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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Massachusetts casino debate may have profound effect on NH

Kevin Landrigan

Will the battle over whether to repeal casinos in Massachusetts affect the debate for one in New Hampshire next year?

What can’t be denied is that this could be one of the most expensive and potentially one of the closest battles for survival in recent history. ...

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Will the battle over whether to repeal casinos in Massachusetts affect the debate for one in New Hampshire next year?

What can’t be denied is that this could be one of the most expensive and potentially one of the closest battles for survival in recent history.

If past is prologue, the casino industry will greatly outspend those who want to repeal the 2011 law in Massachusetts.

This is especially true in the Bay State, where MGM says it has already invested $30 million in the casino license it received to open an $800 million complex in Springfield.

This summer, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is expected to pick the license winner in a fierce battle between Connecticut casino owner Mohegan Sun, which seeks a Suffolk Downs site in Revere, versus Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, who wants a site in Everett.

But as we’ve seen in many states across the U.S., money alone doesn’t always win the argument.

Look at our next-door neighbors in Maine who rejected casino referendums six times over an 11-year period, most recently in 2011.

In the 2011 contest, casino developers who wanted voters to expand the state’s market from two to five casinos or slot parlors at racetracks outspent opponents 4-1.

Dr. Clyde Barrow, of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has followed expanded gambling policy for 20 years, and he believes the repeal effort in Massachusetts is for real.

“As we have seen elsewhere, money doesn’t win this vote; public support does, and that means the unions that want these jobs from the casinos are going to have to mobilize all over the state,” Barrow said.

“I see this as a very competitive question.”

Polls have shown public support for casinos dropping in Massachusetts, and bad publicity for the industry since 2011 hasn’t helped.

One casino bidder was disqualified after having potential ties to organized crime, and auditors discovered the former CEO of the Plainville, Mass., dog track site that won the Massachusets slot parlor license had taken $1 million for himself out of a cash counting room.

Then the Gaming Commission chairman had to disqualify himself from sitting on the question of awarding the Greater Boston license after attending a Kentucky Derby party at Suffolk Downs.

“It’s happened over time down there, but as far as the public is concerned, the bloom of casinos is off the rose,” said Steve Duprey, co-chairman of Casino Free New Hampshire.

Even Gov. Deval Patrick, who signed and promoted the law, came out in opposition to the casino that would have been near his home in Richmond, Mass.

Meanwhile, you have the leading Democratic candidate for governor, Attorney General Martha Coakley, who ruled the referendum an unconstitutional taking of private property until the Supreme Judicial Court overruled her.

Finally, you have an otherwise sleepy state election year in Massachusetts, no U.S. Senate race, and the race to replace Patrick getting off to a sluggish start.

What does that mean? Low turnout, and in the Democrat-dominated state, that means an even more liberal electorate than is typical.

And all polls consistently show, echoed by sentiment on the ground in New Hampshire, that those left of center are the most passionate ideologues against the social ills of casinos.

The outcome may be the same, but all this means voters in New Hampshire could be waking up on Nov. 5 to a whole different casino debate in 2015.

Voting the ‘right’ way

As we first reported, several Republican senators didn’t fare well at all in the Americans for Prosperity rating of the New Hampshire Legislature out last week.

Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, and retiring Sen. Bob Odell, R-New London, received F’s’ from the fiscally conservative group, along with all 11 Democrats, while Dave Boutin, R-Manchester, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, received D’s.’

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, managed a B, while Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, copped an A+.

Rankings in the House of Representatives were much more predictable. Most GOP members received A’s and virtually all Democrats received F’s.

There were a few notable exceptions, such as New London moderate GOP Rep. David Kidder getting an F (44 percent) and House Finance Committee member Bob Elliott, R-Salem, getting a D (66 percent).

The AFP-NH rating has always not penalized House members from missing key votes, unlike the rating systems of the House Republican Alliance and New Hampshire Liberty Alliance.

Thus, Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, a Republican congressional candidate, received an A even though she was absent for six of the 15 votes.

Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, missed eight of the 15 votes, and he, too, received an A.

AFP-NH state director Greg Moore used to be O’Brien’s chief of staff.

O’Brien not only promoted Garcia up the leadership chain while he ran the House, but strongly endorsed her in this primary against former state Sen. Gary Lambert, of Nashua, and Hudson businessman Jim Lawrence.

“We judge folks based on the votes they actually take, knowing that a volunteer Legislature, by its nature, will result in people who cannot make every vote,” Moore said.

Attendance doesn’t figure in the score, but it does in the grade, which is why only those who made all 15 and voted the “right” way received an A+, Moore said.

“AFP has always done it this way for the past six years, which predates me coming here, and our members view it as an accurate rating system,” Moore said.

Eligibility at stake

All eyes will be on the Ballot Law Commission on Monday as it considers the question of whether Walt Havenstein is eligible to run for governor.

Havenstein wisely chose to bring this petition to the BLC himself in hopes of getting the matter resolved.

The Telegraph first disclosed in March that Havenstein received two state tax breaks on a $1 million condo in Bethesda, Md., from 2008-11 by claiming it as his principal residence.

Havenstein has insisted since the beginning that though he lived in Maryland while running government contracting firms, he returned to New Hampshire on weekends and always kept this as his domicile.

Based on past BLC decisions, Havenstein’s best argument for sustaining his candidacy is there’s no evidence he ever voted in Maryland during that period. Meanwhile, Havenstein continued to vote in New Hampshire in presidential, state and local elections in his hometown of Alton.

BLC Chairman Brad Cook denied the bid of the New Hampshire Democratic Party to delay the proceeding to allow for more evidence gathering.

And a decision from the BLC orally and not in writing is a distinct possibility.

That’s because terms of some BLC members actually expire Monday, with new members coming aboard Tuesday.

As Havenstein defends his right to be on the ballot, Gov. Maggie Hassan celebrates one of her crowning achievements at a Manchester Community Health Center press conference kicking off for the Medicaid expansion law she signed in May.

Enrollment in the New Hampshire Health Protection Program opens Tuesday.

The BLC will also take up the petitions of Democratic candidate for state rep Stacie Laughton, of Nashua, and 1st Congressional District wannabe candidate Allen Levene.

Laughton was judged ineligible because she’s still on probation from her felony conviction for credit card fraud. Levene isn’t a New Hampshire resident, but insists he can move here before Election Day and still be considered a candidate.

That NH spirit

The end of June is the season for Morse’s landscaping and garden centers, but he stayed locked in on New Hampshire affairs while Hassan was on her trade mission to Turkey last week.

The Salem Republican worked the phones late Wednesday and Thursday morning to get updates on the massive overnight flooding that had occurred in Woodstock and swamped a popular campground there.

Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, was one of those surprised to get a call from the acting chief executive.

“He was great; just making sure I knew the state DOT had swung into rapid response mode in taking care of the residents up there,” Woodburn said.

“It’s the way New Hampshire works best: a bipartisan spirit that all pitches in when people are in need.”

Good luck and farewell

The Statehouse pressroom won’t be the same with the retirement at week’s end of longtime Associated Press reporter Norma Love.

Her 31 years with the AP included 29 at her ubiquitous station in the back corner of Room 116 under the Golden Dome.

The bipartisan praise heaped on Love poured in from Hassan and the Executive Council, the Democrat-led House, the Republican-controlled Senate and the U.S. Senate, where Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., read a tribute to her into the Congressional Record.

While Love’s accomplishments as a crusading journalist are too many to adequately mention in this limited space, her lasting legacy will be that of a person of immense integrity and compassion for those from all walks of life.

We don’t say goodbye, but good luck and thanks for the treasured memories.

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