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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nashua rep scores victory in House

Kevin Landrigan

Nashua Democratic state Rep. David Campbell had cause for celebration last week.

Campbell single-handedly achieved a victory on the House floor to ban the sale of corn-based ethanol in the state (HB 374).

The House Science Technology and Energy Committee had voted 11-4 in favor of killing the bill, but Campbell spoke forcefully for the change.

“My pitch was this was how the state could send a message that the ethanol mandate raises prices on our gas and is a windfall profit for the corn growers and the big agri-farms in the Midwest,’’ Campbell said.

The House agreed on a roll call vote of 237-87.

Campbell had some heavyweight Republican backing, since former House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, was a cosponsor of Campbell’s bill.

House Speaker William O’Brien’s leadership team split on the bill, with Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, and Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, both going to Campbell’s side.

Another dozen committee chairs or House GOP leaders agreed with Campbell, and now the fuel industry must fight an unexpected battle in the Senate.

“One of the keys here is that New Hampshire would be the third New England state to vote this way, so we would be creating a viable market without corn-based ethanol,’’ Campbell said.

“I should probably quit now that I’m ahead of the game. It won’t be much better than this.’’

270 reasons for happiness

O’Brien otherwise has to be pretty pleased with the week’s outcome, having gotten through more than 270 bills over three marathon days of debate.

House GOP leaders didn’t lose any of their priority bills, which were to include expanding the death penalty, adopting a new education aid funding formula and repealing the need for gun owners to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

What was by far the most impressive was that O’Brien got the House to adopt an amendment to the state Constitution on education funding.

No other speaker in the last 14 years had been able to achieve that.

On Tuesday, the Senate Internal Affairs Committee will take testimony on the competing amendment from Hampton Republican Sen. Nancy Stiles (CACR 14).

The Senate proposal clearly states the Legislature has the authority to set standards and funding levels that target more aid to the neediest communities.

O’Brien rejected including “authority’’ in his amendment (CACR 12), concerned that it ratifies the Supreme Court’s two rulings on education aid.

The Senate plan also places greater stress that all actions by lawmakers must be “reasonable’,’ which subjects their decisions to judicial review.

The only big setback the House Republicans had was on a constitutional amendment to require a super-majority vote to raise taxes (CACR 6).

The House passed it with more than the 60 percent majority needed, but the total number of 234 fell five votes shy of the minimum needed to adopt any amendment in the House.

Bettencourt had the bill placed on the table hoping it could be brought up again in the coming weeks once other supporters are identified.

It will require a two-thirds vote to take the matter up, but with 66 percent backing it originally, that could be achieved.

Financing the state

All eyes are on the House Finance Committee. This week, it should complete work on its two-year state budget proposal of $4.4 billion.

It should be $400 million less than the one Gov. John Lynch offered last month.

On Friday, the panel’s working group cut Lynch’s budget by $91,000, which was actually less of a hit than Lynch took to his office expense account.

What remains to be seen is whether House budget writers will go along with Lynch’s demand to terminate the Legislature budget as a non-lapsing account.

Lawmakers have been able to carry over unspent money from one year to the next for decades, and have amassed more than a $5 million surplus.

Lack of authority

Rail supporters are regrouping in the wake of the solid House vote to repeal the New Hampshire Rail Authority.

Greater Nashua and Manchester Chambers of Commerce leaders have met with Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, who has stressed this won’t be a leadership issue in the upper chamber.

That’s welcome news, since the vocal support of O’Brien for doing away with the rail group clearly had an impact on the 190-119 vote Thursday.

Not a single member of the extended House GOP leadership team opposed the rail bill (HB 218). By contrast, not one House Democrat was in favor of doing away with it.

The count falls short of the two-thirds super-majority needed to override a potential veto by Lynch.

That’s cold comfort for those supporting the rail organization, since the vote count was relatively small, coming early on Thursday – the morning after the House had been in session until 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

There were 61 House Republicans who were absent for the vote compared with 28 Democrats who weren’t there.

Thus, if there’s a better turnout if the bill comes back to the House, the potential is there for O’Brien to scoop up the needed votes to beat back a Lynch veto.

“We’ve got to make the quiet case to them of the necessity for the authority’s work to continue,’’ Rail Authority Chairman Peter Burling said.

“Outside the state, there are some really promising things happening.’’

Burling is optimistic that Norfolk Southern could buy the stretch of track that runs from Albany, N.Y., through New Hampshire from owner Timothy Mellon, of Pan Am Railways.

“Norfolk Southern is very interested in commuter rail, which could make this an ideal public-private partnership,’’ Burling said. “Like any other venture, however, they want to see some interest shown at the state and local level.’’

Backing Barbour

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is languishing in the early 2012 polls of presidential primary favorites, but he sure bulked up his New Hampshire GOP credentials last week.

Longtime political operative Mike Dennehy agreed to sign on with Barbour for a campaign that’s likely to begin sometime after Easter.

For eight years, Dennehy served as John McCain’s biggest booster in the state, helping to manage his stunning 2000 primary victory over heavy favorite George W. Bush.

In 2008, Dennehy rose to the level of national political director, spending months on the campaign trail with the candidate after the nominating convention.

If we learned one thing from the last election cycle about Barbour, it’s that he can raise money.

Barbour’s Republican Governors Association political action committee outraised the Republican National Committee and played a bigger role than the party bosses in hand-picking winners in statehouses across the country.

It spent nearly $3 million to try to unseat Lynch last fall.

Raising Cain

Herman Cain has named his own trusted hand to run New Hampshire operations.

He’s Matt Murphy, who was executive director of the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition and whose campaign credits include working for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential run in 2008 and as field representative for the National Rifle Association in the 2010 election cycle.

“We are delighted that Matt Murphy has joined the staff at Friends of Herman Cain,” chief of staff Mark Block said. “While Mr. Cain prayerfully considers a run for the White House, we have bolstered our efforts in early primary and caucus states, such as New Hampshire, to gauge interest on the ground for his potential candidacy.

“Matt’s efforts are imperative to our continued success in the Granite State.”

Since June, Cain has visited New Hampshire five times.

Campaign tips

Leave it to Lynch to try to give advice to Republican presidential hopefuls.

On Wednesday, Lynch took former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum aside for a brief chat at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

Lynch told Santorum that he likes to be considered a “goodwill ambassador’’ for the first-in-the-nation primary and is happy to sit down and share campaign tips with anybody who wants to run for the highest office in the land.

The Lynch tip of the day to Santorum was to focus first on building a good ground game if he wishes to crack into the top tier of candidates.

Santorum state director Michael Biundo said that’s just what Santorum has been working on, and not only here, but in Iowa, where the hard-right, socially conservative message should play well with those attending the nation’s first caucus event of the season.

Biundo said one lesson from 2008 is that anyone doing well in Iowa needs to have an infrastructure on the ground to take advantage of that outcome.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is the case in point.

He won Iowa, but failed to capitalize, getting only 11 percent of the vote, and just 6,000 votes more than former New York Mayor Giuliani, who all but wrote the state off.

“You can’t come in here with momentum and expect it to automatically translate into support here,” Biundo said. “You’ve got to build it from the ground up.’’

‘Spectator-in-chief’

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich let it fly against President Barack Obama on Thursday night after a day of pre-presidential stumping in the state.

Gingrich lambasted Obama as a “spectator-in-chief” who’s presiding over “maybe the most passive and out-of-touch presidency in modern American history.”

Gingrich continued the GOP assault on Obama for playing golf and showing off his NCAA basketball tourney brackets while there are powder kegs of a military crisis in Libya and nuclear power in Japan.

“What’s increasingly clear is that we have a spectator-in-chief instead of a commander-in-chief,” Gingrich said on Fox News.

Gingrich ended the day with a cameo appearance before the House of Representatives.

O’Brien invited Gingrich up to the rostrum with him near the end of business.

“I am going to rule out of order any move by Representative Soltani or anyone else for the speaker to replace me,’’ O’Brien joked.

Sure enough, Epsom Republican Rep. Tony Soltani asked from the microphone after a close vote if Gingrich wanted to take over the gavel.

Bazinga

The reviews are in from the St. Patrick’s Day roasts.

Lynch was clearly on his game, with some of the best one-liners of his career at the Concord fundraiser for Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth.

O’Brien ruffled a few feathers with some of his cracks, but got off some good shots at some in his own caucus, along with some self-deprecating ones about his newfound stature.

He also made light of his running feud with Attorney General Michael Delaney over whether the Legislature can order the AG to join the suit against the Obama administration’s national health care mandate.

“I’m liking this being speaker stuff,” O’Brien cracked. “The other day, I ordered Mike Delaney to get me a sandwich.”

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