Apr 18, 2016 5:10 PM

Steinhauser-First on NH1 News: Shurtleff slams Ayotte over missed hearings; says senator's explanations 'lacking'

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – New Hampshire’s state House Democratic leader is taking aim at Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte over her absence from Homeland Security committee meetings that dealt with nation security and the heroin and opioid epidemic.

State. Rep. Steve Shurtleff, who’s a Vietnam War veteran and a retired U.S. deputy marshal, wrote in a letter sent Monday that “matters of national security and addressing our opioid crisis are of the upmost importance to me and many other across New Hampshire,” NH1 News has learned.

“That’s why I was particularly dismayed to reading reports of your missing Senate committee hearings on homeland security and combatting substance abuse and disappointed by the insufficient explanations for your absences provided by your campaign manager. That’s why I’m writing today as your constituent to request further information regarding the ‘scheduling conflicts’ that caused you to miss so many hearings,” Shurtleff continued.

Last month a report by Politico accused Ayotte of missing 47% of Homeland Security meetings during her years on the panel. That included 45% of hearings regarding border security, and two-thirds of hearings on drug trafficking.

A bunch of Democratic senators were successfully targeted in the 2014 midterm elections for missing key committee hearings. In New Hampshire, it was also an issue in Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s re-election victory over her GOP challenger, former Sen. Scott Brown.

Now the tables are being turned as Republican incumbents such as Ayotte come under attack as the Democrats try to recapture control of the Senate. As Ayotte runs for re-election, she's being challenged by Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in one of the most high-profile, expensive and bitter Senate battles in the country.

Democratic research released recently indicated that four Homeland Security Committee hearings Ayotte missed didn’t conflict with meetings from some of the four other committees of which the senator’s a member, and two of the hearings were around the time of Ayotte fundraisers.

The Ayotte campaign said that the fundraisers did not conflict with the hearings.

In a statement to NH1 News, Ayotte campaign manager Jon Kohan wrote that "Kelly had the best hearing attendance record of the entire delegation last session according to the Union Leader, and she has a 99 percent voting record. That's despite the aggressive schedule of the five committees she serves on, where hearings often happen simultaneously, conflict with constituent meetings, or occur when she's commuting to or from New Hampshire."

"This is just another negative attack pushed by Governor Hassan's partisan allies who are trying to mislead voters about Kelly's strong record of standing up for New Hampshire," he added.

But that doesn’t seem to be flying with Shurtleff, who wrote that regarding one hearing “the explanation your campaign provided to the media regarding your absence is lacking.”

As for two other cases, Shurtleff wrote “your campaign failed to provide any explanation to the media as to why you missed meetings on such important subjects. I request that you release your ‘scheduling conflicts’ to the public so that your constituents may see what you considered more important than attending hearings on our national security and doing the job you were elected to.”

Shurtleff ended his letter by saying “I thank you for your attention to this matter and await your prompt response.”

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