Jul 23, 2015 7:20 PM

NH1 News Political Report: July 23, 2015 - The must-read, weekly NH political tip sheet


CONCORD - Here’s why Gov. Maggie Hassan and Republican legislative leaders are further apart from making a compromise state budget than they were the day she vetoed the GOP plan last month.

Sure, Hassan has offered as one key Democrat called it ``several olive branches’’ to the GOP to try and get to yes.

She’s come off her opposition to business tax cuts and dropped her insistence that the expansion of Medicaid had to be made permanent as part of any two-year spending plan.

Frankly there’s nothing new about either one. Hassan said before she vetoed the budget that she wasn’t philosophically opposed to the tax cuts; she just wasn’t going to accept them unless they were paid for.

As for the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, rhetoric aside for the past several weeks the governor privately was well aware she wasn’t going to get GOP lawmakers to accept that request under any circumstance.

Meanwhile behind closed doors, the mood has gotten even sourer and that’s why the rift widens.

Every week, Hassan and her team called upon legislative leaders to come and discuss the framework for a new budget.

And since the beginning of this month the two State House principals, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, have not been there

July is traditionally a tough month to find lawmakers; this year, Morse was gone for two weeks for a longtime planned trip to Ireland; Jasper had both business and personal matters to attend to.

If that weren’t bad enough for Hassan, the senior lawmakers and legislative staff at those sit downs with Hassan had no authority to negotiate.

It got so frustrating the usually calm and composed Hassan walked out of the last meeting in utter frustration.

Now what frosts Morse and Jasper is the governor chose early Thursday to spell out all the detail of her latest offer at a press conference and not with them privately beforehand.

In addition, Jasper said the House natives are even more restless than ever after Hassan’s other vetoes beyond the budget such as the 30-day residency requirement for voters and putting restrictions on Common Core education standards.

"Even if I supported it which is not the case, I have no idea where we would get 40 House Republicans right now to go along with her plan," Jasper said.

This too could blow over and face-to-face between the three with all the clout should improve things.

For now at least, however, it’s one step forward, two steps back.


Even seasoned Democrats backing Hassan all the way with her new budget plan conclude it’s the strongest sign to date that she will seek re-election as governor and not a US Senate seat in 2016.

Once more, Hassan turned the other cheek when asked by reporters if she agrees with state party leaders who accuse Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, of encouraging GOP legislative leaders to sabotage the state budget this year.

"My sole focus is getting a compromise on a budget that moves the state forward," Hassan answered.

What centrist Democratic candidate less than a year before a US Senate campaign would publicly lobby to raise taxes and fees yet at the same time advocate cutting taxes for big business and making room for a sweetener so that start-ups who succeed don’t have to pay profit taxes once their companies went public.

"She’s all over the place ideologically but it all makes sense from a state government standpoint," said one senior Democrat solidly in Hassan’s corner.

"If she could pull something like this off, she not only would have a stable state budget for the next two years but it would set her up very well for the next one."


Another prominent Democrat’s name has gotten tossed into the speculation game of if not Hassan, then who will run run against Ayotte in 2016?

He’s Manchester Democrat John Kacavas who only recently stepped down as US attorney in New Hampshire.

Many Democratic advocates love the idea since Kacavas’ legal experience would resume-wise give him instant credibility against Ayotte who came to the US Senate in 2011 after serving as New Hampshire attorney general and before that as lawyer to ex-GOP Gov. Craig Benson.

Ideologically, Kacavas is widely viewed as a centrist Democrat who not only could do well against Ayotte in the Queen City but might roll up big wins in strongholds like Portsmouth, Concord and Keene.

Kacavas’ decision to leave the federal prosecutor’s office has opened up his options to seek public office in the future. To this point though, he’s given no indication he’s ready to turn around and jump back into the political game next year.

A former state legislator, Kacavas ran for Executive Council and gave ex-Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek all he could handle.

Meanwhile, liberal activists in the party are more excited about getting either ex-Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester or ex-House Speaker Terie Norelli of Portsmouth to go after it.


The New Hampshire Political Report confirms Hassan is pushing ahead on multiple fronts to try and keep the state’s drug czar on the job past December.

A one-time grant with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation allowed Hassan to bring on Senior Director of Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Jack Wozmak but that runs out in January.

Hassan proposed back in February a state budget plan that paid for the job with state dollars. The Republican-led House went along with the idea but the Senate budget took it out.

The compromise budget Hassan vetoed didn’t have money for his position either.

Yes, Hassan put Wozmak’s job among the laundry list of add-back spending items contained in her latest budget offer.

But that’s only one avenue as we learned Hassan has submitted a separate spending item for Wozmak’s job to be extended that comes before the Legislative Fiscal Committee next Thursday.

Republicans control this House-Senate budget oversight panel that makes all financial decisions while lawmakers are not in session.

Veteran head counters tell us the GOP on the fiscal panel have the votes to block that drug czar bid.


When it comes to taking the political high ground on the budget, Hassan has decided at least for now not to try and pull one of the few levers of power the New Hampshire governor actually has.

That’s calling lawmakers back into a special session. All it requires is a majority vote of the Executive Council.

But with three Republicans on the five-person group, that’s not a live option either.

All three GOP councilors - potential candidate for governor Chris Sununu of Newfields, Dave Wheeler of Milford and Joe Kenney of Wolfeboro - all are thought to be firm "no" votes if Hassan were to ask them which she has not.

There’s little practical reason for Hassan to be promoting that idea even if purely for political purposes.

House Speaker Jasper’s plan to bring his members back Sept. 16 is a perfectly acceptable timetable for Hassan as well.


By then, state auditors should have unofficial numbers on how state government ended the last budget year on June 30.

Hassan needs that report because it will either confirm or refute her claim the year ended with about $40 million less money than GOP legislative leaders had estimated was going to be there.

Morse says if Hassan’s right, she overspent the budget. Hassan and her team counter that spending was due to growth in Medicaid caseloads that legislative leaders were told about a year ago.

Many observers don’t see agreement on a permanent state budget surfacing until those numbers become undeniable to all sides.


While former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, won’t be on the ballot next year, he’ll be rooting for a change in the speaker’s office.

The New Hampshire Political Report first disclosed weeks ago that O’Brien would be hanging it up after a decade in the House of Representatives.

O’Brien had said 10 years in the Legislature was long enough plus business demands had grown considerably since fellow Rep. Steve Stepanek, R-Amherst, and O’Brien bought an Acton-based, software security company.

While he won’t be there, O’Brien predicted Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, will face a significant "authentic conservative" opponent for the gavel should the GOP hold onto the House in 2016.

"He’s not been bad for management of the process because that’s all he really cares about," O’Brien said. "When it comes to the policy agenda of the legitimate Republican caucus in the House, he’s been an abject disappointment."

For their part, Jasper’s inner circle is not surprised O’Brien has not changed his view.

They chalk much of that resentment up to O’Brien’s failure to lead any meaningful insurrection over Jasper’s team on public policy.

"He’ll be leaving with his tail between his legs," said one House GOP operative.

Maybe so, but some in O’Brien’s group believe if they can identify the right candidate, that lawmaker may appeal to mainstream Republicans enough to reject the speaker who only got there with Democratic votes.


Concord City Councilor and ex-State Rep. Candace Bouchard, D-Concord, earned a nice perk from Hassan this week.

Bouchard was nominated to a seat on the state Board of Pharmacy.

During her decade in the House, Bouchard was a loyal backer of both Hassan and ex-Democratic Gov. John Lynch and a state leader for the abortion rights movement.

She left the House in order to mount an unsuccessful bid for clerk of the New Hampshire House losing to Deputy Clerk Paul Smith, an Auburn Republican.

The pharmacy board is plenty high profile and not-at-all a bad financial launching point for someone who might want to re-enter politics in the future.


Co-Quotes of the Week:

"If she’s overspent, that’s the correction not new taxation." - Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, calling for the Legislature to consider adopting the same budget Hassan vetoed later this fall.

"Compromise means not take it or leave it but both sides giving a little bit." - Rep. Daniel Eaton, D-Stoddard and a veteran member of the House Finance Committee.


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