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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Several women among leading contenders for New Hampshire attorney general post

Kevin Landrigan

Editor’s Note: For a longer version of this column, visit nashuatelegraph.com.


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Editor’s Note: For a longer version of this column, visit nashuatelegraph.com.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has the kind of challenge for which any experienced New Hampshire lawyer might kill.

She gets to pick her own attorney general.

Some scoffed when we speculated more than a month ago that Michael Delaney’s days as attorney general could be numbered.

A successful 14-year career in public prosecution and legal counsel can earn enough enemies for a lifetime, and Delaney had amassed his share.

Victims of the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal, medical providers, state lottery and former liquor agency officials were among those with the long knives out.

Hassan had started last weekend sounding out members of the Executive Council for support if she brought Delaney in for another four-year term.

Maybe she could have got it done, but several of the above-mentioned groups had already touched the councilors, and more than a few reservations were expressed.

Delaney will return to private practice and get plenty of political rehabilitation over the next few years, and one day he could have a political future in elective office.

But let’s go to some people who might make Hassan’s “A” list to become the new AG.

Let’s start with one strong desire among some in the inner circle: to name a woman.

Hassan believes in sisterhood – her chief of staff, lawyer and campaign manager were all women.

For Democratic activists, naming a party-supportive female could erase some of the sting they still feel for former Gov. John Lynch, whose first woman AG – Kelly Ayotte – turned out to be the strongest Republican in the state and a rising national star.

As you will see, however, this isn’t an all-woman cast of capable characters:

U.S. Attorney John Kacavas: He has performed well as the state’s federal prosecutor, but taking the top state job would give a much higher political profile for a guy who has ambitions. He’s young, articulate, a loyal Democrat and from Manchester, all solidly positive traits for a new chief executive.

Former state Sen. Deb Reynolds: This Plymouth lawyer has a successful law practice and has remained active in party circles since losing her seat to Meredith Republican Sen. Jeannie Forrester.

Do you remember how hard the Senate pored over the same-sex marriage legislation, changing it three times to win Lynch’s ultimate support?

Who were the two architects of that grand deal? Then-Sens. Hassan and Reynolds.

Legal Counsel Lucy Hodder: Governors have a long history of promoting their lawyers to become AG, putting the likes of, Ayotte, Delaney and Warren Rudman in the big chair.

State Republican Chairman Jennifer Horn and conservative bloggers tried to disqualify Hodder at week’s end because she had worked as a lobbyist in the law firm of former AG Tom Rath.

Far from disqualifying her, Rath’s association gives Hassan an opening to secure GOP lawyer support if Hodder were to be the pick.

Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Foster, of Nashua: Since voluntarily leaving the Senate five years ago, Foster had been on Lynch’s list for Supreme Court judge, so an AG nod isn’t a stretch.

Foster had the top Senate Democratic job before Hassan took it, and he got extra points for not meddling or trying to trade on his Senate influence much since he left Concord.

Deputy AG Ann Rice: She’s experienced, well-spoken and popular with rank-and-file legislators, who have always viewed her as a straight shooter.

The No. 2 job hasn’t always led to the top, but it isn’t chopped liver, either, and picking Rice would assure that “seamless transition” about which Hassan and Delaney talked when he announced his exit last week.

Budget-cutting tips

We’ll know by the end of the week what the proposed two-year state budget from the House Finance Committee looks like.

Even veteran lobbyists and state agency heads are doing all kinds of head scratching trying to figure out how Chairwoman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, will put a spending plan together with $135 million less revenue than Hassan had proposed last month.

The missing money includes the $80 million in casino license fees the House hasn’t supported yet, $35 million less in predicted revenue from taxes and $20 million less of an increase in the cigarette tax.

Sure, the three divisions that carve up the budget have offered some cuts: $12 million less than Hassan wanted in aid to higher education, a slice to the restored budget for the Land Community Heritage Investment Program and no money for new charter schools.

Meanwhile, they have backed off deeper cuts, such as the $35 million they had originally proposed to the University System of New Hampshire and $500,000 by merging
the superior courts in Nashua and Manchester.

Rank-and-file Democrats skipped out of a closed-door caucus Thursday to declare the report was “nearly all” of Hassan’s increased spending made it into the proposed House Finance plan. How? Here are a few tips.

Watch for the lapse number, the estimate for how much unspent money that agency heads have to return to the state treasury each year.

If you tweak that number upward, say, another one-half of 1 percent, that gets you more than $30 million.

Then there’s the caseload crystal ball. House budget writers clearly see the economic recession coming to a close, and therefore the arc of people on food stamps, welfare and Medicaid will go down.

You’re talking an eight-figure savings if you do that.

Then we have the “let the managers manage” device.

The late infamous Senate President Bob Monier gave this the ultimate treatment with a three-line budget, giving every agency only three line items and making them carry out deep cuts in spending among them.

We aren’t talking anything that dramatic here – more like an outside section of the House budget bill, which instructs department heads to cut a fixed percentage of their spending over the two-year course.

If you do some of that, and some surgical cuts that aren’t too deep, and all of the spending advocates who loved Hassan’s budget will see roughly the same dollars.

Dealers’ choice

Score Round 1 decisively for the auto dealers.

But this fight isn’t over.

The New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association had plenty to celebrate with last week’s 21-2 vote in the Senate for its bill of rights measure (SB 126).

Every state senator has several dealers in the district, and they did a fabulous job of outreach to all 23 of them; Laconia Democratic Sen. Andrew Hosmer, an auto dealer, abstained from the vote.

All 11 Senate Democrats went for the bill. The only opponents were Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and Deerfield Republican Sen. John Reagan.

“I counted 16 different references to notwithstanding existing law; that’s just too many rewriting of what has been on the books for me,” Bragdon said.

No one who follows Statehouse politics was surprised. The dealers don’t “own” the Senate, but the terms of their lease on the upper chamber are favorable.

In 2012, the dealers group sent more than $60,000 in campaign contributions, and they maxed out donations to many senators in both parties.

The automakers have former Senate President Edward Dupont as their lead lobbyist, but his car was stalled from the start.

This won’t happen before the House Commerce Committee.

This panel hasn’t been bad to the dealers, either, giving them favorable terms of legislation four years ago in the wake of many dealer closures to protect the rights of anyone else who had to close their doors.

Bragdon and other opponents are expecting the House committee to give much more scrutiny and likely amend the bill whisked through the Senate.

GOP political operative Jim Merrill will sign up to represent the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, farm equipment guys, to help it make the case in the House.

Veteran staffers

Horn has moved quickly to staff the GOP with some able veterans, as she had promised.

Former communications director Ryan Williams agreed to return as a consultant; spokeswoman Meg Stone will remain, along with her role helping the House Republican caucus; and former Horn campaign manager David Chesley has joined the team.

New York GOP operative Matthew Slater will run the shop, with the seasoned Jacob Avery assisting him.

But Horn’s biggest challenge running the GOP –
read $$$ – has already emerged.

In her first full month at the helm, the party spent about $30,000 while taking in only $20,000, according to federal records.

And $9,000 of that came from the Republican National Committee.

Trust me, that kind of RNC kick-in won’t be happening every month. The national GOP started weening New Hampshire off the mother’s milk more than 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Federal Election Commission added another pothole in the way last week with an order that it return a $10,000 corporate donation it received Dec. 31.

The donor was Mill City Development, and the only New Hampshire corporation with that moniker is a self-storage business in Goffstown.

The FEC’s March 19 sanctions letter also questioned the party claiming a $20,000 expense for mail through the post office, but documented spending that totaled only half that amount. Here’s a link the the FEC opinion: images.nictusa.com.

Disclosure questions

Don’t look for this Legislature to do any good-government campaign finance report about the excesses and anonymity of special-interest groups.

The House had already retained its version (HB 392) to require more reporting and disclosure, while the Senate will do the same this week.

That isn’t to say there aren’t lawmakers in both parties working to try to close gaping loopholes that allow independent groups to spend money to attack incumbents and challengers outside an election campaign and not have to disclose the bundle.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley; Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover; and Rep. Robert Perry, D-Strafford, all have proposed reforms.

Getting the language right without causing more problems has been harder than anyone thought, so they’ll spend the summer and fall trying to craft a compromise to be voted on early next year.

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