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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rift costs Jasper 2 committee spots

Kevin Landrigan

The rift between House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, and his third in command, Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, grew ugly last week and may have some lingering effects.

LobbyNH.com broke the story that O’Brien yanked Jasper off the two committees to which he had named Jasper – Rules and Special Committee on Retirement Reform – after the two had a loud exchange in O’Brien’s office.

Sources told The Sunday Telegraph that Jasper believes O’Brien decided to “shoot the messenger’’ after the nine-term Republican rep passed along criticism of O’Brien’s leadership.

O’Brien tossed Jasper out of the office after a back-and-forth that reached decibels that could be heard on the third floor.

Jasper wrote a letter to O’Brien offering this “punishment’’ – his departure from the committees. O’Brien accepted without speaking to Jasper and returned him to the Election Laws Committee.

Also a Hudson selectman, Jasper has served several terms on the elections panel and is widely seen in the House as one of its experts on that subject and parliamentarian matters in general.

Sources confirm the icy relations didn’t warm there. Jasper showed up at GOP luncheon after that; O’Brien spotted him and questioned his attendance, noting Jasper “left’’ the speaker’s side voluntarily.

Now for the record, Jasper remains deputy majority leader because that’s an appointment of Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, who gave Jasper a full vote of confidence earlier last week.

“The speaker and he had a dustup; those things happen,’’ Bettencourt said. “Shawn was deputy, and remains my deputy majority leader with my full support.’’

Some of the tension here goes to the personalities.

Jasper has a ton of institutional memory, and for some in O’Brien’s inner circle, it was felt he too often stepped into a void in place of Bettencourt without prior notice or consultation.

But Bettencourt knows that as a new member of leadership, he can’t and doesn’t want to do without someone who has gone through the school of hard knocks of being in the majority party running the place.

It’s worth noting that Jasper spent much of Wednesday’s session performing more zealously than usual in defending the House GOP position on the floor and during debate.

This, too, will blow over, but it speaks to the difficulties faced by any presiding officer who has a super-majority of enthusiastic members, but who won the caucus vote by only a handful over former House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett.

Free advice

House Finance Committee Chairman Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, is turning to a pair of old hands to help him with trying to produce a two-year state budget that spends $2.4 billion, $300 million less than what Gov. John Lynch proposed earlier this month.

They are former Administrative Services Commissioner Donald Hill and former Revenue Commissioner Phil Blatsos.

Neither is getting paid for their service.

Hill worked for a half-dozen governors from both parties as the administrative czar until he took retirement.

Lynch didn’t reappoint Blatsos to the revenue post. In his nearly 30-year tenure in the tax shop, Blatsos developed an attractive skill for pulling in tens of millions in unexpected audited returns just at the time budget writers needed some extra cash every two years.

They both not only know where the bodies are buried; they put some of them there.

“Along with the business relationship, I consider many of them working on the budget in the House to be friends,’’ Blatsos said.

“I’m just a volunteer offering a skill. If they like the number crunching and spreadsheet I put together for them, great. If not, the advice didn’t cost them anything.’’

This isn’t an uncommon sight. Senate Republican leaders treated former Adjutant General Lloyd Price like Concord major leaguer Mike Tewksbury, who gets pulled into the big conclave over pitching prospects every spring training.

Longtime legislative budget assistant Charles Connor came back as the governor’s budget director, and then later as a legislative adviser on fiscal issues.

Hill and Blatsos still have plenty of miles left in them, and should prove invaluable to Weyler.

Snow going

Lynch got caught in Friday’s snowstorm and wasn’t able to make an early flight to the winter meeting of the National Governor’s Association.

The four-term Democrat made it onto a shuttle later in the afternoon.

“The less time he has to spend in Washington, the happier he is,’’ Lynch press secretary Colin Manning joked.

The governors have a sit-down with President Barack Obama on Monday.

Same story, different year

Every two years, there’s talk of unprecedented cooperation and coordination between the two legislative branches.

Then, no matter which party is in control, those leading the House of Representatives and state Senate do whatever the heck benefits their members, period.

O’Brien said there are too many bills and not enough weeks to allow for his members to get the traditional school vacation week off.

Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said many senators had made plans to be away or spend more time at their private workplaces, so the Senate is off this coming week.

It’s nice to know some things never change.

Out-of-state voting

The move to disenfranchise out-of-state students from voting in New Hampshire while they attend college appears stuck in neutral after more than 150 showed up to protest it.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner opposed the measure (HB 176), and state prosecutors said Easton Republican Gregory Sorg’s proposal would run afoul of a 1972 Supreme Court decision.

House Election Laws Committee Chairman David Bates, R-Windham, said the panel has two weeks to report the bill and that it isn’t possible to perfect it in that time.

“We obviously heard there are potential legal and constitutional problems with that, so our choices in this short window are to kill the bill or retain it,’’ Bates said.

“I think the concerns raised by the sponsor and the supporters about the potential for fraud and the intent of domicile are legitimate. Retaining the bill seems the best option.’’

This should be widely viewed by the college student lobby as a big victory. The chances that the House GOP would try to stick it to an aggressive voting bloc at the dawn of a presidential election drop considerably next winter.

‘Should’ over ‘shall’

Senate Republicans practiced their first procedure of death with dignity on controversial House legislation last week with their own version of opposing Obamacare.

The Senate had an identical bill as the House initiative to order Attorney General Michael Delaney to join the two dozen states suing the federal government over health care.

But it was the new Senate Republicans who questioned whether this one went too far and convinced a Senate committee to amend the bill.

That’s all in the changing of one word, from “shall’’ to “should’’ join the Obama care lawsuit.

“We don’t want to manufacture trouble in New Hampshire with the attorney general, to force a constitutional showdown in the state,’’ Bedford Republican Sen. Ray White said.

Privately, many Senate Republicans are fully prepared to become the killing field for ideas they think are too much of an overreach, and if embraced, could put them in electoral jeopardy last year.

“We’re going to be Cambodia,’’ one of them confided last week.

Dead deals

House Republican leaders are showing some signs of some self-policing maturity.

They did that Wednesday when Litchfield Republican Rep. Ralph Boehm led the campaign to kill legislation that would have repealed the kindergarten mandate.

On Tuesday, we’ll see that in force when the House Judiciary Committee votes to retain repeal of the same-sex marriage law, something those on both sides of the debate don’t want as an outcome.

Look for more of the same when Bates’ Election Laws Committee votes to hold onto getting rid of the same-day voter registration law.

Gardner convinced them that getting rid of that would mean New Hampshire would have to adopt “motor voter,” which mandates that dozens of satellite voting registration sites have to be opened, including at motor vehicle substations and welfare offices.

Plenty of decisions pending

While the Senate is taking a break this week, the House has a frantic schedule of activities.

Let’s review them:

 • Monday: Parental notification prior to an abortion for a minor girl (HB 329) comes to the House Judiciary for its initial hearing and could be voted on the following day.

 • Tuesday: The House will take testimony on criminalizing the use of Transportation Safety Administration body scanners (HB 628), as well as the House Republican leadership’s take on how to fix last year’s prison recidivism law that became a political football in the 2010 race for governor.

The House Judiciary panel is expected to decide this day to hold onto its same-sex marriage measure.

 • Thursday: There are three bills to be heard (HB 207, 210 and 567), all dealing with the Castle Doctrine, which governs the use of deadly force by someone who’s threatened in their home space. Lynch vetoed a plan after law enforcement said it went too far.

The House Legislative Administration Committee continues its review of whether to recommend forced resignation for Manchester Democratic Rep. Mike Brunelle because he’s executive director of the N.H. Democratic Party.

 • Friday: Look for public employees to turn out en masse, as they did last Friday against parts of Weare Republican Rep. Neal Kurk’s bill (HB 580) to overhaul the state’s pension system.

Last week, O’Brien wisely wouldn’t allow Kurk to come in with a major floor amendment to a more incremental bill (HB 231) pending before it, and instead ordered that it be sent back to committee for a full hearing on Kurk’s proposal.

Angling for the Senate

Nevada Republican Sharron Angle sure was unhappy, but admitted the flap over her ducking the press in the waning weeks didn’t cost her a U.S. Senate seat to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid last November.

“I’m pleased to say it wasn’t a decisive factor, because it got blown way out of proportion,’’ Angle said.

The tea party darling was in the state to promote the debut of “The Genesis Code,” a film that supports legal restrictions on abortion and the teaching of creationism in public schools.

Angle became the lead personality to promote the flick and showcase it in the early primary and caucus states.

She realized it would cause some in the media to conclude that it meant she was a potential candidate for president in 2012. She isn’t.

“I have lots of different options,’’ Angle said.

One of them could be redistricting, in which Nevada would get an additional congressional seat thanks to its population explosion since 2000 until the economy bottomed out in that state.

This could be Angle’s next move, and position her to try to take Reid out again in 2016.

“Harry Reid has not changed because of the challenge I mounted, and he is the same as he was before,’’ Angle said.

Different perspective

Congratulates to former, Nashua Democratic state Sen. Bette Lasky, who lost her District 13 seat to Nashua Republican Gary Lambert, but recently had something big to celebrate.

She’s a proud grandmother for the first time with the arrival of Ella Jane Lasky-Romero in New Orleans.

“It sure puts things into perspective,” Lasky said. “I’m on cloud nine.”

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com.