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Saturday, July 5, 2014

‘Close case’: NH Ballot commission issues Havenstein candidacy report

CONCORD – The slim majority of the Ballot Law Commission called it a “close case,” but still found Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein eligible to run because he didn’t surrender his New Hampshire domicile while living for more than four years in Maryland.

Commission Chairman Brad Cook authored the 3-2 opinion that said while Havenstein lived in a Bethesda, Md., condo to be close to his defense contracting employer, he maintained close enough ties to New Hampshire to remain an “inhabitant” for the last seven years. ...

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CONCORD – The slim majority of the Ballot Law Commission called it a “close case,” but still found Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein eligible to run because he didn’t surrender his New Hampshire domicile while living for more than four years in Maryland.

Commission Chairman Brad Cook authored the 3-2 opinion that said while Havenstein lived in a Bethesda, Md., condo to be close to his defense contracting employer, he maintained close enough ties to New Hampshire to remain an “inhabitant” for the last seven years.

“The facts in this case make it a close case, but we believe it is clear that Walter P. Havenstein has demonstrated that he meets the legal test of the law,” Cook wrote.

The ruling was co-signed by commissioners Martha Van Oot, a Concord Democrat, and Michael Eaton, a Chichester Republican.

But the dissenting commission members – both Democrats – said Havenstein severed the seven-year residency requirement when he claimed the condo as his principal residence in order to receive two Maryland tax breaks worth at least $4,500 and a lower interest rate on his mortgage.

Donald Manning, of Manchester, authored the dissent, which was co-signed by Roger Wellington, of Concord.

“By his words and deeds, Mr. Havenstein has … left no doubt that he was a resident of the state of Maryland within seven years of filing for the office of governor of the state of New Hampshire and is, therefore, ineligible to hold that office,” the dissenters wrote.

The New Hampshire Constitution and state election law require anyone running for governor to have been “an inhabitant of this state for seven years” prior to filing for office.

After Democratic Party leaders threatened to challenge Havenstein’s candidacy once he made it official in June, the candidate himself brought the petition to the ballot commission seeking to put the controversy behind him.

In the ruling, Cook laid out the main reasons how Havenstein showed an “intent to return” to New Hampshire, a key factor in determining whether one has kept his domicile here even while living somewhere else.

“His continuous ownership of property, registering to vote and voting, filing taxes, listing his address as New Hampshire almost universally and stating that he considered and intended New Hampshire to be his home all support a finding that Mr. Havenstein was an inhabitant of New Hampshire,” Cook wrote.

To buttress that intent, Cook noted Havenstein’s wife lived full-time throughout this period at their Alton home.

Havenstein also remained active in local philanthropic work and said he kept all of his important possessions in Alton.

This prompted his lawyer, David Vicinanzo, to refer to the $1 million Bethesda condo as a “spartan” apartment.

Conversely, Manning maintained Havenstein flunked the residency test when he took full financial advantage in buying the Maryland condo.

The Bank of America mortgage no doubt came with a lower interest rate than Havenstein would have received had he listed the condo as a second or third home, Manning argued.

“However, having availed himself of this lowest cost option, Mr. Havenstein cannot retrospectively assert that he always resided in New Hampshire,” Manning said.

Former ballot commissioner Steve Duprey said he isn’t surprised only Cook has commented publicly on the case.

“It was an informal practice that the chairman always spoke for the commission,” Duprey said. “I always considered the position a quasi-judicial role because there hasn’t been a successful appeal in court of a BLC decision. I let the decisions speak for themselves.”

For decades, BLC chairmen have asserted their decisions can’t be appealed to a higher court, and no state court has ever overruled a commission ruling regarding a potential candidate.

Permitting public commentary back and forth by BLC members also could violate the privacy of deliberations, he said.

“You are encouraged behind closed doors to frankly speak your mind about these cases,” Duprey said. “If all of that spills out, it could really have a chilling effect going forward.”

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