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Sunday, August 3, 2014

NH governor’s vetoes more about style than substance

Kevin Landrigan

What was most interesting about Gov. Maggie Hassan’s three vetoes last week wasn’t the substance, but rather the style of carrying them out, which has many legislators in her own party muttering under their breath.

This was the policy troika that prompted Hassan to pull out her veto pen and all but assured that lawmakers will return before November to take them up: ...

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What was most interesting about Gov. Maggie Hassan’s three vetoes last week wasn’t the substance, but rather the style of carrying them out, which has many legislators in her own party muttering under their breath.

This was the policy troika that prompted Hassan to pull out her veto pen and all but assured that lawmakers will return before November to take them up:

Bullying state workers (HB 591): The State Employees Association led the campaign for this one, which passed without a recorded vote in either the House or Senate. Hassan said the policy would lead to more litigation and prevent managers from being able to keep a productive workforce.

Juvenile justice reform (SB 391): This hybrid of changes would put a new director of juvenile justice in charge of a system that includes wayward kids who get counseling to the 60 criminally delinquent behind bars at the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester.

Hassan questioned the wisdom of the reorganization in her veto and said a private consultant would be hired by state officials to examine whether there should be a different, administrative flow chart to carry out services to 1,400 juveniles.

State agency communications (HB 685): This bill would give legislative auditors exclusive access to privileged communication state agency heads have with their own lawyers as they go over the books.

The Legislative Fiscal Committee would settle disputes between agency heads and auditors over whether those communications should be disclosed; currently, that’s the job of Attorney General Joe Foster’s office.

Hassan vetoed the bill, insisting it encroached on the executive branch, violated the separation of powers and could lead to politically motivated audits driven by losing bidders for state contracts.

Hassan didn’t make any public comment of dissatisfaction about any of these bills, which were all approved with overwhelming, bipartisan support.

It isn’t like Hassan’s office was uninvolved on all three.

State agency heads had publicly weighed in against the bullying state workers bill, insisting it wasn’t workable and could have a chilling effect on their ability to manage more than 10,000 employees.

Still, until Hassan vetoed it, sponsors and their allies thought the first-term governor would either sign them or let them become state law without her signature.

What does this mean about the chances for the Legislature to override any or all of the three?

Despite a lot of bruised egos these days, Hassan holds the trump card in every case: She’s a popular incumbent in an election year whose support for the ticket down the ballot can only help.

This becomes especially important to the Democrat-
controlled House of Representatives, which many political observers have concluded is in danger of losing control to the GOP this November.

Keep in mind that in every case, Hassan doesn’t need 80 percent, or even 70 percent, support of House Democrats to sustain each of these vetoes.

Even if all Republicans went against her, Hassan could prevail each time, getting a 60-40 split from House Democrats.

This allows House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, to give the OK sign if she wishes to dozens of Democrats intensely involved in each issue to override while instructing the rank-and-file to respect the views of their state’s chief executive.

Fun times in District 16

Few outside Greater Concord may have noticed, but there’s a friendly – and fierce – Democratic primary going on to replace retiring Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, as nominee.

District 16, consisting of Concord, Hopkinton, Warner and Henniker, is one of the three most Democratic seats in the 24-member Senate.

Warner activist Lydia Dube Harman is the GOP candidate, as she was in 2012, against Larsen, but barring some unforeseen scandal, the winner of the Sept. 9 Democratic primary will replace Larsen after two decades.

Initially, Larsen’s hand-picked successor, Concord School Board Chairman Kass Ardinger, looked to be the obvious favorite – especially after one by one, other longtime prominent Democrats took a pass on running against her.

Up stepped Dan Feltes, staff lawyer for New Hampshire Legal Assistance, who in five weeks has gone from “Who’s he?’’ to a serious contender for the seat.

Feltes secured some of the most enviable endorsements in this part of the state, starting with the State Employees Association, whose members make up a big chunk of likely voters in what promises to be a low-turnout primary.

Likewise, the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire not only gives Feltes an in with voters, but a group whose organizational and on-the-ground campaign skills are legendary.

Add to them many revered Democrats who cross the political spectrum, from moderate Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern and former Health and Human Services Commissioner Ned Helms to unapologetic liberal Andru Volinsky, the legal architect of the lawsuit that threw out the over-reliance on property taxes to pay for public schools.

Not to be outdone, last week, Ardinger secured the important endorsement from Emily’s List, the pre-eminent abortion rights group when it comes to collecting legal small donor campaign contributions from across the country.

She and her husband, Statehouse lobbyist Bill Ardinger, have an impressive core group with a lot of experience in what moves voters in these down-ballot races.

Ardinger’s experience with schools offers its own base of support. Parents involved in local school politics are just as reliable primary voters as teachers are.

What will be interesting to see is whether Feltes tries to drive a wedge in that support by emphasizing Ardinger’s role as the city consolidated its elementary schools to deal with declining enrollments.

Incredibly, it’s the only real contested primary on the Democratic ballot all the way down to state representative, and those two are few and far between. But it has already proved to be worth watching.

Off to the printers

The primary campaign season is in the summer doldrums, but the staff of Secretary of State Bill Gardner’s office has been swamped as it rushed to meet early deadlines for printing of the Sept. 9 primary ballots.

Two weeks ago, they hit the first hurdle in time, mailing absentee ballots to the military or to other New Hampshire residents living overseas.

Last week, it was ensuring the printers finished preparing all of the absentee ballots so that city and town clerks would have their stacks of primary ballots in place by the end of the weekend.

Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan explained federal election law sets the tough standard for overseas voters, while state law ensures that local officials get their absentee ballots by Aug. 9, giving them time to send out absentee ballot requests in advance of the Sept. 9 election.

State law requires all of the ballots have to be in the hands of local officials by Sept. 2, which is the week before the vote.

“It’s actually going to be an even tighter window with overseas ballots after the primary,’’ Scanlan said. “We’ve only got 12 days after the primary that we’re going to have to have those out.

“That means we have to finish with any recounts and certify the write-in nominations in advance of all that.’’

Dollars and sense

Hassan hasn’t made a practice of letting legislation become law without her signature.

But she did that on two measures due back from her office on Friday, which meant they became law without her approval on Saturday.

It’s worth noting both measures had overwhelming bipartisan support, but they also each spent state dollars, which Hassan probably wasn’t thrilled about endorsing because the state already faces a freeze on hiring, equipment purchases and out-of-state travel.

Here are the details of each:

SB 213: Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, prime author.

This measure creates a statewide registry so that residents can make clear what life-sustaining moves are to be made for them in the event of an emergency.

There are 11 of 24 senators on the bill, including veteran Democrats Larsen; Bette Lasky, of Nashua; Peggy Gilmour, of Hollis; and Donna Soucy, of Manchester.

The measure is based on a similar program in Oregon.

The registry wouldn’t begin until July 1, 2015, and assumes that donations, gifts and grants would cover the costs.

State officials estimate the costs would be roughly $250,000 a year and assume 8,884 would sign up in the first year.

SB 222: Sen.
Lou D’Allesandro, D-
Manchester, is the bill’s prime author.

This massive bill reorganizes the Department of Administrative Services into three distinct divisions of procurement, plant and property management, and public works.

That won’t cost the taxpayer any additional dollars, but what will cost money is hiring a financial administrator for the department to assist major state agencies in preparing their financial statements and cooperating with the legislative budget assistant’s office as it audits agency books.

The cost for that would be $69,000 in the current year up to $100,000 by 2017.

The bill also allows the adjutant general to complete construction of a readiness center in Littleton even if federal grant dollars aren’t enough to repay the state for its administrative work on the project.

State officials note if the adjutant general isn’t able to get further support from the federal government, the $1.1 million grant for the project could be lost.

Now you know why facing an already tight budget year and election season ahead, Hassan opted to let these go ahead without her endorsement.

Out of gas

The fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity was at it again with a new mailing targeting Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, for her support of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Stiles faces a stiff primary challenge from North Hampton businessman Steve Kenda.

RGGI has always been a favorite bull’s-eye for the AFP, whose financial support comes from the Koch brothers, who made their mega-fortunes in the oil and gas industries.

In the 2012 cycle, the AFP peppered the district of then-Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, for his opposition to outright repeal of RGGI.

Bragdon survived a primary night scare to Dan Dwyer, of Merrimack, and won re-election, but never forget that forearm shiver.

$2 million boost

Republican Senate candidate Jim Rubens received a big boost last week with the Mayday Political Action Committee confirming it would spend $2 million on his behalf, one of its first two big independent expenditures.

Rubens won their backing as the only GOP hopeful to support a system of voluntary taxpayer financing of future congressional elections. GOP Senate candidate Scott Brown opposed public financing legislation while in the Senate.

Why back Rubens, who trails Brown in name recognition, fundraising and head-to-head polls?

That’s easy. There aren’t too many Republicans running in high-profile campaigns for federal office in who are onboard with public financing.

The key question is what strategy Mayday uses with its big paid media budget. Are all of the ads used to go after the GOP front-runner, Brown, or to boost Rubens’ candidacy?

Can one really expect this group’s message to be about something other than campaign finance, which is way down the list of pressing issues behind jobs, taxes, spending, gun control and the like?

Meanwhile, Brown’s $2.4 million raised in the second quarter was eclipsed by the more than $4 million raised by Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., but it was still the most of any GOP candidate who didn’t self-fund his or her campaign.

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