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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lynch out to cement legacy in final year of leadership

Kevin Landrigan

Don’t look for Gov. John Lynch to pull a Barack Obama and get too confrontational with the Republicans in charge of the Legislature in his last State of the State speech.

Obama’s in-your-face speech to Congress last week set the table for what could be the most bitterly fought re-election campaign in modern American history.

Lynch isn’t running for anything, and likely that’s for good.

Besides, picking a fight isn’t the style of this record-setting, four-term Democrat, and there are some things he wants to accomplish before riding off into the sunset in December.

Let’s start with an amendment to the Constitution on education funding.

This is legacy time; Lynch would like nothing better than to leave office knowing he has changed the sacred document to allow the neediest school districts to get more money while giving nothing to the communities that don’t need it, such as Amherst, Hollis, New Castle and Waterville Valley.

Lynch also doesn’t want this GOP-led Legislature to open the state budget back up and start slashing.

Last week, he got to remind those running the levers of power under the Statehouse dome that he’s the constitutionally weakest governor in the nation but holds one trump card: the veto pen.

And more than in any of the seven years before this, Lynch won’t hesitate to use it.

Planning for the future

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England thought it was in a bar fight last year.

After all, the Executive Council took the unprecedented step of refusing to approve family planning contracts with the group. This forced the Obama administration to step in and take over administration of the program at the urging of Lynch and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Well, the state House of Representatives served notice two weeks ago that Planned Parenthood needs reinforcements.

It approved and sent to the state Senate a bill disallowing contracts to Planned Parenthood or any state or federal money to organizations that perform abortions.

The health care and abortion provider has swung into action, hiring the Chris Gallagher lobbying firm and getting the able services of lobbyists Dr. Lisa Shapiro and Paul Worsowicz.

Erik Taylor will supply public affairs support.

House supporters insist they tailored their amended bill to survive the constitutional tests that doomed similar laws in other states. This language held up in Texas and Arizona courts, said Rochester Republican Rep. Warren Groen.

But Planned Parenthood supporters are already alerting state senators to a potential fatal flaw in the measure. They maintain that as crafted, it could put the state’s Medicaid program at risk.

Marriage targeted

The pitched battle over repealing the same-sex marriage law doesn’t have a showdown date in the House of Representatives.

Some thought it could take place as early as Wednesday, but that isn’t going to happen.

Both sides are calling in heavyweight reinforcements.

Former Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman came to the state to lend his support for Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, the lead group opposing repeal.

Mehlman, who in 2010 publicly said he was gay, has come full circle politically.

After all, Mehlman was in former President George W. Bush’s inner sanctum that plotted his successful re-election.

This rested on Karl Rove’s masterstroke to gin up conservative turnout in that election by getting on a traditional marriage amendment to constitutions in more than a dozen states.

Mehlman stressed this isn’t your father’s Republican Party, as support for giving all citizens the same marriage rights has soared in recent years.

“The country has moved tremendously in the past few years,” Mehlman said. “From a position of American principles and family values, the right view is for marriage freedom. From a position of politics, it’s also no longer a close call.’’

Meanwhile, Mike Dennehy, the New Hampshire lobbyist for the National Organization for Marriage, delivered an anti-same-sex-marriage treatise to Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald last week.

Dennehy is a senior GOP strategist who helped build John McCain’s New Hampshire presidential primary victories in 2000 and 2008.

“The 2012 elections provide plenty of opportunities but many pitfalls, as well,’’ Dennehy said in a memo obtained by The Sunday Telegraph.

“In the 20 years I’ve been running campaigns at every level, I can tell you that this year, more than any other, will hinge on the party who best motivates their base and gets them to the polls on Election Day.

“We have one issue this year that will motivate social and cultural conservatives to go to the polls for Republican candidates – traditional marriage.’’

Kellyanne Conway, of The Polling Co., did a survey late last fall that found 71 percent of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage laws.

The pollster has worked for 2012 gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire.

Eminent domain on table

The battle over eminent domain and Northern Pass may not be over after all.

Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, scored an impressive victory in the Senate, which went along by a 2-1 margin for his preferred move aimed at blocking the vehicle being used by the transmission project of Northeast Utilities, the parent of Public Service Co. of New Hampshire.

When it comes to energy, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, has always been viewed as the authority figure, having spent a decade on the issue in the House, where he authored the electricity deregulation law.

Then it was off to Washington for Bradley, who became a grownup regarding the issue on Capitol Hill.

But Bragdon got the property rights bee in his bonnet and wasn’t about to let the issue go.

That’s because during private meetings, PSNH officials repeatedly told Bragdon they have no intention of using eminent domain for Northern Pass, but wouldn’t take it off the table.

Now, at least some people close to the PSNH side of this battle believe they might have the last laugh.

The Senate-passed bill (HB 648) would permit eminent domain for any project deemed eligible by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the ISO that is the godfather of determining energy need for the New England region.

The federal and ISO rules on eminent domain are under review, and PSNH officials expressed optimism late last week that as redone, they could give a green light to projects such as theirs.

Meanwhile, credit the Fourth Estate with spotting a fatal flaw in the eminent domain proposal.

Associated Press intern Garrett Brnger first spotted the boo-boo that an amendment from Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen had struck the Bragdon compromise from the bill.

Several senators had professional or personal commitments later Wednesday that didn’t allow Bragdon to keep the Senate in session long enough to come up with the fix.

Instead, the Senate essentially stopped the clock and recessed last week’s session, and will reopen it when it returns Wednesday to take this bill up again, fix it and pass it over to the House.

Got it?

Jockeying for position

Lamontagne, the leading Republican candidate for governor, has already begun to frame his message in the 2012 campaign.

That is renewing the New Hampshire Advantage.

During a recent fundraising e-mail and mailing to supporters, Lamontagne doesn’t mention popular Gov. Lynch, but makes it clear he’d provide a more hands-on and certainly more fiscally conservative brand of politics if he’s given the corner office in 2013.

“Eight years of liberal control of Concord has resulted in double digit increases in state spending, resulting in a nearly $1 billion dollar deficit, and seen increases in over 80 taxes and fees!’’ Lamontagne wrote.

“Fortunately, our Republican leadership in the House and Senate have begun the hard work of putting our fiscal house back in order, but much more remains to be done to ensure that we can renew the New Hampshire Advantage – and protect the Granite State from the effects of the national decline under the Obama Administration.’’

Lamontagne lists right to work, voter ID and school choice as the signature “common sense’’ reforms he’d fight for.

What is missing from this 600-word rallying cry was a single mention of the word “jobs.’’

You can bet Lamontagne’s announced GOP opponent, Kevin Smith, of Litchfield, and former Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan, an Exeter Democrat who’s already in the race, will take note of that.

Smith made an impressive opening step with his first hire, Tom DeRosa, founder of Red New Hampshire and former Republican State Committee staffer.

DeRosa has an extensive Rolodex of GOP activists and technology expertise that will help Smith get started on the right foot.

“I’ve talked to some other folks about coming onboard, but that will be more down the road,’’ Smith said.

Meanwhile, as first reported on our Twitter site this week, former Attorney General Phil McLaughlin, of Laconia, has taken himself out of contention for the Democratic primary for governor.

McLaughlin said he would have taken the pledge against an income tax and against casino gambling, but decried a need for more revenue and sharply criticized the “never compromise attitude’’ of the GOP leadership in Concord.

Former Barrington Democratic state Sen. Jackie Cilley continues to look like someone who is already in the hunt, with an outspoken newsletter entry last week that took on the tea party.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@KLandrigan) and at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.