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Gov. Maggie Hassan won her battle to keep the state drug czar on the job but talks towards a permanent state budget deal haven't gone very far

Aug 1, 2015 1:55 PM

NH1 News Political Report: July 30, 2015 - The must-read, weekly NH political tip sheet


CONCORD - With 14 Republican candidates on stage Monday night for the Voters First Forum, there are countless scenarios and expectations entering this first encounter.

Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Jeb Bush: As the early frontrunner and the brother and son of ex-presidents, Bush needs to deliver both a competent and inspiring performance. That's a tall order for someone who's not known as a supremely gifted orator like the President he's trying to replace. But Bush has gotten much better on the stump in recent weeks.
  • Marco Rubio: Even before the Florida senator got into this race, observers saw him as the new, hot property in the party whose story and presentation would propel him quickly to the upper echelon. Spending much of the spring raising money, Rubio wasted that opportunity which is in part why he's in the top tier but has not yet broken through. He needs to impress as well which would enhance his fortunes heading into the nationally-televised debate Thursday night.
  • Scott Walker: The Wisconsin governor had a late but very successful announcement tour. He needs to show voters here what the fuss is all about. The early knock on Walker has been his inexperience on the foreign policy front and strong international answers would help allay those fears.
  • Rand Paul: The Kentucky senator got off to a very solid start of his own last spring putting together a pretty solid organization of activists here. But like others, Paul went off the radar here and other candidates (read John Kasich, Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina) stepped into the void. His assault on the federal income tax and Planned Parenthood are two themes that could help him win back converts on the right.
  • John Kasich: More than any other, the late bloomer Ohio governor has got to take full advantage of the early gains he has already made. Kasich's straight talk and hard-to-pigeonhole views could appeal to independent voters but to stay in this game and actually compete to win, Kasich must build a solid base of partisan support.
  • Rest of Field: Much like the PGA when Tiger Woods was at his peak, you'd get great odds picking any of the other nine candidates to stand out compared to the five above. But that's what makes these early events so unpredictable and especially this one with a format designed not to benefit anyone. Instead, it gives all of them an equal opportunity to shine.


    Why would Donald Trump turn down the invite to appear at the Voters First Forum?

    Let's start with the obvious answer. Fox News, the sponsor of the first debate Thursday night that is only giving a place on the stage to candidates who reach a standard in national polls.

    You can't find a national media outlet that's been more kind to the Trump phenomenon and all it entails than Fox. It's the same reason Mike Huckabee is saying no as well; he was a six-figure-a-year talk show host on Fox before he announced he'd run again in 2016.

    But his public reasoning is both petty and counter to the brand he's worked so hard to build. Saying forum sponsor, the Union-Leader of New Hampshire, isn't going to endorse him reduces the Donald to a petulant child. Besides his campaign ought to know by now plenty have gone on to presidential nominating heights (John McCain, Bill Clinton, George H. Bush, Barack Obama to name a few) without the blessing of the state's largest daily.

    Trump built whatever pedigree he has here and in other early states by saying or doing whatever he wants, not by subjecting himself to anyone's litmus test, least of all a media outlet.

    Can Trump survive his snub of New Hampshire's forum? Of course but ask ex-President George W. Bush how primary voters like frontrunners who fail to show up. In the fall of 1999, the W instead attended an award ceremony for wife, Laura, than be at the first debate on the campus of Dartmouth College.

    The no-show reinforced W's image here as someone who expected to win the primary without out-working everyone to do it. Game, set, New Hampshire primary match to John McCain.


Quote of the Week:

"How much indeed have we paid for their journey to hell?'' - Former House Speaker Bill O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, rails against Planned Parenthood during last week's State House rally that drew 150 anti-abortion activists.


They met privately, they settled nothing but at least it didn't end with a walkout like the last time.

This sums up the latest negotiations between Gov. Maggie Hassan and Republican legislative leaders over coming up with a permanent state budget plan.

Hassan's latest offer did throw some bones to Senate and House GOP leaders but it contains poison pills, aka tax increases that particularly House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, can't possibly accept.

Keep in mind. Jasper wants to hold onto the gavel after the 2016 elections and the last thing he needs is a ``Read My Lips'' moment with House Republicans over a new budget. Jasper coming back to the GOP caucus to declare the only way to settle this is to raise taxes would essentially be writing his death warrant as a re-elected speaker.

Meanwhile, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, surely could survive voting for tax hikes after taking anti-tax pledges in the last election campaign. The same can't be said, however, for other GOP senators in much more competitive districts.

The bottom line here is there will be no deal on a replacement budget to the one Hassan vetoed until it's clear what the state's books looked like when the last budget year ended June 30.

Hassan maintains that the year-end balance is going to be nearly $40 million less than legislative budget writers had thought because of higher Medicaid spending she said lawmakers knew was in the pipeline a year ago. GOP leaders point out that neither Hassan in her proposed budget or the ones that cleared the House or Senate contained this excess spending.

At any rate if the governor is right and the last budget was even tighter than lawmakers though then there would at least be some sense of urgency to deal with that problem. If it's not that bad, Republican legislative leaders will surely keep their heads down and urge colleagues to override Hassan's budget veto.


State drug czar Jack Wozmak probably knows well enough that rather than his performance, it was process and the fortunate way his job was created that saved him from extinction this week.

The Legislative Fiscal Committee’s near unanimous vote in support of Wozmak came precisely because the money came not from the vetoed state budget but a grant of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.

You may recall the vetoed budget didn’t actually pay for Wozmak to be on the payroll of Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office as senior division director of substance abuse and behavioral health.

House budget writers agreed to find state money to pay for Wozmak’s position the next two years.

But it was Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester’s insistence that the $100,000 would be better spent on treatment and prevention rather than to hire another bureaucrat.

Forrester said by giving more money to the Commission on Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Recovery, that group of which she is a member can decide whether or not to earmark money for a state drug czar.

Now back to this week, Wozmak’s survival was tied to the curious but defensible logic of House and Senate Republican budget writers as they judged nearly 40 requests to accept grant money or extend existing programs.

The criteria:

1) If the grant was not part of the previous budget but added into the next budget that Hassan vetoed, the committee would table it presumably until a permanent budget deal is reached.

2) If the grant was in the last budget and merely continued on into the next budget that Hassan vetoed, the panel might approve it especially if doing so would avoid laying off people already in state jobs and,

3) If the item had no change in money or merely allowed the agency to transfer spending among their accounts, then it was okay to approve.

Because Wozmak’s was paid for with a non-profit grant which clearly originated during the past state budget (Nov. 7, 2014) then there was nothing his detractors could do to stop the request.


State Rep. Fred Edelblut, R-Wilton, for governor?

The one-term legislator confirmed at week's end he's begun an exploratory effort looking into a run for the corner office in 2016.

Despite being a novice, Edelblut has gotten the notice of House GOP leaders. They put him on the House Finance Committee to replace Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, after she had a falling out with GOP budget writers.

He also seized upon the Planned Parenthood controversy to call upon Attorney General Joe Foster to investigate whether their New England clinics had broken criminal laws by paying for body parts. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England officials insist the clinics in these regions do not even have a program to donate fetal tissue following abortions.

If that wasn't enough, Edelblut jumped upon the call to have New Hampshire soldiers armed in the wake of the tragedy at the recruiting centers in Chattanooga.

He'd be a long shot especially if Gov. Maggie Hassan seeks re-election next year as many observers now believe she will.

But acting now allows him to survey whether he can raise the money and build enough support to be competitive.


Legislative leaders learned this week the battle against the drug epidemic may have one master [-] the state's drug czar [-] but it has many fronts.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas wins approval from the Legislative Fiscal Committee to accept and spend $2.5 million on drug treatment and prevention by Sept. 30 or he would have had to return the federal grant back to Washington.

Then they endorse letting the Department of Education go forward with $1.1 million- part of a five-year, $8.6 million strategy - to spread the anti-drug message in public schools. The effort continues next week with survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting speaking at a seminar.

The Coalition for Open Democracy's critical report about New Hampshire's system came to many conclusions that should be familiar to those who follow politics here.

Local voter turnout has been low for decades and lobbyists have dominated policy making and political campaigns since the post-Watergate era.

A more recent and troubling trend the report uncovers is the extent of outside, super PAC spending in state political campaigns. The explosion began in the 2010 campaign when a pro-gay rights hedge fund manager decided to plunk down $120,000 on mailings in support of moderate Republican legislators who supported same-sex marriage.

Two years later we had a race for governor in which the party's Super PACs spent a record, $17 million between them to try and elect their candidate.

Then in 2014 we have the top six, most expensive races for State Senate in which outside spending ($852,800) makes up 53 percent of what got spent in those contests.

Some of the outside spending here was reported but much of it was not. The reality is special interest groups have finally learned that in this small, politically active state it takes a relatively small amount of influence-peddling cash (say $50K in a State Senate race) to have a major impact on the outcome.


Quote of the Week:

"How much indeed have we paid for their journey to hell?'' - Former House Speaker Bill O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, rails against Planned Parenthood during last week's State House rally that drew 150 anti-abortion activists.


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