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Freeman Makes Deal With Feds on Crypto Scam Restitution

After selling Bitcoin to dozens of elderly victims of online romance scams, Free Keene’s Ian Freeman agreed to a restitution deal with federal prosecutors.

A hearing set for Monday in the U.S. District Court in Concord was canceled at the last minute as Freeman’s legal team and federal prosecutors came to terms. Mark Sisti, Freeman’s lawyer, declined to comment on the deal.

“Cannot discuss at this time,” Sisti said.

Judge Joseph LaPlante was considering an order that Freeman pay back millions to the scam victims who bought Bitcoin from Freeman and his cryptocurrency exchanges as part of the romance scams. Evidence about Freeman’s role in the scams was expected to be part of Monday’s hearing. 

Freeman is already serving a nine-year prison sentence on convictions for operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money-transmitting business, and income tax evasion. He moved more than $10 million through his exchanges, according to prosecutors.

Rebecca Viar and other victims told LaPlante last year that Freeman’s exchanges were central to the scams that robbed them of their savings, trust, and dignity.

“Ian Freeman was the planner and instigator of this entire scheme,” Viar told LaPlante in September.

Viar, an elderly widow, was ripped off by an online romance scammer known as Michael Glenn Wilson. The crook, who has so far never been charged, used Freeman’s Bitcoin exchanges to facilitate the crimes, according to prosecutors.

In Viar’s case, she emptied her savings account, cashed out her insurance policy, took out loans, and even sold her dead husband’s truck. She sent all that money right to Freeman, she told LaPlante. Again and again, Wilson didn’t have her send the money to him but instead instructed her to go to Freeman. Through one of Freeman’s many exchanges, Viar bought Bitcoin that was then deposited into a digital wallet Wilson could access.

Prosecutors have argued Freeman either knew or, at best, actively worked to not know that he was facilitating crimes with his cryptocurrency transactions. Freeman was known throughout the Bitcoin community for charging higher fees than other market operators and for asking fewer questions, prosecutors have said.

When he was sentenced in October, Freeman claimed he was tricked by the scammers just like women like Viar.

“I was also a victim of the scammers,” Freeman told LaPlante.

According to Freeman’s telling, he was simply operating the Shire Free Church dedicated to spreading the Good News about Bitcoin when the victims of romance scams and other confidence tricks started buying Bitcoin from his exchange. Those victims were trained by their scammers to lie to Freeman to get around his security system, making him an unwitting accomplice to the scams, he claimed.

“I’m sorry those people were taken advantage of, and I couldn’t stop them all,” Freeman said. 

Assistant United States Attorney Georgiana MacDonald told LaPlante that Freeman was a manipulative liar who knew exactly what he was doing when he set up his Bitcoin exchange. 

“He is an expert conman who has a spin for everything and who executed a very clever scheme,” MacDonald said.

It’s not all bad news for Freeman. His request to serve his federal sentence in a prison close to Keene was granted last week. Freeman’s wife and friends are still in the Keene area.

Freeman, whose original name is Ian Bernard, was one of the early evangelists for the libertarian movement known as the Free State Project, though he’s no longer part of it. The Free State Project distanced itself from Freeman in 2014 after his repeated public statements in favor of lowering the age of consent for legal sexual activity.

After getting booted from the Free State, Freeman founded the Free Keene community that’s home to former gubernatorial candidate Nobody (born “Rich Paul”); Aria DiMezzo, the self-identified “Trans, Satanic, Anarchist” who ran for Cheshire County sheriff as a Republican; and Chris Cantwell, the alt-right podcaster known as the Crying Nazi.

Both Nobody and DiMezzo ended up pleading guilty for their roles in Freeman’s Bitcoin operation. Cantwell was recently released from federal prison after he was found guilty of threatening another online white supremacist. Freeman distanced himself from Cantwell when Cantwell began espousing violent, alt-right rhetoric. Cantwell is currently out of prison, back in New Hampshire, and trying to revive his online media career. 

Kauffman Ousted in Free State Shakeup 

Outspoken and controversial Libertarian leader Jeremy Kauffman is out at the Free State Project (FSP), booted from the board over his refusal to tone down his online trolling, including his promotion of a racist social media feed.

Kauffman, the mercurial Libertarian Party candidate for Senate in 2022, was voted off the board after weeks of tension with other members, like Carla Gericke and Free State founder Jason Sorens. Kauffman forced the vote after the other members tried to ease him out. In the end, the FSP board decided it could not tolerate his trolling in their name.

“In order for us to function as an organization, it is absurd that someone could say that our names as a board should be attached to anonymous accounts because that’s your whim then,” Gericke told Kauffman during the meeting in which he was voted off the board.

The video of Kauffman’s now final board meeting posted online depicted a visibly agitated Kauffman arguing to stay on the board despite his repeated refusal to give up his communications role for the FSP. And he repeatedly refused to adhere to standards the board was trying to set for him as a representative of the cause. Gericke was seen getting angry with Kauffman in the video. She said one of the final straws was Kauffman’s refusal to stop using FSP social media accounts to amplify white supremacists after being given a new written directive.

“You then totally sh*t the bed by doing 14 crazy things,” Gericke said.

Sorens is the political scientist who developed the Free State Project in the early 2000s. He told Kauffman that his social media presence hurts the FSP with donors and the general public.

“One of our biggest donors, perhaps our biggest donor ever, has said that he will not donate as long as you’re on the board, and he’s also said he’s not going to donate to the Free State documentary,” Sorens told Kauffman. “Your personal messaging affects our organization.”

Kauffman’s social media activity included recent posts supporting the former apartheid South African government that discriminated against Black South Africans, retweeting white supremacist accounts, as well as posts about Jews controlling the world and supporting violence against transgender people

Kauffman was in charge of the FSP communications, the group’s Twitter/X accounts, and accounts for the state Libertarian Party. 

Kauffman blamed Sorens for the ouster in a statement provided to NHJournal, saying the man who came up with the FSP concept is a liberal who is trying to remake the organization to appeal to the left. 

“The removal was led by Jason Sorens, a Hillary Clinton-supporting left-libertarian who wants to force small New Hampshire towns to build multi-family affordable housing. Jason Sorens held a struggle session against me that was straight out of the socialist playbook,” Kauffman claimed.

“One key allegation was that it was racist to assert that South Africa is much worse off today than it was decades ago, as well as that it’s racist to discuss differences in crime rates. This decision was opposed by nearly every NHLA-supported Republican, including liberty leadership. It’s vastly out of step with where the movement is as a whole, which is why it had to be done in such an underhanded way and why the decision was nearly universally derided on social media.

“I’m still optimistic about the future of liberty in New Hampshire and will continue to recruit right-wing libertarians to move here.”

One of the people who pushed to get Kauffman off the board was Jim Harper, a New Hampshire Libertarian and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Kauffman’s reckoning had been a long time coming, Harper said, as many Libertarians were tired of being associated with Kauffman’s brand.

“There’s sort of the activist and the normals, and I’m one of the normals. I do have opinions, and I don’t like anyone to sully my ideology,” Harper said.

The Libertarian movement in New Hampshire and nationally has been split between what Harper calls the “normal” Libertarians and a noisy, right-wing “Trumpy” fringe of which Kauffman is part, Harper said.

“It’s the ‘Trumpy’ style Libertarian where they gravitate toward outrage and where it’s more important to snub the powers that be than present a positive image to grow the party,” Harper said.

Kauffman and his followers are great at getting noticed but little else, Harper said.

“They’re excited about themselves because they get a lot of attention and count their Twitter following, but anybody in the business knows it’s poor politics,” Harper said.

In the turn to reactionary and, at times, racist messages, the Free State Project has become tarred as being part of a sinister attempt to take over state government, Harper said. People who claim they are part of the FSP even backed the highly ridiculed secession movement.

“That secession stuff is how you make yourself look ridiculous,” Harper said.

Harper hopes the FSP can now refocus on its mission, which is not about a radical right-wing takeover of the state. He explained that the goal isn’t a takeover but to bring enough Libertarians into the state to nudge Democrats and Republicans toward embracing more freedom-focused public policy.

“Hopefully, it will get back to its roots, bringing normal liberty-inclined people to the state,” Harper said. 

Two Members of NH’s ‘Crypto Six’ Taking Pleas

Two of the six people charged with laundering money using Bitcoin sales and Granite Stater Ian Freeman’s libertarian churches are taking plea deals, leaving their alleged co-conspirators legally exposed.

Renee Spinella, 25, and her husband Andrew Spinella, 37, both from Derry, filed notices this week in United States District Court in Concord that they plan to change their current not guilty pleas to guilty.

The Spinellas were arrested last year by federal law enforcement agents who were targeting Freeman, 42, and his libertarian activist cohorts based in Keene. Freeman is alleged to have operated a multi-million-dollar money-laundering scheme that used Bitcoin transactions and phony donations to the various churches he and others started to launder money for criminals.

Freeman, the Spinellas, Colleen Fordham, 62, of Alstead, Nobody (formerly Richard Paul), 54, of Keene, and Aria DiMezzo, 36, of Keene, are all charged with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. Freeman and the Spinellas are also charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and several other charges.

If the Spinellas are cooperating with authorities, as is typical for such plea agreements, that could spell trouble for Freeman and the other defendants. David Vicinanzo, a former first assistant U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire, said plea deals in conspiracy cases are bad news for the remaining defendants.

“If they are charged together in a common conspiracy, the guilty pleas of some defendants suggest that those defendants will be called as witnesses against the remaining defendants. The ‘code of silence’ may be crumbling, as the government strengthens its case with the information and testimony of insiders who know what happened because they participated,” he said.

Rene Spinella used to be Freeman’s girlfriend and seemingly remained friendly with him after they went their separate ways. The pair even shared ownership of a dog after the split.

While Freeman has denied criminal wrongdoing, the testimony of his former girlfriend and her current husband could prove troubling for his defense.

Freeman is a long-time libertarian activist who first moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. The official Free State Project distanced itself from Freemen in 2014 when he repeatedly used his radio show to call for lowering the age of consent for sexual activity.

In 2015, federal agents raided Freeman’s Keene home and seized dozens of computers and other devices as part of an investigation into the alleged possession of child sex abuse images. No charges were ever brought in the case. Freeman filed a lawsuit last week against the FBI agent who obtained the search warrant.

The defendant named Nobody did jail time for a drug conviction in 2014 and has run for mayor of Keene and governor. He was held the longest in jail after the money laundering arrest last year, due in part to his threats against law enforcement.

DiMezzo, who describes herself as a trans satanic anarchist, ran for Cheshire County sheriff as a Republican in 2020.

Freeman and DiMezzo both started churches that the indictments claim they used as part of the money-laundering scheme. According to the court records, since 2016, the defendants have operated a multi-million business that enabled criminal customers to exchange over ten million dollars in fiat currency for virtual currency, charging a fee for their service. They operated their virtual currency exchange business using websites, as well as operating virtual currency ATMs in New Hampshire.

Prosecutors have said Freeman knew he was laundering ill-gotten money from criminals. The indictment alleges that the defendants knowingly operated the virtual currency exchange business in violation of federal anti-money laundering laws and regulations. Additionally, the indictment alleges that some defendants opened bank accounts in the names of purported religious entities, like DiMezzo’s Satanic Temple.

Agents took dozens of guns and close to $200,000 in cash out of Freeman’s Keene homes during the March 2021 raid. He was estimated to have more than $1.6 million in cryptocurrency at his disposal, according to court records.

Change of plea hearings for the Spinellas are set for Tuesday in Concord.

The Winners and Losers of the New Hampshire Legislative Session

It felt like the last day of school at the New Hampshire State House on June 22. Lawmakers were signing each other’s session books (the political version of yearbooks), shaking hands, and taking pictures together. It had been another eventful legislative session that saw many highs and lows for Gov. Chris Sununu, the first Republican in the corner office in 12 years.

The Republicans didn’t always get along during this legislative session. Remember the defeat of right-to-work legislation and the House failing to pass their own version of a budget earlier this year? Despite the varied ideological depth of the New Hampshire Republican Party, they were able to show they can work together and give Sununu some final wins at the end of the first year of the 165th General Court, including full-day kindergarten and a budget getting passed.

Now, the lawmakers head home for the summer months and it’s time to decide the winners and losers of the session:



With his wife Valerie at his side Republican candidate for governor Chris Sununu speaks to supporters early in the morning Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in Concord, N.H. Sununu said his race with Democratic challenger Colin VanOstern was too close to call. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Gov. Chris Sununu: As much as Democrats wanted Sununu to not do well his first term in office, several of his campaign promises and policy priorities made their way through the legislature and became law. One of his first wins in office came from the repeal of a license requirement for concealed carry firearms. It was something he said he would do on the campaign trail, and it got done within the first two months of his term.

That’s not to say that Sununu didn’t have some setbacks during the legislative session. The governor, who didn’t have prior legislative experience before taking office, saw the defeat of right-to-work under his watch and the House failed to pass a budget for the first time in recent memory. Some critics claim Sununu could have done more to get right-to-work passed, but the Republican infighting revealed a divided party that would prove difficult for GOP leadership to navigate.

With the budget, Democrats attempted to paint Sununu as not in control of his own party, but Sununu actually stood as the most to gain from the House’s failure. The House cut several of Sununu’s budget priorities in its version, but when the Senate drafted its own budget, it used Sununu’s proposal as a guide. What was ultimately passed at the end of June was a compromise of House, Senate, and Sununu’s priorities.

On the final day of the session, Sununu also saw the passage of full-day kindergarten and a key school choice bill. It might not have been a perfect process, but the governor saw several items from his policy wish-list reach his desk.


Marijuana: For several years, New Hampshire has been the only state in New England that still criminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. For many lawmakers, they saw a connection between the rampant opioid crisis and marijuana being used as a potential gateway drug. Historically, the Senate has voted down various bills relating to looser pot laws, but advocates fought long and hard to see marijuana decriminalization passed. After compromising with the House on an amount, the Senate finally found a bill that it could handle.

In June, the legislature decriminalized three-quarters of an ounce of pot and Sununu signed it into law. Marijuana advocates applauded lawmakers for taking the first step, although they are continuing to work toward full legalization.


Libertarians: The Libertarian Party of New Hampshire had a banner election year in 2016. It obtained 4 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial election to qualify for the ballot in 2018. It also had three sitting lawmakers switch their party affiliations from Democrat or Republican to Libertarian. The last time the Libertarian Party had an official caucus in the State House was in the 1990s when it had four members.

While Libertarians haven’t been the deciding votes on any controversial bills during the session, it is clear that some members of the major parties are unhappy within their own caucuses. The Libertarian Party needs to garner 4 percent of the vote again in 2018 to remain on the ballot, but with political partisanship at an all time high, voters could see Libertarians as a more moderate choice. That’s how many Granite Staters felt when they voted for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson over Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.



Gov. Chris Sununu signs HB 262, declaring the common blackberry to be the berry of the biennium. (Image Credit: Gov. Chris Sununu’s office)

Blackberry and painted turtle: Every year, the state’s fourth graders learn how the state government works, and every year, legislation gets filed on their behalf. This year, lawmakers saw a bill from students at Simonds School in Warner naming the blackberry the official state berry of the biennium. It made its way through the House and Senate, and Sununu signed the bill in June.

Another group of students from Main Dunstable School in Nashua wanted the painted turtle to be the official state reptile for the biennium. That bill was also signed by Sununu.

It’s an annual tradition at the State House and while some lawmakers believe it’s a waste of time, some say it’s a good opportunity to get students involved and interested in the political process.

Of course, no one will forget the time in 2015 when students in Hampton Falls proposed making the red-tailed hawk the state raptor and a lawmaker suggested the creature would be a better mascot for Planned Parenthood. That became a national news story.

Luckily, no incidents like that happened this year. And Sununu enjoyed snacking on some blackberries with the fourth-grade students when he signed the bill into law.



Democrats: The New Hampshire Democratic Party struggled to find its footing this year. For the first time since 2010, Democrats were fully the minority party in the State House — Republicans had majorities in the House, Senate, Executive Council, and the corner office. The party couldn’t decide if it wanted to work with Republicans or be the party of resistance to their agenda.

Their lack of a mission or agenda was evident in the legislature. While Democrats banded together to help defeat right-to-work and the House’s budget, there were times when some members disagreed with party leadership and voted their conscience. When it became clear that it was very likely that a budget wouldn’t be passed in the House, some Democrats advocated for at least passing something on to the Senate.

While Democrats have long pushed full-day kindergarten, they didn’t like that the final bill tied its funding to the lottery game Keno. Most Democrats voted against it, and that could be a major policy issue when they face reelection next year.

But the question still remains: will Democrats work with Republicans in the next legislative session in January or will they resist? National politics will definitely influence their decisions, and it will also be an election year. More partisanship is likely.


Right-to-work: The bill called for prohibiting unions from charging fees to nonmembers for the costs of representation, but even in a GOP-controlled legislature, Republicans couldn’t get the votes. A lot of different factors went into its defeat in the House, including disagreements between Sununu and House Speaker Shawn Jasper, as well as some Republicans who are part of unions or know people in unions. This was a major bill that some lobbyists and advocacy groups pushed for, including the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire. Simply, the votes were not there and lawmakers voted to not bring up the issue again until at least 2019, but expect to see another bill if the GOP retains its majority in the legislature.


Transgender advocates: A controversial gender identity nondiscrimination bill was tabled in the House, much to the dismay of transgender advocates. The bill would have prohibited discrimination based on gender identity, extending gender identity the same protections under state law that exist for age, sex, sexual orientation, race, or creed. The protections would have applied to discrimination in housing, employment practices, and public accommodations.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper and other members of the GOP leadership sought to kill the bill, or at least get it off the agenda for the session. Their issue with the legislation mirrors the Republican opinion at a national level — the bill would have allowed transgender people to use the restrooms of their choice.

Advocates are hoping the bill could be resurrected next year.


Opioid crisis: The drug epidemic still has its grips on the Granite State, which is ranked as the second hardest hit state by per capita overdose deaths in the nation. Lawmakers passed some bills to help curb the crisis, but as with any legislative process, it can take a while for treatment and recovery centers to receive the necessary funds to make a difference.

The state is also now dealing with the rise of carfentanil, a synthetic opioid that is is so potent that it’s not intended for human consumption. It’s 100 times more potent than fentanyl and is commonly used to tranquilize elephants. There’s still a backlog at the state’s crime lab to investigate due to the increase in the number of drug overdose deaths.

While lawmakers seek political solutions for ending the crisis, advocacy groups say more creative solutions are needed, but it appears that the end of the epidemic is still not in sight.



House Speaker Shawn Jasper (Photo Credit: Speaker Shawn Jasper Facebook page)

House Speaker Shawn Jasper and House Freedom Caucus: The conservative caucus threatened to kill the state budget unless their priorities were included. None of its members were on the conference committee to have a say in final negotiations, but House Speaker Shawn Jasper reached out to members to market the budget as a conservative one. Ultimately, some House Freedom Caucus representatives voted for the budget due to its inclusion of anti-abortion language and business tax cuts. But, Jasper’s control over the speakership is still in question. With defeats of right-to-work and a House budget, some representatives are questioning his ability to lead. If the GOP retains control in the House, expect several people to challenge him in 2018 to be speaker.

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What’s Happening With the N.H. House Democratic Caucus?

For the third time this legislative session, a House Democrat switched party affiliation in New Hampshire, highlighting that Democrats are also struggling to remain unified in Concord. It’s been well-documented that House Republicans still have deep wounds from the 2016 election, with two conservative caucuses that have caused trouble for GOP leadership. However, with three lawmakers jumping ship from the party, there are some internal conflicts happening within the Democratic caucus.

Rep. Joseph Stallcop, L-Keene (Credit: N.H. House website)

In total, four lawmakers have changed their party affiliation since the November election. Two Democrats left the party to join the Republican Party and a third left for the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire (LPNH). The fourth representative left the Republican Party for the LPNH.

Rep. Joseph Stallcop of Keene was the latest House members on Wednesday to switch his party affiliation. He switched from the Democratic Party to the LPNH.

“Personally witnessing the situation at Standing Rock showed me the danger of relinquishing power and authority into an institution, while my time in Concord reinforced the ineptitude that can exist by those in charge,” he said. “I originally joined the Democratic Party in hopes of making a difference through critical thinking and my classical liberal viewpoint, yet with the lack of unbiased data in caucuses as well as backlash on votes I’ve independently made, it seems there is no longer a place for me here.”

Rep. Caleb Dyer, L-Pelham (Credit: N.H House website)

LPNH is having a banner year since the November elections. Another lawmaker, Rep. Caleb Dwyer of Pelham switched from the Republican Party to the LPNH in February. The party also garnered enough of the votes in the gubernatorial race to give them official ballot access in 2018.

Max Abramson ran as the Libertarian candidate in 2016, against now-Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic nominee Colin Van Ostern. He received 4 percent of the vote, the required amount to gain ballot access.

It’s the first time in 20 years that the LPNH had ballot access. When they last had it in the 1990s, the party had four members in the Legislature. Then in 1997, ballot access laws changed to increase the vote threshold needed for a party to retain ballot access from 3 percent to 4 percent.

LPNH Chairman Darryl W. Perry called Stallcop’s switch a “historic day” since it’s the first time in two decades that they have a Libertarian caucus.

Rep. Mariellen MacKay of Nashua changed her Democratic affiliation to Republican in April and Rep. Robert Theberge of Berlin also changed from Democrat to Republican right after the November election.

(L-R) Reps. Mariellen MacKay, R-Nashua, and Robert Theberge, R-Berlin (Credit: N.H. House website)

So now, the House membership is 221 Republicans, 170 Democrats, and two Libertarians. There are six vacancies due to death, resignation, or appointment to a position in Sununu’s administration. One representative has not been officially sworn in yet.

In a House with 400 members, one would think that party changes are pretty common. That’s actually not the case in New Hampshire, or even nationally. According to Ballotpedia, there have only been 79 current legislators in State Houses across the United States who have switched parties since 2007. One of the last people to switch parties in New Hampshire was Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester. After serving two years as a Republican in the House, in 1998 he ran as a Democrat for the Senate where he still holds a seat and is still a Democrat.

Jumping on the chance to criticize the Democratic Party for losing members, NHGOP Chair Jeanie Forrester blasted out a statement once the news came out on Wednesday that Stallcop was leaving the party.

“Would the last one in the New Hampshire Democrat Party please turn out the lights? Yet another former Democrat has concluded that the party of big government and obstruction is no longer worth being a member of,” she said. “Meanwhile, a significant majority of Granite Staters approve of the job Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is doing in the Corner Office. That’s because working families know that from improving education to investing in infrastructure to strengthening the economy, Republicans are working hard to improve the quality of life for Granite Staters every day.”

House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said people shouldn’t read much into three people leaving his caucus.

“It’s just kind of a shakeout,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader.

However, other Democratic representatives are saying there is a lot of “dissatisfaction” in the caucus.

“Most Democrats would think with the controversy around Trump, we might gain some Republicans, more moderates, and yet we are losing Democrats,” said Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough.

The current dynamics of the New Hampshire Democratic Party often mirror the national party on what its role should be in GOP-led politics. For the first time in nearly a decade, Democrats are fully the minority party. The U.S. Congress is Republican-run and the White House has a Republican president. The same is true in New Hampshire where Democrats are in the minority of a GOP-legislature and the first Republican governor in 12 years.

The problem is that there are differences of opinion between Democratic lawmakers on what their role is in the New Hampshire House. They’re trying to figure out how to navigate their position and get their legislative priorities passed.

At the national level, many Democrats have been adopting the “resistance” mindset by voting against any GOP bill or watching Republicans fight amongst themselves, as exhibited during the health care debate.

So far, New Hampshire House Democrats have been largely sitting back and watching Republican Party infighting derail the GOP’s own political agenda. Yet, some Democrats want the party to push back more against the Republicans.

This conflict was on full display during the chaotic budget debate in April. After the House failed to pass a budget on the first day due to conservatives voting against it, some Democrats were willing to work with Republican leadership to get something passed. Two Democrats took to the House floor to encourage its caucus to vote for the state budget rider, which was in direct opposition to what Shurtleff told them to do. In the end, 14 Democrats voted in favor of the bill to get a budget passed, but it failed 169-177.

While their party disagreements aren’t as noticeable as the Republicans, its crucial that there is unity within the caucus if they want to block future GOP bills, like they did with right-to-work earlier this year. It’s also important when it comes time to craft a message for elections next year.

One of their next big tests will be in June when the final state spending plan comes back to the House. If conservatives still vote against the budget, House Speaker Shawn Jasper might need to ask them for support. What they do in that moment could set the tone for 2018.

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N.H. Gubernatorial Race is Starting to Take Shape…For 2018

Three months into Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s term it already looks like he’s got a couple challengers in 2018. The first to announce in March was Jilletta Jarvis for the Libertarian ticket. Now, Steve Marchand, former Democratic mayor of Portsmouth is throwing his hat into the ring too.

Do these names sound familiar? Well, they both ran for governor in 2016. Jarvis was an Independent and Marchand came in second in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, finishing behind eventual nominee Colin Van Ostern.

“We can make New Hampshire the best place in America to start and raise a family, and the best place to start and grow a business,” Marchand wrote in a Monday email to supporters. “We will aspire to be the example of what America, at our best, can be. That’s why I’m running for governor.”

Last year, Marchand trailed behind his Democratic challengers in campaign fundraising and the polls, often coming in behind businessman Mark Connolly and Van Ostern, the former executive councilor. However, he managed a surprising second place finish, garnering 25 percent of the vote. Van Ostern received about 52 percent and Connolly took 20 percent.

On a Tuesday press call, Marchand chalked up his difficulty in fundraising to his timing and to entering the race late, but told reporters he enjoyed the experience.

“Keep in mind, last year, I got to second place in our primary despite very little time and consequently very little money,” he said.

Now, he’s not going to make the mistake of entering late again, and while it is definitely early to announce a run for the Corner Office in 2018 (more than a year-and-a-half out), Marchand said he couldn’t sit idly by under the leadership of President Donald Trump and Sununu.

“I realized there was an unprecedented passion unprecedented due to a lot of circumstances at the state and national level,” he said. “These are unusual times.”

Marchand has been quietly campaigning for the past few months, attending various Democratic meetings and doing meet-and-greets with his base. Already, he’s criticizing Trump’s and Sununu’s agendas. He pointed to Sununu’s first bill signing, which repealed required permits for concealed weapons.

“That’s not the direction we need to go in as a state,” he said. He also accused Sunnunu of wanting to weaken unions, suppress voter turnout, and privatize public education.

So what makes this campaign different than his last one?

He’s taking his job of fundraising more seriously, by hiring Nick Daggers of the CFO Consulting Group. Daggers specializes in fundraising for political campaigns.

Marchand only raised about $30,000 during his campaign last year, according to campaign filings with the secretary of state’s office. Van Ostern raised $1.1 million in just the primary election.

Daggers even wrote a blog post on his company’s website discussing the importance of early campaign fundraising.

“An early fundraising start will give the opportunity to build a solid infrastructure, allow the candidate more time to campaign, and most importantly give you the greatest chance at victory,” he wrote in 2013.

If Marchand can drum up a solid war chest before other candidates jump into the race, he could be a serious contender before he actually starts spending any of it.

Don’t expect too many changes in his platform, though. Marchand still supports legalizing and taxing marijuana and increasing the state’s business profits tax, which would supply millions of dollars to support state aid for full-day kindergarten and improve the state’s infrastructure, among other policies.

Yet, his record is already being criticized by the Republican Governors Association.

“From property taxes, to the gas tax, to the business profits tax cut, Marchand has consistently supported increasing the tax burden on New Hampshire families,” the group said in a statement. “While Steve Marchand may claim to be the most fiscally responsible candidate for governor, his campaign won’t be able to rewrite his record of supporting higher taxation on Granite State voters.”

Besides entering the race early, Marchand said he’s more committed to expanding his “knowledge base” and getting out to interact with voters on a grassroots level statewide.

“The more you go out and speak to groups and to people, the more you learn,” he said.

With this early momentum, Marchand also seeks to improve upon some mistakes his Democratic challenger made in the general election.

Van Ostern’s biggest struggle in his race was name recognition. A poll before the election found that only 10 percent of respondents did not recognize Sununu’s name, but about 28 percent never heard of Van Ostern. While Van Ostern benefited from a strong ground game from the New Hampshire Democratic Party and a bigger war chest than Sununu, the voters didn’t turn out for the Democratic nominee like they did at the top of the ticket.

By getting out of the gate early and meeting with voters now, Marchand is increasing his chances that come Election Day next year, the voters will remember who he is.

Yet, Democratic voters might also recognize Connolly’s name on the ballot. The former gubernatorial candidate is also mulling another run. He stirred some intrigue when he had a paid “sponsored post” on Facebook last week.

Connolly said Marchand’s announcement was too soon and that now is the “time to governor” and the “focus should be on the budget.”

“We should be working with our leadership in the Senate and House to get our best possible budget for the state,” he told NH1 News. “After the budget plays out… I’ll consider running again if the ideas I offered in 2016 aren’t being fully addressed. But certainly at this stage you don’t say if you’re in or you’re out.”

Marchand’s focus is on Trump and Sununu. He believes Sununu’s “full-throated” support for Trump during the campaign and still in his term, will ultimately be his downfall.

“It’s never too early to begin what’s going to be a long and difficult process,” he said. “It is difficult to defeat a first-term incumbent governor. I’m under no illusions. I will be a happy warrior. I will not be outworked. I know the magnitude it will take.”

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