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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Nashua’s Horn in battle for GOP post

Kevin Landrigan

It’s a battle for the soul of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

It should come as no surprise that when Wayne MacDonald, a full-time state employee, turned down a full term as party chairman, that this one wasn’t going to be given away without a fight. ...

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It’s a battle for the soul of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

It should come as no surprise that when Wayne MacDonald, a full-time state employee, turned down a full term as party chairman, that this one wasn’t going to be given away without a fight.

And how.

Former congressional candidate Jennifer Horn, of Nashua, a onetime radio talk show host, was backed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who helped Horn create a who’s who of establishment GOP heavies in her camp.

But as we first reported last week, former liberty caucus founder and Newt Gingrich campaign aide Andrew Hemingway is late to the party, but he’s a force to be reckoned with.

“This is a battle between the libertarian and the old-guard elements of our party,” one GOP political operative said.

Horn wisely kept Hemingway from having an issue to run with when she opposed the now-suspended idea of making all delegates to the Republican State Committee convention in January pay a $25 fee.

Horn’s supporters on the Executive Committee, such as Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey, came up with the idea to broaden the base.

But while Republicans are trying to block higher federal taxes in Washington and keep Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan from pursuing them, the fee looked like a new poll tax and was stillborn once it reached out beyond the party elders.

You have to install Horn as the early favorite in this one.

Despite his tender years, however, Hemingway has shown himself as pretty tough in the clinches and will only go down after a genuine tussle.

Keep in mind it isn’t the only contest. The libertarian-minded group is very organized and is going to work in lining up leadership at the city and county GOP levels. It has already achieved with like-minded, re-elected Republican legislators in Merrimack and Sullivan counties.

Meanwhile, those close to former Chairman Jack Kimball insist reports last week were false that he had hosted an anti-Horn summit and volunteered to run against Horn if no one else did.

Discretionary spending

Anti-gambling forces are hyping the new analysis of Dover economist Brian Gottlob that concludes the state’s 9 percent tax on hotel room rentals and restaurant meals has been more stable than casino income in three key states that have expanded gambling.

The state’s current tax on hospitality is discretionary income like spending on gambling, and Gottlob’s PoliEcon Research study shows the existing state tax weathered the recession well and delivered $100 million in additional cash without raising the rate.

“Experts will argue about whether the right number is 30 or 70 percent, but there is no question that any New Hampshire casino will divert many tens of millions of dollars annually in consumer spending away from existing New Hampshire businesses, particularly from restaurants and lodging establishments,” said Jim Rubens, chairman of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling.

Outgoing Gov. John Lynch has become even more publicly critical about what casinos would do to the brand of New Hampshire.

But the reality is this is by no means a done deal, although with Hassan’s support, a one-casino bill stands a better chance of clearing the Legislature than ever before.

Not exactly allies

Watch your back, Gene Chandler.

The new House Republican leader and former speaker from Bartlett is always a player, and these next two years are going to be no different.

He starts off with a pretty good relationship with resurrected House Speaker Terie Norelli, R-Portsmouth.

But drumbeats in the very conservative wing of the House GOP caucus are pounding.

On Tuesday, a day before lawmakers formally were sworn in, the House Republican Alliance met to choose its new leadership team.

The three tri-captains of the ship are former House Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker, R-Greenfield; former State and Federal Relations Committee Chairman Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry; and past Executive Departments and Administration Committee Chairman Carol McGuire.

What do they have in common? Each wanted Tucker, not Chandler, to lead them in the GOP caucus.

Chandler had a sit-down with them that sources confirm wasn’t hostile, but wasn’t warm and fuzzy, either.

Getting an even more harsh treatment was one of Chandler’s big supporters, Bedford GOP Rep. Laurie Sanborn.

Conservative veteran GOP members insist Sanborn had said she would go for a leader with whoever the HRA executive committee endorsed.

They picked Tucker, and Sanborn changed her mind, concluding Chandler would give them the most clout.

Without mentioning her name, several HRA veterans lashed out at lawmakers whose “word isn’t worth squat,” prompting Sanborn to leave the meeting before it ended, according to several who were there.

Consider the newly revamped HRA to be the rump minority in exile, as most of its members firmly believe the six-year itch for President Barack Obama and redistricting will lead to the House flipping back to the GOP in 2014.

And when it does, this bunch will unite behind making Tucker the next speaker, not Chandler.

Remember that after the 2006 Democratic tsunami and 2008 that allowed them to barely hold on, the HRA became a power center from which a guy named Bill O’Brien emerged to become the biggest movement conservative the House has seen since World War II.

Chandler is a big boy and he can handle himself, but these next two years might test his diplomatic skills.

Surprise firing

Every leadership team that comes in gets to pick its own staff, Norelli should get the same courtesy.

But the decision to fire the longtime House receptionist, the universally well-liked Betty Lichty, leaves a bad taste at the end of Norelli’s first week in charge.

New chief of staff Ryan Mahoney, former deputy director of the state Democratic Party, merely said, “It was time for a change.”

But Wednesday afternoon, Lichty was summarily told she had 10 minutes to clear out her stuff after serving in this role when both Democrats and Republicans have run the place.

It’s unfortunate that another place among the 250-person ranks of the extended legislative organizational flow chart outside the speaker’s office couldn’t be found for her.

“Betty was not merely extremely competent,” said maverick Manchester Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt. “I dare say that she was loved by all who came in contact with her, and coming from me – someone who does not love all staffers – that is saying a great deal.”

It’s too bad.

Close to the vest

One can see some different pressures facing re-elected Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

Over the last two years, he had some rough times inside his GOP caucus, where 18 other senators of the same party can be pretty demanding.

But the pragmatist Bragdon could always let House Speaker William O’Brien play the heavy, allowing the Senate boss to look like the kinder, gentler presiding officer.

All of that hasn’t changed, but the political dynamics sure have.

Bragdon is now undeniably the power of the GOP in the state (Ayotte is the same, only from her perch in D.C.), and he’ll have to carry the message for a party already looking for ways to recover from the wreckage of Nov. 6.

This shows why, despite the abundance of talent in the Democratic minority caucus, Bragdon chose to name all Republicans to chair his committees in the next two years.

He put no more than two Democrats on every panel, and stacked the all-
important Senate Finance Committee with a 2-1 partisan split, four Republicans and two Democrats.

Bragdon needs every one of his colleagues to stay close to the GOP brand if he’s going to be able to govern effectively with a Democratically controlled House and a new Democratic governor, Hassan, to replace the retiring Lynch.

So, who are the two potentially moderate Republicans in the Senate about whom partisan GOP veterans would worry most about defecting on a given issue?

Lempster Republican Robert Odell and Hampton Republican Nancy Styles.

Bragdon made sure he’s keeping them close, naming Odell as Senate president pro tem to replace retiring Senate Dean Jack Barnes and giving Stiles, a retired school nutritionist, the tough assignment of running a joint committee that merges health and education issues.

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