Apr 2, 2016 6:00 PM

NH Political Report: Hassan may need to cut losses in Phillips Exeter controversy

The report that the former teacher who admitted to sexual misconduct was a campaign supporter and donor to Gov. Maggie Hassan’s first campaign for governor has put the Democratic Senate hopeful on the defensive.

And it all started because a victim of discredited Phillips Exeter Academy history teacher Rick Schubart decided to tell her story to The Boston Globe.

Without that move, the secret deal to get Schubart to retire and leave campus might never have come to light.

Politically, Hassan’s problem isn’t that she had this man as one of 125 members of a Rockingham County Steering Committee. Or that he and his wife had given Hassan a total of $375 in campaign contributions to Hassan’s campaigns for State Senate and governor.

What’s troubling is if Hassan and her campaign knew something was amiss, why wouldn’t she and the campaign remove Schubart from her list as a supporter and return the money he’d sent to her campaigns?

On Friday, Hassan noted she had thousands of supporters and donors and didn’t know the extent of what Schubart had done.

This one plays right into the wheelhouse of Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte for two reasons.

One, as a former attorney general, Ayotte negotiated the settlement with the Catholic Diocese of Manchester. This landmark agreement resulted in the release of thousands of pages of documents about the conduct of Catholic priests and what church administrators did to shuttle them to other assignments or put them out to pasture.

The second is that as a U.S. senator, Ayotte decided nearly two years ago that she would pursue reform on all college campuses and work to require administrators to adopt protocols for the monitoring and reporting of sex assault that occurs in higher education.

At some point, Hassan and Co. may be forced to admit that while she didn’t know what Schubart had done, her 2012 campaign made a critical error in not distancing her from the supporter and campaign donor.

The quicker Hassan comes around to acknowledging that mistakes were made, the sooner she can put the ugly controversy behind her.


Is Democratic candidate for governor Steve Marchand, of Portsmouth, on a fool’s errand?

Not at all. Sure, political observers will and should handicap this former Portsmouth mayor as an underdog candidate.

But it’s not as if Marchand can’t carve a niche for himself in this three-person primary.

For starters, Marchand is the only one with municipal experience and can forcefully argue that the next governor has to create a "better compact" with cities and towns.

You can blame the recession and the closing of the federal "Mediscam" loophole, but the reality is state aid to communities has been dramatically cut over the past decade.

And that’s made the job of mayors, selectmen and budget committees harder than one can imagine.

As a moderate and centrist Democrat, Marchand can also try to lay claim, not to the liberal base of the party, but rather to like-minded Democrats and independents that helped John Lynch and Maggie Hassan beat more liberal opponents and go on to become governors.

Finally, Marchand has talked about, and ultimately passed, on several campaigns for higher office in the past, including campaigns for Senate and Congress.

This is the one race he should enter; given his youth, as long as he runs a respectable race and exceeds expectations, he could have a bright future in his party.


Should anyone be surprised that new Republican candidate for governor Jeanie Forrester, of Meredith, would choose within days of announcing her bid to take a shot at GOP frontrunner and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu?

As NH1 News first reported, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Forrester made a point of alluding to candidates who raise money on "K Street."

Within 48 hours, Forrester was tweeting criticism of Sununu, the guest of honor for a K Street fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

Forrester has great political advice, and all of it is urging her to contrast both her record and her approach with Sununu.

So she votes against the Medicaid expansion bill because it lacks a guaranteed work requirement, weeks after Sununu declared he could support it.

Both come full circle: Forrester was for it before, she’s now against it; Sununu was against it and now backs it.

She also knows it’s likely the Sununu name and organization will translate into him raising much more campaign cash than she can.

So why not try to turn that negative into a positive, namely Forrester promoting the fact her donors are local while much of Sununu’s money is sure to come from D.C. and other out-of-state interests?


The Republican State Committee wants nothing better than to spread the claim that Democratic frontrunner for governor, Colin Van Ostern, is getting the skids greased for his primary campaign.

So when a political blog reports on a conversation between two Democratic Governors Association figures on a commuter train about giving Van Ostern the edge financially, the state GOP was all over it.

"The same Democratic Party establishment that is trying to rig the presidential primary process for Hillary Clinton has been caught trying to rig the gubernatorial primary for Colin Van Ostern,’’ GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said.

"It is clear that the Democratic Governors Association is trying to undermine the candidacies of Mark Connolly and Steve Marchand by putting its finger on the scale with liberal donors in favor of Van Ostern."

Of course, the reality is, as The New Hampshire Political Report has disclosed, Van Ostern is not the big favorite among all Democratic Party leaders in New Hampshire.

That’s precisely why, while the party has a long tradition of discouraging contested primaries even for open seats, Connolly and Marchand are in the race, even after some party leaders tried to get both Stefany Shaheen and Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) to jump in.

Are there national party figures who see Van Ostern as the clear favorite and could live with him as the nominee? Of course, but it’s by no means a done deal.


Clearly the prospects for a bobcat hunting season set to start this December is in big-time jeopardy in the wake of the Legislative Administrative Rules Committee lodging a serious objection to it.

The rules panel maintains the hunt could be unconstitutional, given that the lynx, a similar-looking cat, is a protected species that can’t be hunted.

The move shifts the discussion to the House and Senate committees that deal with Fish and Game issues and clearly puts this entire matter the breakdown lane.

Those legislative panels could easily tie up discussion of this matter into the summer.

Then, the election season kicks in and there’s no incentive for the Republican-led Legislature or Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan to move heaven and earth to clear the obstacles for the hunt.

Further complicating the matter, the hunt would, in a best-case scenario, cost Fish and Game $12,000 more to manage than it would take in hunting fees.

This at a time when the Fish and Game Department is already struggling with balancing its budget without help from the state treasury.

In the previous budget, lawmakers had to agree to use nearly $300,000 in state dollars to balance the Fish and Game books.

The plain reality is legislative leaders in both political parties and those close to Hassan were, at the very least, alarmed when the Fish and Game Commission went forward with the hunt despite strong opposition, including some from many rank-and-file sportsmen.

All of them would like nothing better than to have this entire topic punted over to the next governor and Legislature in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Fish and Game’s next step to try and move this debate out of limbo would be to ask the Legislature to seek from the Supreme Court an advisory opinion on whether the bobcat hunt would stand a constitutional challenge.

An answer from the justices could go a long way to settling this matter once and for all.


Co-Quotes of the Week:

"As a former prosecutor who has worked with victims of sexual abuse, I believe it’s so important that we provide support for those who come forward and have been victimized. Important questions have been raised about whether these accusations were handled properly that must be fully addressed to ensure the safety and well-being of students.”- Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) comments on the controversy regarding Phillips Exeter Academy’s dealings with a former teacher who admitted to sex misconduct in 2011 to then-Principal Tom Hassan, husband of Gov. and U.S. Senate hopeful Maggie Hassan.

"My heart goes out to the two women who came forward to report the instances sexual misconduct. It can never be tolerated. It’s very serious. And all schools need to do everything they can to keep their students safe. I am very grateful for these two brave women for coming forward. It speaks to the need to make sure that all schools have policies and procedures prohibiting sexual misconduct but also encouraging people to come forward to report it, and continuing to work on kinds of policies and procedures in place that prevent it from happening in the first place.’’ - Gov. Maggie Hassan’s statement on the controversy.

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