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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ayotte already at the forefront for U.S. Senate

Kevin Landrigan

The emboldened, but still minority, Republican Senate leadership gave Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., another prominent role as the spokeswoman for the new GOP senators at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday.

Ayotte spoke after Senate Republicans had a private issues summit and concurred with the consensus that jobs, federal spending and the runaway debt are top priorities.

“As the mother of two small children who joined me yesterday in the swearing-in, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, I can tell you that as Republicans, we are so concerned – and I’m deeply concerned about the nearly $14 trillion debt that we have right now,’’ Ayotte said.

“And that is going to be the focus in the coming year, to make sure that we are ready to fight for budget discipline in the Republican conference, and then, also, to make sure that we get our economy growing through small-business growth.’’

This came less than a week after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had designated Ayotte to give the weekly radio response to President Barack Obama. Her topic was fiscal discipline.

“It was quite an honor to be asked to do that,’’ Ayotte said. “I only had a little time to put it together and worked with the minority leader’s office on it, but they were my words.’’

Rising pension costs

House and Senate Republican budget writers received more bad news late last week about the rising cost of needs, not wants, in the next state budget.

As a cost-cutting measure in the last budget, Gov. John Lynch and the Democratic-led Legislature scaled back how much the state contributed to pension costs for municipal, school and county retirees.

The traditional 35 percent support dropped to 30 percent last year and 25 percent in this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Without further action by lawmakers, state support will snap back up to 35 percent on July 1 and would cost the state $30 million.

The New Hampshire Retirement System budget team informed Legislative Budget Assistant Jeff Pattison last week that increases in government employer rates over the next two years would add another $47 million onto that total.

Regulating jobs

Last week in Washington, D.C., outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, embraced a sobbing new speaker, Ohio Republican John Boehner.

In Concord, there’s a partisan food fight going on, and it’s over the bold move to remove the third-ranking House Democrat, Michael Brunnelle, of Manchester.

House Republican leaders stunned Brunelle by shipping charges against him to committee and a fast-track hearing Thursday. They say Brunelle be forced to quit because of his pay as executive director of the N.H. Democratic Party.

They allege the party salary and Brunelle’s sponsoring of pro-Democratic legislation violates the state Constitution.

Former Speaker and House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli, of Portsmouth, fired back with a four-page legal letter seeking to postpone the hearing and calling the charges without merit and constitutionally flawed.

“This effort makes every legislator the potential target of a subjective determination as to whether his or her employment is acceptable to the majority leadership,’’ Norelli wrote.

“This was not the intent of our founders; it is a distraction from the peoples’ work, such as the budget, jobs and the economy; it will result in an unnecessary, expensive, protracted legal battle.’’

House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said Norelli’s complaints about the serious charges haven’t been prejudged and Brunelle will have all due process rights to defend himself.

“Plain and simple, there is a serious allegation that Representative Brunelle is in violation of the New Hampshire Constitution, which he took an oath to uphold,’’ O’Brien said.

“We have an obligation to guard against the corruption of the oath of office. We are required to do our duty by referring the matter to the appropriate committee. We took those steps – end of story.

“Consequently, we recommend Representative Norelli focus on serving her constituents’ needs and not this overarching issue and her party’s vendetta.’’

Democratic Party leaders are planning to publicly respond further well in advance of the hearing before the House Legislative Administration Committee.

This dispute could legally settle the question of whether legislators are banned from taking partisan or cause-related income while serving.

What’s without question is that it has gone on for decades by lawmakers in both parties.

For many of the years from 1977-91 during which she represented Manchester and served on the powerful House Finance Committee, Lee Anne Steiner was the paid office manager for the Republican State Committee office.

During the last term, Bow Democratic Rep. Mary Beth Walz chaired the House Local and Regulated Revenues Committee, and was full-time district director for Congressman Paul Hodes, D-N.H., for part of it.

In the final of his 18 years in the House, Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley was the paid staff director of the state Senate Democratic Caucus.

House Democratic and Republican members worked as campaign staffers or consultants during the 2008 and 2010 cycles.

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt stressed that past practice doesn’t make it right or something that will be ignored going forward.

Supporting Kimball

Republican State Committee chairman candidate Jack Kimball has more than 60 prominent Republicans and 50 voting delegates going public in backing his candidacy.

Among new names on the list that The Sunday Telegraph obtained are Rochester Sen. Fenton Groen; 2010 GOP Senate hopeful Jim Bender, of Hollis; congressional candidates Bob Guida, of Warren; Bob Bestani, of Newmarket; and Americans for Prosperity N.H. Director Corey Lewandoski.

Many on the Republican leadership team of Kimball-supporting O’Brien and Bettencourt are on board, including Nashua House delegation Chairman Peter Silva; Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker, of Greenland; and Legislative Administration Chairman Paul Mirski, R-Enfield.

“This is a wonderful group of Republicans, and I am so honored to have their support,’’ Kimball said.

Supporting Bergeron

When it comes to the upper chamber in Concord, GOP party chairman rival Juliana Bergeron, of Keene, clearly has the upper hand.

On Friday, Bergeron released the names of six senators who’ll back her when the 493-member Republican State Convention makes the call at its meeting in Derry on Jan. 22.

Unlike O’Brien, it appears Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, are trying to stay out of the fray.

But the two directly below that power pair are on the Bergeron bandwagon: Deputy Majority Leader Robert Odell, R-Lempster, and Majority Whip Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

Bergeron also leads Kimball 4-1 among the nine-person Senate Republican freshman class, as she landed Jim Luther, of Hollis; Tom De Blois, of Manchester; Andy Sanborn, of Henniker; and Jeanie Forrester, of Meredith.

“Now more than ever, we need an effective manager, detailed organizer and grassroots leader in the NHGOP office to support our party and us as elected officials,’’ Sanborn said in a statement. “Juliana is a conservative who has shown an outstanding ability to operate in a challenging climate and help candidates win.’’

Speaker in demand

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential 2012 GOP candidate, has accepted the invitation to be one of the roasters for the Wild Irish Breakfast on St. Patrick’s Day at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua.

Former Nashua Mayor and Blarney Master Bernie Streeter worked his magic to get Gingrich to commit for the high-profile fundraiser, which benefits the PLUS Co. in Nashua.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or

Testing the waters

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s eighth exploratory trip to the state will include Tuesday night as the first guest at the home of Republican Senate candidate Ovide and Bettie Lamontagne starting a series of meet-and-greets with GOP wannabes.

Santorum will meet privately with Bedford Republicans later that night and will speak to the Bedford Rotary the next morning.

Longtime GOP political operative Michael Biundo, of Manchester, signed up to serve as state director of Santorum’s political action committee last week.

More exploration

State GOP leaders hadn’t heard the news that 2008 candidate Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor, had already scheduled a 2012 presidential exploratory trip to the state next month.

The New York Post reported Friday that Giuliani’s loyalists think another run is a bad idea even though the thinking is a socially moderate candidate with a background in national security can thread the needle through a field full of social conservatives.

“They think this is crazy,” a source told the New York newspaper. “They realize how long the odds are, but they are standing by.”

It sounds like the same formula Giuliani had in finishing a distant fourth here in 2008.

Attempts to confirm the time and place of this Giuliani summit in New Hampshire were unsuccessful.