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Monday, July 28, 2014

Senate GOP leaders cool to Medicaid expansion

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN

Does anyone else get the idea that Senate Republican supporters of Medicaid expansion may be getting buyer’s remorse?

Several GOP Senate candidates are opposing incumbents in the Sept. 9 primary and their support of the New Hampshire Health Protection Program is a key talking point. ...

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Does anyone else get the idea that Senate Republican supporters of Medicaid expansion may be getting buyer’s remorse?

Several GOP Senate candidates are opposing incumbents in the Sept. 9 primary and their support of the New Hampshire Health Protection Program is a key talking point.

Senate President Chuck Morse’s explosion at week’s end about the method of denying coverage to those who improperly use the emergency room underscores the tension in GOP ranks.

All four Senate Republicans plus Rep. Richard Barry, R-Merrimack – the only House GOP member – opposed even adding a hearing aid benefit for those who are newly eligible even though it already exists for those on Medicaid.

The 5-5 vote brought this and the emergency room issue to a stalemate and the Legislative Fiscal Committee will grapple with it again when it meets next in September.

All veteran observers sensed when Gov. Maggie Hassan achieved this massive public policy victory that the devil would lie in the details and that – in a highly-charged election year – implementation of Medicaid expansion would have some bumps along the way.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas has drawn the short straw, trying to ensure when this plan goes live with enrollment on Sept. 1 that there aren’t any of the glitches that befell the Affordable Care Act last fall.

Havenstein gets bump

Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein gets a big lift Wednesday when none other than two-time, New Hampshire presidential primary winner John McCain, R-Ariz., guest stars at a D.C. fundraiser.

McCain is repaying a favor of sorts since Havenstein himself gave McCain’s two presidential campaigns more than $10,000 from 1999-2009.

Then on Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie returns for a state GOP fundraiser during a Fisher Cats game.

Christie will also be campaigning that day for Havenstein as well, as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association tries to dampen speculation that the national group is downplaying its chances of taking out first-term Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Candidates to meet

The three major Republican candidates for the Second Congressional District will meet for the first time in debate on WGIR-AM radio in Manchester Wednesday morning at 8.

It’s looking more and more like this scrap between former state Sen. Gary Lambert, of Nashua, and state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, of Salem, could be the most competitive of them all on Sept. 9.

Former state Rep. Jim Lawrence, of Hudson, will take part as well and his low-budget campaign has already gotten notice seeking to become the first African-American elected to major office in New Hampshire.

Watch for Lambert to promote his pledge not to take congressional health care, a pension and to voluntary set term limits on himself.

He’ll also fall back on his long career in the Marines as a retired colonel with decorated service in Mideast conflicts.

Garcia will cast herself as the fresh, more conservative face in this race who can best take the fight to first-term Democratic Congresswoman Annie Kuster.

If Garcia doesn’t bring it up it first, count on moderators Jack Heath and NHJournal’s John DiStaso to call upon Lambert to defend his Statehouse votes in favor of climate change.

This one could have some fireworks.

Veterans backing Brown

Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown keeps pushing the vets button for a reason.

He just retired after a longe career from the Army National Guard that ended with a four-year stint in the Pentagon.

Brown’s plan to improve services for veterans and overhaul the Veteran’s Administration is easily the most comprehensive public policy topic he’s offered since the race began.

It’s also a subset that he believes gives him a decided edge versus Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.

Brown’s veterans coalition announced last week was twice as big as Shaheen’s which is impressive given that A) Shaheen is the incumbent and as a former governor was the former commander of New Hampshire’s Guard forces and B) He’s the guy who’s only lived in the state full-time eight months.

Shaheen’s got nearly 40 more years over Brown on that score.

Right to Work pushes on

Does the next Right to Work campaign after the 2014 election really have a legitimate chance to succeed?

By anyone’s objective, that’s a tall order but it’s not stopping a variety of supportive groups from trying to elect a governor and a Legislature in its own image.

Just as in 2010, former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has surgically recruited conservative candidates and incumbents to mount House campaigns and that includes primaries with anti-Right to Work Republicans on the Sept. 9 ballot.

The gambit worked four years ago when O’Brien and his team knocked off then-Rep. Lee Quandt, R-Exeter, and more than a half dozen others.

In this race for governor, O’Brien also has two major candidates, Walt Havenstein, of Alton, and Andrew Hemingway, of Bristol, who not only would sign Right to Work but earnestly believe it’s an important tool in the job growth tool box.

Yet even with 3-1 GOP majorities after 2010 and O’Brien wielding the gavel as speaker, Right-to-Work supporters fell about 35 votes short of overriding the veto of then-Gov. John Lynch.

One can be sure if Hassan is back for another two-year stretch, she’d reach for the same pen to strike down any Right to Work 2.0 bill adopted by a Republican-led Legislature.

Whatever happens this November, this economic wedge issue will be used by both sides to raise money, mobilize their base and try to demonize the opposition.

Bragdon nears LGC goal

Slightly more than a year after taking the $180,000-a-year job, former Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, is on the verge of achieving his top priority leading the former Local Government Center.

That is to end the threat of endless, expensive litigation with state regulators who were bent on making the municipal lobby pay dearly for how it reorganized in Delaware years ago, returned to its New Hampshire roots and tried to legally break up the risk pool giant.

Bragdon credits state-named hearing officer John Mitchell with keeping both sides “moving forward’’ to the proposed settlement announced Friday by his team and the state Bureau of Securities Regulation.

All that remains is for Mitchell to put his John Hancock on the deal and both sides to agree just how much in state legal fees the quasi-public, HealthTrust will be picking up.

In a final irony, the settlement calls for insurance consultant Michael Coutu, of Rye, to serve as the “liaison’’ for the BSR who will spend the next year at HealthTrust and the Property Liability Trust headquarters pouring over the books and watching their market moves.

It’s the same Coutu who last fall Bragdon had tried to enlist an out-of-court settlement with Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

“I have a relationship with him. We mutually trust each other and can work well together,’’ Bragdon said.

“He described it as a bridge builder and I think that’s about right. He should serve both sides well.’’

A key part of the settlement calls for the cash-starved Property Liability Trust to surrender part ownership of the former LGC headquarters in Concord.

Bragdon’s HealthTrust now owns just under 99 percent of it with the other tiny piece held by the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

And the now-retired senator believes Property Trust will come through its financial struggles and reemerge as a solvent market leader in offering workers’ compensation and other insurance lines to cities and towns.

Bragdon had initially ran both companies until this dispute prompted the parent board to have Bragdon run HealthTrust and name longtime administrator Wendy Parker to be in charge of PLT.

“I am confident they can get to the point where the hearing officer gives the OK and lets them renew policies and pursue new ones in a year,’’ Bragdon added.

Memorial moves forward

A bipartisan effort to craft a memorial to the late New Hampshire Gov. John Winant will announce several steps forward Tuesday.

The group will name three honorary chairs that include Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey and sizable donations to the effort from the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and St. Paul’s School.

A noted sculptor has already been chosen and the fundraising drive is well underway. Plans are to complete the memorial by September 2015, which coincides with Concord’s 250th anniversary celebration.

“This has been a labor of love for a lot of us because John Winant was such an important figure in New Hampshire history who was overlooked because of his untimely demise,’’ said House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, referring to Winant’s suicide.

“It’s great to see all of us who care about the legacy come together for such a worthy cause and tribute.’’

Kevin Landrigan can reached at
321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).