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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Primary concern in Nevada for New Hampshire

Kevin Landrigan

Memo to national Republican leaders and would-be leading GOP candidates for president:

When it comes to setting the date for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, Secretary of State Bill Gardner doesn’t blink – ever.

The Las Vegas Sun had its fun Friday comparing Gardner to a sleepy gambler who has let all the other early states take over the preferred dates after Florida – home of the 2012 nominating convention – thumbed its nose at the Republican National Committee and set its primary for Jan. 31.

This is what Gardner has done and will always do: Wait for all the other states to tip their hands before making his final move.

Nevada officials confirmed Friday they won’t do what Gardner wants, move their planned Jan. 14 caucus three days back so New Hampshire can set its primary for Jan. 10 and have the desired seven-day window.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval gets the chutzpah award of the month for trying to lecture Gardner about what New Hampshire’s primary law really means.

We’ll see if that sticks, but GOP state Chairman Wayne MacDonald and other leading New Hampshire Republicans who hope Gardner will just ignore Nevada as a contest will be disappointed.

It’s no done deal and has many potentially moving parts, including Iowa formally setting its date – likely for Jan. 3.

Still, the odds have gone up that New Hampshire voters will be “trudging’’ to the polls more than 10 days before Christmas.

Would that cause some discomfort among New Hampshire voters? Of course, lives get more and more busy as the holidays approach. This means there would be only 55 days to bone up for those many New Hampshire residents who give no more than a momentary glance to the ups and downs of the presidential race.

Would it make New Hampshire’s primary date even more of a target four years from now?

Well, let’s see: This cycle, we’ve had Arizona, Michigan, Florida and now Nevada making noise about horning in on New Hampshire’s position.

How much more of a target could the state be?

On the other hand, if Gardner caves to Nevada and holds the primary on Jan. 10, the message is clear.

It’s open season on New Hampshire if a small Western state with one early contest under its belt can encroach on New Hampshire’s seven-day window and 90-year history.

Let’s look at Nevada. In 2000, it began caucuses three weeks after New Hampshire’s primary, and the desert state’s contest ran over the course of a month.

In 2004, Nevada held its caucuses two weeks after New Hampshire’s but they came after North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming Republicans in the West had already made their choice.

Last time, they threatened to go within four days of New Hampshire, and then moved back to 11 days later, on the same day as South Carolina.

This time, Nevada officials declare their goal is to go four days after New Hampshire and set the date a week ahead of South Carolina.

A trend of defiance here is impossible to ignore.

Whatever Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign’s direct involvement, Nevada Republican leaders who – like the former Utah resident and 2008 caucus winner – want this event wedged in between New Hampshire’s and South Carolina’s primaries.

This potentially gives Romney a one-two punch that would follow whatever happens in Iowa and before South Carolina, where Texas Gov. Rick Perry appears pretty strong.

Georgia businessman Herman Cain upped the ante for New Hampshire on Friday, joining the call to boycott Nevada after he’d given indications two days earlier that he had no problem with New Hampshire being pushed into December.

It’s feeling chilly in here

Here’s how raw the relations are between House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, and Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

It took the powers that be nearly an entire workday to issue separate statements – not a joint statement – calling on the Republican presidential candidates to boycott Nevada.

Sure, O’Brien was heading off to a conference in San Diego on Friday.

But those on the inside of the controversy report the episode revealed that there may be as much animosity and resentment among the staffs below both men as there is at the top.

According to informed sources, O’Brien actually suggested the idea of a boycott first about a week ago, when it looked like Nevada was making a move.

Weeks ago, O’Brien had organized the House speakers in all the early states to sign a pact of support.

Both men enlisted Mike Dennehy, a former GOP National Committee and presidential primary veteran, to coordinate the boycott bid.

Dennehy had no illusions that either Romney or Perry would go along with the idea, but thought if enough candidates endorsed it, Gardner could choose to ignore Nevada.

Primary politics and marital masters aren’t the only source of contention between those working for the branches.

House staffers are still seething weeks after the Senate voted to give at least three of its employees raises after the House had already followed the lead of Gov. John Lynch and the state employee contract that imposed a freeze on raises.

Medicaid money

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas has informed administrative and legislative officials that on Monday, his office will issue the long-awaited request for proposal to convert the $1.2 billion from Medicaid into a managed care program.

This could become the largest private contact award in state government history.

Keep in mind federal regulations require that at least two health care vendors be selected so that those on Medicaid and in the Healthy Kids program have a choice of providers.

Toumpas has previously inferred that the contract may come out in phases.

The first part would cover outpatient and inpatient services for Medicaid, and the second phase a year or more after that would involve long-term care.

Mental health providers are on pins and needles wondering how soon this will affect their developmentally disabled or mentally impaired clients.

Toumpas will brief legislative leaders about the details on Thursday, and is likely to face questions about it before the Health Care Oversight Committee on Friday.

Ethics complaint

O’Brien corrects us that his decision to block the temporary appointment of Peterborough Democratic Rep. Peter Leishman to the Finance Committee had nothing to do with his absence from the state budget scene since Leishman lost his re-election last November.

Leishman won a special election House seat.

O’Brien said it was all about the ethics probe of Leishman for his involvement on legislation that could affect his business.

“The reason was that the events that led to the ethics complaint and a criminal inquiry against him during his prior membership on the Finance Committee disqualified him from further participation on that committee,’’ O’Brien said.

The Legislative Ethics Committee urged Leishman to be more careful to avoid the appearance of conflict, but didn’t find “clear and convincing evidence’’ that Leishman violated the code of conduct.

O’Brien argued there was enough smoke there to keep Leishman away from the committee.

“The testimony of Commissioner Campbell to an Ethics Committee member that then Finance Division Chair Leishman told him that legislation the commissioner opposed would go away if action favorable to Leishman’s business were taken remains very troubling,” he said.

Leishman said he never said the bill would go away and the bill at issue had nothing to do with the Wilton-to-Bennington rail corridor on which his railroad operated.

Meanwhile, Leishman noted that before leaving office, DOT Commissioner George Campbell canceled the more than 20-year state contract for Leishman to operate on that line.

“It would appear I’m guilty as far as the speaker is concerned, even though I did nothing wrong,’’ Leishman said.

This family feud – they’re cousins – continued last week when O’Brien quickly gaveled to a voice vote the amendment on marital masters, even though Leishman had asked to give a parliamentary inquiry prior to that outcome.

O’Brien said no one had moved for a roll call or division (unrecorded) vote, so that rendered moot Leishman’s plan to speak.

“Wow, has the place changed,’’ Leishman said.

Marital master question

How do Senate Republican leaders feel when the state Republican Party weighs in defending O’Brien’s decision to press the marital master issue even though it risks losing $2 million more in expected savings in the state budget?

Early last week, they urged the House to put off the marital master issue until January to pass this non-controversial budget fix.

But right on the New Hampshire GOP Web site, the party message is squarely in O’Brien’s corner flatly rejecting Bragdon’s argument that there’s no rush to cram down on marital masters because no posts are up for appointment until next spring.

“This need is timely, because the Judiciary already reappointed two marital masters after HB 2 was enacted by the House and came forward with the possibility of another marital master reappointment this Fall unless a new circuit judgeship was created,” the state GOP says in a Q-and-A section. “This latest ‘opportunity’ was based on a resignation of a marital master effective December 1, 2011.

“While the Fiscal Committee did approve the conversion of the position to a circuit court judgeship, implementation of this law, which was to take effect on July 1, 2011, should not wait until sometime in 2012, leaving the Judiciary to continue the marital master system through any additional resignations.’’

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@KLandrigan), and don’t forget The Telegraph’s interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.