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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Morse calling for prison plan showdown

Kevin Landrigan

We’re in a kind of Mexican standoff pitting two of the three most powerful charged with crafting the next two-year state budget.

The frustration for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, boiled over this week as criticism rained down on his plan to ship 600 state prison inmates to private or public prisons out of state.

Morse is relying on this gambit (HB 635 amendment) to save $11.5 million that he could use to restore some human service spending cuts in the House-approved state budget.

The frustration is that Gov. John Lynch’s administration has been studying privatization proposals for more than six months.

Two years ago, Lynch’s budget had called for creating a regional, public prison in the North Country that would take state prisoners from Vermont and Maine. The Democratically led Legislature didn’t move on it.

So Morse has scheduled a public hearing this Thursday on his proposal and is calling out Lynch to “show his’’ at the session.

The key part of Morse’s plan is that in protecting from closure and any exodus at the medium security prison in Berlin, the exporting of inmates will all come from the Big House in Concord.

This would shed about 45 percent of the population.

That translates to a whole lot of families including many in the Nashua area who will have to travel God knows where to visit their loved one remaining behind out-of-New Hampshire bars.

Matt Houde steps up his leadership

The State Senate’s only Democrat running a policy committee showed he’s building influence this week.

Sen. Matt Houde, D-Plainfield, runs the Senate Judiciary Committee as the only lawyer willing to take this thankless assignment.

By the way, The Sunday Telegraph has confirmed President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, had offered the slot to GOP senators who turned it down due to the heavy workload and the number of hot button issues.

Well this week, Houde convinced his panel to unanimously endorse re-referring a House priority bill, to repeal the requirement that gun owners have to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon (HB 330).

As we disclosed before, the gun-owner community was split on this bill, for several preferred an even tougher Second Amendment alternative from Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton.

House Speaker O’Brien tried to convince Hoell to withdraw his bill; Hoell refused and the resulting dispute over the proper course played out before Houde’s committee.

The House chair then shrewdly got Fenton Groen, R-Rochester, to carry the bill’s “sink it until next year” recommendation when it comes up on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Houde has had control on when the panel takes up the bill requiring a parent be notified before a minor girl gets an abortion.

Supporters like Sen. Jim Luther, R-Hollis, had wanted the vote last week and think the sooner it can get to the desk of Gov. Lynch the better.

“For me, this is common sense about good parenting,” said Luther, who with wife Melinda has adopted two children.

Word is, the new timetable for acting on this one is this coming week, likely on Thursday.

Cornerstone Action NH Executive Director Kevin Smith said his members were getting impatient.

“We feel very confident that the voters to do this are in the Senate and have been anxious to get to that point,” Smith said.

The always approachable Houde has been tight-lipped about unconfirmed reports that he’s working on an amendment to the bill and has contact with Gov. Lynch on it.

‘’No comment,’’ Houde said.

We’ll know soon enough.

Special election nears

The first test of whether the Republican swamping takeover of the Legislature in November 2010 is sticking comes up in nine days.

Voters in Wilton, Mont Vernon, Lyndeborough, Temple and New Boston will choose a replacement for the first departing lawmaker, ex-Mont Vernon GOP Rep. Robert Mead who left to become House chief of staff.

The edge clearly goes to the GOP on paper but this one is competitive with Peter Kucmas, of New Boston, facing off against Jennifer Daler, of Temple, on May 17.

This Hillsborough District 4 seat has traditionally been a Republican-dominated House district but former Deputy Speaker Linda Foster, of Mont Vernon, beat the odds to serve eight terms in the five-town district before retiring in 2010.

This is the district of House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, who is in his fifth year representing it.

You can imagine that O’Brien is taking an active interest in making sure Republican Kucmas wins to replace Mead, a close personal friend and his right hand man on the third floor.

How close? When Mead badly broke his leg in a fall last spring, O’Brien drove him to Concord to work for several months.

Democratic leaders are guardedly optimistic about pulling a big upset in this one because Daler has run several times. In 2008, she came within 150 votes of taking one of the four seats.

In 2006, she hit pay dirt and unseated O’Brien in the only political defeat of his career. Two years later, O’Brien returned the favor and knocked Daler out of her seat.

Democrats have been mailing heavily into the district much of it trying to tie Kucmas to deep budget cuts and other House GOP decision of which he hasn’t played a part.

How do the Republicans know about the mail dump?

O’Brien and Mead’s better halves are registered independent voters and have gotten the mail pieces.

The other reason this election is important? It’s a virtual certainty it will be carved up big time when the 2012 Legislature adjusts all the boundaries for electing the 400-person House.

An approved constitutional amendment (2006) requires that towns with enough population must get their own legislator.

New Boston (5,321) and Wilton (3,677) should fall into that category. No one represents New Boston from the district right now so a Kucmas victory could mean that he would run again in 2012 and have a seat all to himself with no incumbents opposing him.

Conversely, a Daler victory carries with it some uncertainty because there she will have no idea where Temple will be placed for November 2012.

The Republicans in control of the Legislature will draw the lines (Lynch has a veto pen; former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen used it against three GOP redistricting maps in 2001) and likely cobble together a district with Temple that strongly leans Republican.

Wheaton seeks to return

House Republicans are feeling more sheepish about another open House seat when a GOP lawmaker that Speaker O’Brien called on to quit is now trying to make a comeback.

Gary Wheaton had confirmed he would promise to leave if he had other criminal issues following a DWI arrest last September.

Well, he got pulled over April 5 and was charged with driving with a suspended license and speeding.

Wheaton claims many in his hometown of Seabrook have encouraged him to get back into it.

But Wheaton will have a hard enough time winning the July 5 primary in this district that includes his home with Hampton Falls, Kensington and South Hampton.

It’s a five-person scramble and one to watch is Lou Gargiulo, a popular Seacoast businessman who once was the GOP nominee for the State Senate against former Democratic Sen. Burt Cohen.

Gargiulo was a prominent backer of GOP nominee for governor John Stephen last fall.

He also served in the House representing Stratham and sat on the House Judiciary Committee that now has a vacancy since Wheaton took a powder.

Finally, Gargiulo lives in Hampton Falls about 10 doors down from former governor and GOP State Chairman John H. Sununu.

The talented GOP field also includes Max Abramson, Kevin Janvrin and Dennis Sweeney. Trouble is, Gargiulo’s four foes all come from Seabrook.

Not to be outdone, Democrats have their own primary between Ryan Mahoney, of South Hampton, and former State Rep. Mark Preston.

The election is set for Sept. 6.

Buckley sings praise

When it comes to national Democratic Party politics, Ray Buckley, our own New Hampshire chairman, is the “Where’s Waldo” of the bunch.

That’s the guy who is always in the photo when big business is being done.

So when Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz became chairman of the DNC this week to replace 2012 Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine, who should be there nominating her?

That’s Buckley of course, a DNC vice chairman who couldn’t resist pulling out the New Hampshire connection, this one from an unnamed colleague who was blown away at first meeting Wasserman Schultz.

“Eighteen years ago, a New Hampshire legislator returned from a national training program for select young state legislators who showed promise to be great leaders in the future,’’ Buckley recalled.

“My friend could not stop talking about a 26-year-old legislator from Florida. She kept saying over and over, “this woman is just amazing she is so bright. She has so much passion, she is so strong and articulate, you would just love her.’’

Buckley, the first, openly gay state chairman in the U.S., also saluted her activism on the issue.

“Here I am today, the first openly gay vice chair of the DNC nominating a woman to be elected as DNC chair as we embark on re-electing our first African American president,” Buckley said.

“Which all goes to prove that Democrats are the party of opportunity, Democrats are the party of diversity …

“Democrats are the party who stands up for all Americans!

“And as a gay American, I am particularly proud of Debbie’s steadfast support for LGBT equality over the years.’’

Hats off to Jeff Goley

Congrats to Manchester Democratic State Rep. and firefighter Jeff Goley who has been selected as one of 48 state leaders across the U.S. to secure a Toll Fellowship.

Former House Speaker and Democratic Leader Terie Norelli of Portsmouth nominated Goley for the Council of State Governments program that’s set for six days in September.

Ex-Manchester Mayor Sylvio Dupuis and ex-House Chief of Staff/Hooksett retired firefighter Terry Pfaff (Toll Class of 1998) chipped in with endorsements.

“It should be fun; I’m quite honored by it really,” said Goley, a former chairman of the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee.

Past winners include governors, U.S. senators and members of Congress.

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