Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R-Newfields) is one of several declared candidates for governor who is no fan of bringing casino gambling to New Hampshire.

Mar 26, 2016 2:59 PM

Landrigan: NH Political Report. Anatomy of a casino gambling meltdown in NH Statehouse.

As we predicted, the casino gambling movement had its last gasp moment in the State Senate this week.

With Thursday night’s deadline, the gambling supporters could wait no longer to try to get the count to 13 and move the single casino bill out of the upper chamber.

We called them as being one vote shy of victory, and sure enough, a move to pass the bill failed, 13-11.

Attempts to get wavering senators to support the casino in exchange for backing for the House-passed bill legalizing Keno were rejected.

It was fitting that on that very day, the owners of Rockingham Park announced the Salem property and dormant horse racetrack site was back on the real estate market.

This signaled that Millennium Gaming, the Las Vegas casino owner that had an option to buy The Rock and turn it into a casino, had released the option and let the track owners seek other private suitors.

What makes this all the more painful for casino supporters is that they are losing a supportive, retiring Gov. Maggie Hassan and, in all likelihood, getting a new chief executive who’s, at best, not a cheerleader for the project as Hassan has been in the past.

The wild card in both primary fields on this issue could be Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.

As a former Senate president, Gatsas had supported casinos but only if it included multiple licenses – not one or two as the casino developers wanted.

Even worse for the industry, Gatsas was a big proponent of the state running the casino business and having the private developers complete for licenses to operate them on the state’s behalf.

Of late, Gatsas has pointed out the casino craze in New England has sailed with three, full-fledged casinos and one slots parlor in the works in neighboring Massachusetts.

Thus, the odds of the next governor, even in the face of a tight state budget for the next two years, coming out for casino gambling as a savior are at best VERY long.


The plan to extend Medicaid expansion for another two years in New Hampshire takes an incremental but key step Monday when a two-Senate committee panel is expected to recommend its adoption.

Some opponents of the New Hampshire Health Protection Program remain convinced Senate GOP leaders constructed the special, two-committee group so as to assure that it received a positive recommendation when it goes to the full Senate.

This may be so, but the reality is Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) already had a built-in majority to pass this one.

All 10 Senate Democrats will embrace it because the House agreed to let the program continue even if the Obama administration rejects a work requirement.


Meanwhile, many political observers remain stunned that Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) is going through with it and seeking the Republican nomination for governor this fall.

Forrester has some real pros already on her team - political consultant Mike Dennehy and veteran operative Kerry Marsh.

She got to see Marsh’s handiwork firsthand as an early supporter of Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign, since Marsh headed up the state’s pro-Fiorina PAC efforts.

No question she starts this race as a clear underdog up against an early frontrunner who’s much better known (Executive Councilor Chris Sununu) and another hopeful with even readier access to big-time campaign cash (Manchester Mayor Gatsas).

But Forrester has a compelling story to tell, having just spearheaded the current state budget that delivered the first cuts in business taxes in a generation.

She’s a strong fiscal and social conservative who does come from a Senate district that’s always been active in competitive GOP primaries.

And, of course, among the four declared hopefuls (including State Rep. Frank Edelblut), she’s the only woman.

There’s no doubt that Gatsas and Forrester also believe that Donald Trump’s blowout victory in last month’s first-in-the-nation primary signals the climate could reward political outsiders and not household names (read Sununu).


What’s more stunning about Forrester’s run is that it throws wide open a State Senate seat that was solidly in the GOP column this November.

Now, thanks to the redistricting of 2011, Forrester’s district has become even more Republican than it had been before she came to the Senate.

But it’s a golden opportunity for state Democratic leaders to beat the bushes and try and find someone with crossover potential.

At the least, this could become a State Senate race where the GOP has to spend more time and resources.


Don’t look for the Republican-led Legislature to change voter registration reforms just because a lower New Hampshire court has found they are legally flawed.

Early on in the 2016 session, the House of Representatives endorsed this measure to get rid of the notice to those who register that they had 60 days after becoming a resident to register their car and establish a New Hampshire driver’s license.

A lower court in Strafford County first prohibited state election officials from using those forms in the 2014 election and then struck down the language.

But the state has appealed that finding to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which is precisely why a State Senate committee has recommended and the GOP-led Senate will embrace shipping that bill off to study, making it start all over as a new idea in 2017.


No doubt the last bombshell of the 2016 filing season, Republican congressional candidate Dan Innis’ pullout, ranks up there as the most stunning of the early going.

Innis looked to be the best GOP to knock off embattled Congressman Frank Guinta (R-NH) in a GOP primary.

After all, Innis got 40 percent against Guinta in a campaign before the congressman settled a Federal Elections Commission complaint and agreed to repay his parents more than $300,000 donated to his 2010 campaign.

A lot happened since Innis stepped up first - former House Deputy Speaker and fellow Seacoast Republican Pam Tucker, of Greenfield, declared she was running.

And former congressional hopeful Rich Ashooh ended his stint as interim president of the University of New Hampshire School of Law’s Rudman Center, opening the way for him to likely get into the race later this spring.

Innis and Ashooh share both business backgrounds and strong connections to higher education, making Ashooh an early benefactor of Innis stepping aside.

This is the early, back-of-the-envelope fallout from the Innis move. One thing we’ve already learned about 2016 is that the unexpected will likely become the norm.

Given Guinta’s FEC problems, look for other, much-lesser known Republicans to choose this GOP primary as one to mount a protest campaign.

But as we’ve seen before in this state, the bigger the primary field gets, the easier it’s often been for the best known candidate to win.


If this weren’t an election year and Hassan was seeking re-election, the Executive Council in all likelihood would have already approved the Mount Sunapee expansion plan this week.

But with two on the council running to replace Hassan as governor, it made perfect sense for them to put this on hold until they were fully briefed.

This will also be the first Sunapee plan to come to the council table since GOP governor hopeful Chris Sununu joined the five-person board.

As an executive with Washington Valley Ski Resort, will some Sunapee expansion opponents try to get Sununu to recuse himself as someone in the industry?

It’s a tricky contract for Democratic Councilor and gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern (D-Concord) to tackle, given the long opposition of environmentalists to past Sunapee expansion proposals.

Whatever happens with it, Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeff Rose gets high marks for having negotiated a better deal for the state and for preservation than in previous plans submitted by those managing the state-owned resort.


If former State Sen. Jim Rubens learned anything from his failed 2014 run for the U.S. Senate against Scott Brown, it’s go big or go home.

Now going after the most popular Republican in New Hampshire by far - Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) - Rubens realizes the best way for him to get attention is to be outspoken and preferably play to his party’s right-wing.

Witness this week’s claim that Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is most to blame for the terrorist attacks in Belgium.

Rubens admitted as much in his e-mail to supporters at week’s end.

"I’m the only candidate for U.S. Senate who is vocal in holding Hillary Clinton accountable for her failed nation-building wars. Democrat leaders have taken me seriously,’’ Rubens wrote

And for Rubens to get any traction in this primary, he’s got to make the case Ayotte has become a tool of the Capitol Hill elite.

"February’s primaries show that New Hampshire voters are fed up with establishment tone deafness to the concerns of both conservatives and working Americans,’’ Rubens added.

It’s a very tall order indeed.


Co-Quotes of the Week:

"I would prefer to see us do something that creates a needle exchange program or at least allows the state to set guidelines. What it does now is give a free pass to everybody who wants to have dirty needles." - Rep. John Tholl (R-Whitefield) on the House-passed needle exchange bill.

"If people are concerned, I am willing to work with those in trying to come up with some consensus in the Senate.’’ - Rep. Joseph Hannon (R-Lee) and chief author of the needle exchange bill.

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