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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dems, Sununu face off

Kevin Landrigan

State Democratic leaders claim there were “wild discrepancies” in how Executive Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields has defended his attempt to assist a Salem Republican with a criminal matter.

Let’s start with the bottom line. Attorney General Michael Delaney said following an investigation by his Public Integrity Unit that Sununu is not guilty of having committed any criminal acts by his involvement on behalf of Patrick McDougall. ...

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State Democratic leaders claim there were “wild discrepancies” in how Executive Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields has defended his attempt to assist a Salem Republican with a criminal matter.

Let’s start with the bottom line. Attorney General Michael Delaney said following an investigation by his Public Integrity Unit that Sununu is not guilty of having committed any criminal acts by his involvement on behalf of Patrick McDougall.

Sununu wrote a character reference at McDougall’s request to Salem Circuit Court Judge Michael Sullivan prior to his sentencing for criminal obstruction in how McDougall handled a 9-1-1 call placed by his wife.

Sullivan said from the bench that the letter had “disturbed” him. “ He said it was “extremely unusual” and he had questioned the legality of it.

Typically, character references are either submitted in person during the sentencing phase of the trial or passed onto the court by the client’s attorney.

Sununu dropped off the letter, written on council stationary, at the Salem court.

He told the media and state investigators that while he wrote such character letters “all the time,” this was the first time he had done so in court.

Ultimately, McDougall plead guilty to a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct for having complained loudly to local law enforcement. He claimed they had targeted him for his opposition to public works spending in the town.

For his part, McDougall told a state prosecutor that Sununu’s political enemies and the media were trying to “make a big deal out of nothing.”

Sununu had told reporters that he sent the letter as an “ordinary person” but a NH Democratic Party memo noted it was written with official letterhead inside a Sununu-Executive Councilor envelope.

“Why was Sununu attempting to hide that the letter was written on his official letterhead, if as he claims he knew he had done nothing wrong? Whether it was intended deception by Councilor Sununu or ignorance of the responsibilities of his office, the people of New Hampshire deserve an answer about the varying excuses he has offered troubling behavior,’’ the Democratic Party memo said.

And they made much of the fact that Sununu when asked by court officials declined to reveal what the letter was about merely adding that it was ”personal” in nature. Court officials told investigators had they known it was a character letter relating to a criminal case they would not have accepted it.

Sununu surely had little regard for the state Democratic Party’s right to know request for information on this matter.

“I printed it out and made the most use out of it as I needed a place to spit my gum,” Sununu said.

Why are state Democratic leaders trying to make a lot out of this behavior?

That’s easy. Sununu is widely viewed as one of a very small class of rising political stars in the state GOP ranks and has already said he is considering a run for governor or Congress in 2014.

Anything state Democrats can do to try and muddy up Sununu’s solid image, they’re all for it.

Casino supporters get ‘waterfall’ amendment

Casino gambling supporters didn’t get out of the proposed House state budget what they wanted to.

For their part, there isn’t enough blood on the floor.

Sure, House budget writers trimmed nearly $60 million in state spending from Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposed budget but much of it is of the painless variety.

Reducing the assumptions for caseloads on public assistance programs to save more than $15 million surely won’t cause a lot of public unrest.

If the House had chosen to cut politically popular programs such as Hassan’s $28 million more for mental health or more spending for LCHIP or the developmentally disabled, it would be much easier for liberal Democrats in the House to give a second look to a casino.

What casino backers did get was the so-called “waterfall” amendment to the budget that lists $52.1 million in spending House budget writers would like to spend first if there’s a budget surplus as of next July 1, 2014.

They note that should a casino become law, it would deliver $80 million not now in the House budget, more than enough to pay for this wish list.

The poll done by WMUR of the House membership announced earlier this week didn’t settle the question (96 no to 81 yes) but it does speak to the high hurdle casino supporters are going to have to clear.

The National Education Association of New Hampshire intends to make clear its position on Hassan’s budget and its `”funding sources,” read casinos.

The Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling lists the NEA-NH as one of “additional organizations opposed to casinos.”

In its advisory, NEA officials said they are hosting the Monday press conference to clarify their position.

Hassan sure could use the state’s largest teachers organization on her side as she tries to get rank-and-file House members to reject the views of many House Democratic leaders to support the casino.

Committees to discuss bar hours, car restraints

The State Senate is keeping its nose to the grindstone, putting off meetings for the next two weeks so they can plow through some of the tonnage sent over from the House.

On Tuesday committees will take testimony on two of the more controversial measures the House has passed, whether to keep bars and restaurants open another hour until 2 a.m. (HB 575) and should five-year-olds have to wear safety restraints while in a car or truck (HB 242).

Look for the upper chamber and its 13 Republicans in charge to stick together often this spring to reject House-passed measures.

Some opposition to
potential attorney general

Lucy Hodder, Gov. Hassan’s legal counsel, isn’t getting a lot of love from the right wing.

State GOP leaders called upon Hassan to rule out Hodder as potential attorney general to replace AG Michael Delaney who is not seeking reappointment.

Their reasoning is that Hodder’s work as a lobbyist including a brief stint working for the developers of a casino plan in Salem should disqualify her.

Then opponents took the venom to another level creating a mock twitter sight.

Republican legislative leaders have come to Hodder’s defense with Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, saying the opposition to his casino measure has gone over the top.

This kind of vitriol isn’t going to sway Hassan who has one less prominent Democrat to consider for the job.

US Attorney John Kacavas of Manchester took himself out of consideration last week saying he wished to serve out the second term of President Barack Obama in his role as the top federal prosecutor.

But Hassan can expect a lot of push back if Hodder is the pick because it was candidate Hassan who repeatedly went after Republican nominee Ovide Lamontagne last fall.

Surely you recall Hassan had criticized Lamontagne for supporting a casino at Rockingham Park since his law firm had been a lobbyist over the past 20 plus years for the Salem track.

Casino amendment seeks to protect Verizon Center

Then there was another twist to the casino debate with word the Manchester Board of Aldermen have sent a letter requesting protection in the bill for the Verizon Wireless Center.

The amendment backed by State Rep. Patrick Long, D-Manchester, wold prevent any casino from having a venue with more than 1,500 seats in it.

If adopted this would ensure that the Verizon remained the premier destination in the state for major concerts and not face any competition from the casino.

State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, first learned about and reported on this in the blog.

Here’s an excerpt of the letter from the Manchester city fathers to the House Ways and Means Chairwoman Susan Almy, D-Lebanon.

“On behalf of the City of Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen, we wish to express our support of the amendment offered by Rep. Patrick Long to SB152. The proposed casino gambling legislation could have a detrimental affect on the City of Manchester if it is competing with entertainment acts put on by the casinos,’’ the letter said.

As we’ve reported in the past all signs point to a negative recommendation for the casino bill from the House tax bill writing committee that Almy runs.

No end in sight on
gasoline tax debate

Supporters of the gasoline tax had hoped that dropping the rate from 15 to 12 cents per gallon might attract more votes on the House floor.

No such luck.

State Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, had said he wasn’t surprised especially after word had incorrectly spread through the House Republican Caucus that more money would be diverted from the gas tax for non-highway uses in the proposed state budget endorsed by the House Finance Committee.

The reality is the diversion in both the current budget and that offered by Gov. Hassan is the same.

Campbell secured a big, political victory by convincing the House Finance Committee to include the gas tax hike into the trailer bill (HB 2) of the state budget.

This guarantees that the fight over whether to have a gas tax or not will go on until the end game of the 2013 session.

Split decision by Senate on wind farm legislation

There have been few examples of issues that have split the two partisan camps in the State Senate.

We saw one last week with legislation regarding small wind farm projects (fewer than 30 megawatts).

This bill (SB 195) would require that the host city or town either support it by a vote or decide that it wishes to defer to the judgment of the state’s site selection evaluation committee.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, offered the proposal (SB 195) after the Senate had voted against a one-year moratorium on wind farm and other electricity transmission programs such as the Northern Pass project.

Ultimately, the Senate voted, 12-12, on the bill with Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, Bradley and Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, joining with the likes of Democratic Senators Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, and Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia.

The bill had been sparked by a wind farm plan in Temple and its surrounding towns, which straddle the distiricts that Gilmour and Sanborn represent.

O’Brien signs off with a note to ‘honey badger’

National viewers were reminded that when it comes to rumbles with national media reporters, former New Hampshire Gov. and ex-White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu has very few peers.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien signed off on her final day Friday of her morning talk show, Starting Point, that over the year won a reputation for having some very edgy interviews.

Sununu was a frequent guest on the program as a chief spokesman for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney whose campaign nicknamed Sununu its “honey badger.”

“We shouldn’t be afraid to have tough and honest conversations, and maybe even argue a little bit when there’s a lot at stake,” O’Brien said in her closing.“And yes, Gov. Sununu, I am talking to you.”

Special visit to the White House for D’Allesandro

Congratulations to Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, who got a special visit to the White House over the weekend in honor of his daughter, Christina D’Allesandro and grandson, Anthony Smith, both of Salem.

Marvel Comics answered Christina’s plea and created a character “blue ear” that had a hearing aid after her son had complained that no superheroes had hearing loss like he did.

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