopted mutt, Honey Mae, bounds around her heels. The fridge displays snapshots with John Kerry and Michelle Obama alongside a magnet reading “Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast.” Exeter is 45 minutes’ drive from the capitol in Concord; when Hassan, a lawyer and former state senator, was elected governor in 2012, it was easier to commute than to move. Because New Hampshire is so small, most of its governors don’t move to the statehouse. Not since Mel Thompson in the 1970s, who hailed from a far-flung farm along the Appalachian Trail, has the governor made a home in the executive residence, known as Bridges House, which is used primarily for official functions.
Ben is the reason for his mother’s political career. His mind is alive and he hears everything, but he cannot speak or use his hands. The lofty old house has been fitted with special counters, ramps, and ceiling tracks to help him get around. More than a decade ago, when Hassan was a lawyer in private practice, her work to make Ben’s public elementary school accommodate his needs got her involved in disability-rights activism. In 1999, then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen—now the state’s senior U.S. senator—appointed her to a state education-advisory commission, and in 2002 Democratic Party leaders asked her to run for an open state-senate seat.
“I called my husband and said, ‘Isn’t it nice they called me and asked me to run? But of course, I can’t possibly—you know, job, kids, your job.’” Hassan is recounting this history from the front seat of an SUV as the trooper drives us from Exeter to Concord. (Her other state trooper, the one who takes her home at the end of the day, drives a minivan.) “And Tom just said, ‘You’d be good at it and we’ll make it work.’” So she ran, and lost, and ran again in 2004 and won. In 2010, she lost her Senate seat; in 2012 she was elected to her first two-year term as governor. She ran on a moderate platform that sought to thread the needle between the state's libertarian ethos and its increasing blue tilt, promising to invest in jobs and education while vetoing any proposed increase in taxes. So far, the opponents she has drawn for her reelection this year do not appear to pose a major threat.