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Sunday, April 17, 2011

‘Speaker’ in name only to Lynch

Kevin Landrigan

What’s the working relationship really like between Gov. John Lynch and House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon?

Well, if regular contact between the two is a prerequisite to a bona fide political alliance, there isn’t any.

Lynch, the popular four-term Democrat, extended the first olive branch to the first-term House boss, offering to meet in his office on a weekly basis.

The sessions included the House and Senate presiding officers and majority leaders.

But Lynch revealed that O’Brien canceled them more than a month ago.

“He said they weren’t very productive. I don’t know if it was something I said or someone else in the room,’’ Lynch said, half jokingly.

What has their correspondence been like since then?

“We talk on what you might call an ad hoc basis,’’ Lynch said.

Tops among texters

He isn’t the most popular, Republican presidential candidate, but businessman Herman Cain apparently got the tea party crowd most fired up at a rally on Friday.

Sponsoring Americans for Prosperity had asked those attending the Statehouse speechfest to text-message whom they thought gave the best remarks among the four potential presidential candidates.

AFP New Hampshire Executive Director Corey Lewandowsk said of the 950 text messages, Cain easily came out on top with 61 percent.

Finishing far behind him were former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 17 percent; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, 14 percent; and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, 8 percent).

An affiliated tea party local did a straw poll to which not everyone in the audience responded.

Pawlenty won that unscientific survey, with Santorum second and Cain third.

Not so fast

An impressive group of state agency commissioners and directors engaged in an unusual letter to “express concerns’’ about issues in the House-passed budget trailer bill (SB 2).

Their beefs were with four sections, including one that would force the departments of Information Technology and Environmental Services to deliver the same level of services as they do currently despite deep cuts to their budgets.

Another one they clearly didn’t like was to take away their managerial discretion and make the Legislative Fiscal Committee have to approve filling any state job that pays more than about $50,000 a year.

They also disliked the fact that personnel budgets in many agencies were cut 5 percent without any understanding for what those reductions would do to the mission.

“In general, we observe that House Bill 2 includes provisions that relate to policy matters unrelated to the budgeting process,’’ wrote the group, which included Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon, Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas and Safety Commissioner John Barthlemes.

“It also includes the substance of several bills that failed to win passage in the House as standalone bills.’’

Difference of opinion

There’s little chance anytime soon of the House and Senate Republican leaders getting together on language in a constitutional amendment on education finance.

The 7-7 vote of the House Special Committee on Education Funding on the Senate plan last week means there’s no way the House will summon the 60 percent super-majority vote needed to pass it.

The Senate is likely to pass the same judgment on the House amendment as crafted by O’Brien.

For the first time last week, Lynch made it clear about what he was looking for in an amendment that was lacking in both versions (CACR 12 and CACR 14).

He wants a statement affirming the state’s obligation to oversee the setting of educational standards and making school districts accountable to them.

Lynch clearly believes that without such a proviso, the public is going to widely view the amendment as a way to dramatically downsize how much state aid goes to public schools.

Despite the language impasse at this point, Lynch remains optimistic that a meeting of the minds can be reached.

The buck stops here

The all-Republican Executive Council continues to pore over state contracts with a fervor and intensity not seen in recent years.

The council has voted to reject several of them at recent meetings and held others up for close questioning.

Milford Republican Councilor David Wheeler said the goal is clearly to try to prevent unnecessary or excessive spending as the state struggles to end the fiscal year in balance.

Lynch said he isn’t bothered by the aggressive micromanagement.

“I not only don’t mind it, I’ve been encouraging it,’’ Lynch said. “It is clear this council is giving more scrutiny to some of these contracts than we have seen in the past, but to me, that’s a good thing. Fresh eyes are always needed.’’

Wheeler appreciated the sentiment, but at times questions whether the Lynch administration really wants this wide-open debate.

When the council questioned spending to create a federally mandated health insurance exchange, it hosted a special meeting on the subject.

Wheeler noted that many cabinet-level secretaries came to the meeting, along with representatives from private insurers.

The same thing happened when the council decided to have a subcommittee review the extent and the justification for the amount of money set aside in highway construction projects for contingency payments.

When that meeting came to pass last week, the lobbyist for the Associated General Contractors, along with executives of several private construction companies, were there to defend the payments.

“It seems every time we want to do an inquiry, the word goes out far and wide to pack the meeting,’’ Wheeler said. “At least now we know how it works and what to expect in the future.’’

Best person for the job

Seven years into the job, the most partisan Democrats have probably given up trying to implore Lynch to find more of them to fill key state appointments.

Consider his latest nominees to the state’s high courts.

First, he promoted Robert Lynn, of Windham, from chief of the Superior Court to a seat on the five-person Supreme Court.

Lynn was an appointee of then-Republican Gov. Judd Gregg.

Then, to replace Lynn, Lynch went with Superior Court Justice Tina Nadeau, who was the office lawyer for then-Republican Gov. Steve Merrill.

Now, Lynch has an opening on the Superior Court to fill Nadeau’s former slot.

Put in context

Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, said he had a bone to pick with the Washington Post last week.

Hemingway said he was quoted out of context in a Post story that had him suggesting that former Gov. John H. Sununu didn’t have a good working relationship with the New Hampshire tea party when Sununu ran the GOP.

“I was having a casual conversation with a Washington Post reporter and noted that I didn’t remember any outreach between Governor John Sununu when he was New Hampshire GOP chairman and the tea party,” Hemingway said.

“The reporter used this conversation to fabricate a quotation that made it seem as though the governor denied requests to meet with the tea party. On the contrary, Governor Sununu welcomed tea party activism while chairman and, I recently learned, even met with my predecessor in the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.”

The Liberty Caucus official noted that he hasn’t been alone in having made comments that turned into a media controversy.

“Recently, New Hampshire Republicans have taken a lot of heat from an active minority that has used derogatory and inflammatory language to criticize the majority party and its actions,” Hemingway wrote.

“Naturally, this pressure has resulted in an overexuberant response from a handful of legislators who are inexperienced dealing with a hostile press.”

The GOP is united in its crusade for low taxes, less spending and pro-economic-growth policies, he said.

The experience prompted Hemingway to warn Republican lawmakers and activists about dealing with the media.

“I would caution any Republican when dealing with the press to be especially cautious, because some members are trying to invent a story line of party discord that simply is not true,” Hemingway said.

“Republicans are not a monolith, and no two party members agree on every issue, but it should be clear to any honest observer that this is true of any organization.’’

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or