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Corey Lewandowski to NHGOP Senate Candidates: You Can’t Beat Shaheen

Corey Lewandowski says he’s made his decision about a possible 2020 U.S. Senate race and, while he won’t say what it is, he does have a message for the New Hampshire Republicans already in the field:

Don’t bother. You can’t win.

“If I decide to get into this race, it’s going to send shock waves not just across New Hampshire, but through the country,” Lewandowski said on the John Fredericks radio show Thursday. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I would be successful.”

He doesn’t have the same confidence in the rest of the GOP field: Retired Gen. Donald Bolduc, attorney Corky Messner and former NH House Speaker Bill O’Brien.

“I hear the other [NHGOP] candidates can’t raise money for a litany of reasons. If I said today ‘I’m out of the US Senate race’… it’s not like they’re going to raise $10 or $20 million tomorrow. Let’s not kid ourselves.

“The only person who potentially can get in this race who has a national profile is Corey Lewandowski. And the only person who’s going to send Jeanne Shaheen home permanently, if I do get in the race, is going to be me.”

“People can argue it,” Lewandowski added, “but that’s just the truth.”

Lewandowski, who says he’s currently advising the Trump/Pence 2020 campaign, told Fredericks he’s discussed his possible candidacy with President Trump, Vice President Pence and Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.

Lewandowski also predicted that impeachment would make Democratic incumbent Shaheen easier to beat in November. “I’ve weighed my calculation based on what impeachment will mean for a U.S. Senate race and I think Jeanne Shaheen is very vulnerable because I believe she will vote in lockstep with AOC and Speaker Pelosi to remove a duly-elected president.”

When Fredericks said it sounds like Lewandowski’s decided to run, the former Trump campaign manager didn’t disagree.

“Well, I’ve been brushing up on foreign policy,” Lewandowski said. “I’ve spent an enormous amount of time understanding some issues that I wasn’t as well briefed in as an incumbent U.S. Senator would be. If that gives you an indication of what my decision is, I’ll leave it at that.”

Bill Weld Announces Primary Against “Unstable” Trump and the “Stockholm Syndrome” GOP

Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld told a politically-savvy New Hampshire audience that he is forming an exploratory committee to challenge President Trump in the 2020 GOP primary to rescue the party from “Stockholm Syndrome.”

“Our President is simply too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office,” Weld told the Politics and Eggs breakfast in Bedford, NH—a must-stop on the presidential campaign trail through the Granite State. “They say the President has captured the Republican party in Washington. As the president might say: ‘Sad.’ But even sadder is that many Republicans exhibit all the symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, identifying with their captor.”

For Weld, who last held elected office in 1997, riding to the rescue of the GOP is an unexpected role.  His most recent foray into American politics was as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for vice president, and he has long been at odds with the party’s conservative base.  In fact, Weld often notes that the Gary Johnson/Bill Weld ticket in 2016 took votes by a three-to-one margin from otherwise GOP voters. “A Libertarian vote was a protest vote or change vote in 2016. Those votes were going to go to Donald J. Trump not Hillary Clinton,” Weld said.

But Weld has returned to the GOP  because, he argues, Trump has put the country “in grave peril.”

Weld began his remarks to the crowd of New England business people and political insiders with a withering critique of President Trump, calling him a “schoolyard bully” who “virtually spat upon the idea that we should have freedom of the press,” and who “goes out of his way to insult and even humiliate ore democratic allies.”

“The situation is not yet hopeless,” Weld said, “but we do need a mid-course correction. We need to install leaders who know that character counts.

“As we move towards 2020 election we must uphold difference between the open heart, open mind and open handedness of patriotism versus the hard heart, closed mind and clenched fist of nativism and nationalism,” Weld said.

Weld laid out a series of his own policy proposals that were commonly heard in GOP circles in the 1990s but are rarely advocated today: a 19 percent flat income tax, baseline budgeting for the federal government and individual retirement accounts for “millennials who may never receive the benefits of Social Security.”  But it wasn’t Weld’s policy proposals that generated the massive media attention his speech received. It was the premise of a primary challenge against President Trump.

Weld repeatedly suggested that other candidates might enter the 2020 race, both as third-party candidates and as Republicans, which he clearly saw as a positive development.  When asked if his entrance into the GOP primary “would make the dam break,” Weld answered “If I get traction and cracks begin to appear, you may see a gold rush.”

This possibility—that Weld’s candidacy will open the door to a more traditional Republican challenger– may pose Weld’s most significant danger to Trump.  Trump’s poll numbers, both nationally and in key early primary states like New Hampshire, have actually risen in recent months.  Emerson College’s Director of Polling Spencer Kimball tells InsideSources that “We were just in the field in Iowa testing Trump vs. [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich and Trump was up 90-10 percent. It’s not going to be any easier there for Bill Weld.”

And in New Hampshire, which border’s Weld’s home state of Massachusetts, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is 82 percent, and his approval among all Granite State voters has risen from 36 percent a year ago to 43 percent today in the latest NHIOP poll. When asked if they would encourage Trump to run for re-election in 2020, 77 percent of New Hampshire Republicans said yes.

Which may explain why multiple Republican strategists told InsideSources that they see little if any path forward for Weld in the Republican primary (“He misses on some of the attributes I think are needed to run a successful national effort,” New Hampshire-based GOP consultant Dave Carney tells InsideSources.)

Pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson of Echelon Insights says “Bill Weld is fighting an uphill battle on two fronts. First is that President Trump remains quite popular within the party, and rank-and-file Republican voters do not want to see a primary battle that could impair President Trump in a general election against a Democrat.

“Second is that Weld’s particular brand of Republicanism is now very rare in the party. Lots of voters in America are socially and fiscally progressive or are socially and fiscally conservative. But among those who ‘mix it up’ a bit, you find more people who are fiscally progressive but socially conservative – the opposite of a sort of ‘New England Republican’ formula.”

And even if the GOP base were in the mood to make a change, it’s hard to imagine the Republican Party of 2020 embracing Weld, with his history of pro-abortion and pro-amnesty policies, and his support for liberal politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

“The Republican Party is a big tent, but someone who endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 as the Libertarian Party’s Vice Presidential nominee really needs to think about how welcome he is in the Republican Party,” said Steve Stepanek, chairman of the New Hampshire GOP.

“I don’t expect his campaign to get very far among Republican primary voters.”

Weld announced that he plans to stump across New Hampshire and other states in coming weeks, but emphasized that he has not made a final decision to run.

“If people won’t buy dog food, then I won’t advance,” Weld conceded. “That’s how it is in showbiz. If the dogs won’t eat the dog food, it doesn’t matter how good the promoter is.”

MacDonald: My Thoughts on the NHGOP Chairmanship

The following is an op-ed from Wayne MacDonald, outgoing chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party:

 

I never planned to be Chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee. I have sincerely enjoyed my involvement with the Party over the years and just sought out new ways as time passed to serve. Those “ways” ended up becoming the rungs on the ladder that took me from being the Chairman of the Londonderry Republican Town Committee to being State Chairman, with numerous stops in between. Chairman Warren Henderson resigning in 2006, Chairman Jack Kimball resigning in 2011 and Chairman Jeanie Forrester resigning in 2018 resulted in surprised tours of duty in an office I always admired, but had not coveted.

As I look back on these periods that I have been honored with the Chairmanship, I do have some thoughts to share. I want to thank NHJournal for this opportunity to do so.

There has been serious discussion for about a decade regarding the Chairmanship being a full time, paid position. Particularly after this past cycle, this idea makes abundant sense. The question persists as to whether the New Hampshire Republican State Committee will ever raise the kind of money that makes this possible, without sacrificing staff positions and support for candidates and programs. It will benefit the next Chairman immensely that they will have a full term to chart the course in which they want to lead the Party. It was always a definite handicap to come in after the tenor of the term had been established.

Regardless of the circumstances however, it’s important that any candidate for the office realize the job is full time, with or without pay. The hours that the Chairman spends interacting with the staff, media and others in the course of a typical day and week easily equals–and usually surpasses–eight or forty hours, respectively. Because most Chairmen to date have worked at a regular job, myself included, the times devoted to the Chairmanship are mixed in with that other job and not visible to the public and Party activists.

Raising money will be difficult, even during the best of times. The notion that there is a “pot of gold” with New Hampshire’s name on it in some as yet undisclosed location, is inaccurate.

Equally incorrect is the notion that the Party organization will flourish by simply taking a sharp turn in a particular ideological direction and demanding that everyone who wants to have an “R” next to their name follow suit. Our Party is large and diverse and needs to be, if it’s going to be successful. We will not elect senators and representatives and other public officials in sufficient numbers across this very diverse state to be in the majority and remain there if we adopt a narrow and polarizing political philosophy. Financial success for the Party will come only as the result of effective public policy and service, prudent Party spending, well run events, a good mail program and online program and a good solicitation effort.

Good media relations and good internal communications (newsletters, e-mails, etc.) are critical to the overall success also. The development and support of local committees and county committees are crucial. Everything can’t be run from Concord, nor should it be. Local and county committees need to understand how important they are in the goal of furthering  Republican  objectives and electing our candidates. That means being fully involved in the candidate recruitment process and helping to support the candidates politically and financially.

Again, everything cannot be done by the State Party, which is really the Chairman and however many staffers who are there (and there are never enough).

The off year is when the grassroots organizing, candidate recruiting and the bulk of the fundraising for the election year need to take place. The eight months prior to the September primary don’t afford an adequate amount of time to leave it all until then. Unfortunately, this is what often happens.

I have said over the years, both seriously and jokingly, that the only real job of the State Chairman is to keep everyone happy at the same time which is, of course, impossible. I suspect that there have been times when every Chairman has felt this was the expectation, and I will be surprised if the next Chairman doesn’t feel the same way.

I wish my successor and the Party the best and intend to be involved for many years to come.

NH Republicans To Propose Rule Change Allowing Party to Back Trump in 2020 Primary

It’s official: Republican Bruce Breton, a Windham, NH selectman and enthusiastic member of the Trump 2016 campaign team, will proposa a change in the New Hampshire GOP party bylaws allowing party officials to support President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

“This is a fatal flaw in our bylaws that keeps party officials from supporting our party’s president. It’s ridiculous,” Bretton told NHJournal.

“History shows that when Republicans don’t back the incumbent, we lose the seat. We saw it in 1992. We work so hard as a party to secure the presidency–then we’re not going to support our president?”

NH state Rep. Fred Doucette, a member of the incoming House GOP leadership and New Hampshire co-chair of Trump for President, agrees.  “It’s just common sense. If our party doesn’t unite, if we don’t all pull together, we lose.”

At the Rockingham GOP County Caucus on December 6 (left to right): Steve Stepanek, Bruce Breton. Gov. Chris Sununu, Rep. Fred Doucette, Rep. Al Baldasaro.

 

“I was at the bottom of the escalator in New York when he came down and announced his presidency, and I took a lot of abuse during the campaign. But he won, and he’s doing exactly what we elected him to do. President Trump deserves our support.”

Both Breton and Doucette told NHJournal they were still working on the best way to bring the rule change about, possibly during the GOP state convention in the spring. “It probably can’t happen [at the NHGOP convention] in January, but we could have a vote on a change in bylaws in the spring. Or there might be some other way to accomplish the same thing. We’re not sure. We’re just having a discussion,” Doucette said.

Breton says he brought up the idea at the Rockingham County Republican Committee Caucus earlier this month and “there was tons of support. I was really surprised. The ‘Never Trumpers’ don’t like it, but the grassroots love it,” Breton said.

Breton is right about the divide in the party. Prominent conservative Trump opponent Bill Kristol tells NHJournal:

“Trump is wrong to threaten the integrity of New Hampshire’s First in the Nation Republican primary. But he and his supporters wouldn’t head down this disreputable path if they weren’t worried. What are they worried about? They’re worried about free and fair competition on a level playing field. They’re worried about Granite Staters making up their own minds and deciding for themselves, as they’ve always done.”

The current frontrunner to become the new NHGOP chairman in January, Trump backer Steve Stepanek, has already declared that he would remain neutral in the 2020 primary if elected chair. “Where the party needs to be neutral, I will be neutral,” Stepanek says.

But will it even happen?  Local GOP strategist Tom Rath told Politico it’s “all talk,” and even strong Trump supporter Rep. Al Baldasaro tells NHJournal  “I don’t support a rule change.”

Other Republicans, like local GOP strategist Dave Carney, are more concerned about the impact of an “endorse the incumbent” policy on New Hampshire’s “First In The Nation” primary.  Carney, like many Granite State Republicans, believes the state’s #FITN status narrowly missed a major blow when longtime Secretary of State–and aggressively non-partisan Democrat–Bill Gardner was re-elected earlier this month by a one-vote margin in the legislature. They’re concerned that other states might use the perception of a rigged primary as leverage to bump the Granite State from the front of the line.

“People in New Hampshire don’t realize just how endangered our primary is,” Carney told NHJournal.

Doucette rejects the description of his proposal as “rigging.”

Are all 50 state party’s neutral? Do they all have a policy against endorsing?  This is just an idea we’re discussing, and right away the RINOs are trying to rock the boat,” Doucette said. “We’re Republicans. We should all be supporting our president. He deserves it.”

Trump’s New Hampshire Numbers Ticked Up in November

The new Morning Consult poll of President Trump’s state-by-state approval ratings for November show that, while the president remains unpopular in New Hampshire, his numbers here have edged up slightly.  In fact, New Hampshire–which long had a more negative few of the president than the nation as a whole–is now close to the national polling average on the Trump presidency.

Trump’s November numbers in New Hampshire are 42 percent approval/55 percent disapproval among registered voters a net – 13.  In September those numbers were 40-57 percent, a net -17 percent. In September of 2017, Trump was underwater by 19 points--quite a turnaround for a candidate who lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton by just 0.4 percent of the vote a year earlier.

By comparison to New Hampshire’s 42/55, Morning Consult put Trump’s national average at 43 approve/52 disapprove, a 9-point deficit. So while Trump is still less popular in New Hampshire (hardly a surprise in deep-blue, anti-Trump New England), the gap between the Granite State and the rest of the nation has narrowed.

Trump’s numbers across most of New England are abysmal, ranging from -16 in Rhode Island to -25 in Vermont. The notable exception in Maine, where Trump’s under water by just 9 points, matching the national average.

So in a state where the incumbent Republican president is unpopular and Democrats just won a crushing victory, how should the NHGOP respond?

Longtime Republican strategist Mike Dennehy tells NHJournal that how Trump governs in the new era will be important:

“People will be paying very close attention to how Trump interacts with the new Democrat Senate Majority Leader and the Democrat Speaker,” Dennehy said.  “And in similar fashion, people will be looking to see how Governor Sununu gets along with the new Democrat majorities in the State House.  People are looking for action, but the current political environment doesn’t appear to allow for it so it will take strong leadership at the top.”

Dave Carney, another veteran NHGOP consultant, says “President Trump is in a decent position today, but in this new political world 18 months is like five lifetimes. The world will change many time before the electoin rolls along.”

Carney warns that both Republicans and Democrats in the Granite State should avoid overreaching when it comes to Trump and 2020, for the sake of the First In The Nation primary.

“That means not trying to tilt the tables in the primary,” Carney told NHJournal.  “New Hampshire is unique in that anyone can run for president and get a fair hearing from our voters.  Any perception that the game is rigged will help the other states undercut our position.”

“The people of New Hampshire should not underestimate how many other states want to take our FITN status away from us,” Carney said.

Outgoing NHGOP Chair: Don’t End Policy of Party Neutrality in 2020 Primary

Outgoing New Hampshire GOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald tells NHJournal he has “major concerns” over ending the policy of party neutrality in the 2020 POTUS primary and supporting incumbent President Donald Trump.

“Anyone should be able to run for the nomination. Donald Trump is the president, and his record should be considered. But until our nominee is chosen by a vote of the people, the party leadership needs to be neutral,” MacDonald told NHJournal.

Not everyone agrees. Bruce Breton, who was very active in Trump’s 2016 campaign in New Hampshire, finds the party’s policy of neutrality “deeply flawed.”  He has abandoned his bid for NHGOP Vice Chair in part because running for the office “would be contrary to my continued support of President Trump. As per our bylaws I would have to remain neutral in the upcoming 2020 campaign. It is my strong belief that those bylaws should be changed to reflect that the NHGOP would support an incumbent president.”

But MacDonald was adamant. “I understand the logic of wanting to support an incumbent president in your own party. But the nomination is something that is bestowed upon them by the voters,” MacDonald said, adding that the candidates and offices are irrelevant.

“This has nothing to do with Trump. We were neutral in 1992 when George H. W. Bush was president [and challenged by Pat Buchanan].  And it’s not just the presidency. Governor, senator, what have you—the party needs to remain neutral.”

MacDonald has served as state party chair three times, always as an appointee and never as an elected candidate. On Tuesday, he announced he won’t be running to keep the job.

“I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s never been easy. People don’t leave the job when things are going well,” he noted wryly. “It’s an intense and exhausting experience.”

When news broke of MacDonald’s decision, Gov. Chris Sununu released a statement offering “sincere thanks to Chairman MacDonald for his steady leadership over these past few months. He had to step up to take on a tough challenge, served admirably, and I sincerely hope Wayne stays involved in the years ahead — the Republican Party is better off with Wayne MacDonald at the table.”

MacDonald told NHJournal he agreed with those who say the job should be a paid, full-time position for the GOP as it is for the New Hampshire Democratic party, adding: “I’m Scottish, so if they had offered to pay me, I wouldn’t have said ‘no.’”

“One big advantage Democrats have had is continuity. They’ve been able to build on their experiences from one cycle to the next. We’ve had very few chairmen serve back-to-back terms.”

MacDonald is right. Former NHGOP chair Fergus Cullen tweeted out the list of state party chairs since 2000. There have been eleven already, and only one—Jennifer Horn—served two consecutive terms.  “During this time, NHDems have had just two. They stuck with Kathy Sullivan and Ray Buckley not only after wins but after losses too,” Cullen tweeted.

MacDonald declined to endorse anyone to replace him, but he did share his biggest concern for the next chairman: “Fundraising.  That’s got to be the number one job.”

“And I don’t have a problem with going to Washington, DC for funding, as the Democrats do, that’s fine. The problem is that there isn’t this pile of money waiting for us in Washington to just scoop up and take back to New Hampshire. We’re going to have to compete for money there too,” MacDonald said.

He pointed out the example of former party chairman John H. Sununu. “He really was in a class by himself when it comes to state chairmen. He had been governor, he had all the contacts, and he raised a lot of money for the party.  But even he didn’t meet the $1 million fundraising goal he set for himself.”

“No matter who becomes the next chairman, fundraising is always hard.”

The Midterm Numbers You Need to Know

So what happened in New Hampshire on Tuesday? Here are all the numbers you need to know:

RECORD SETTING TURNOUT

Total turnout was about 580,000 ballots cast, “the first time we’ve broken the half a million mark in a midterm,” Secretary of State Bill Gardner told NHJournal, “and the first time we’ve had a midterm turnout higher than any presidential primary.”

“All that, on a day when we had bad weather, too. If people have the will to vote, they will make the effort–rain or no rain.”

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTERS LOVE TO SWING

There were 573,735 votes cast in the race for governor: Gov. Chris Sununu, 302,838; Democrat Molly Kelly, 262,408.

Republican Sununu’s margin over Democrat Kelly: 40,430.

A total of 560,034 votes were cast for the major-party Congressional candidates: 310,320 for the two Democrats; 249,714 for the two Republicans.

The Pappas/Kuster margin over Edwards/Negron: 60,606.

That’s a 100,000 “swing vote” margin just in the top-tier races–about 18 percent of voters split their tickets for governor and Congress.

Or put another way, Republican Chris Sununu outperformed the two GOP congressional candidates by 53,000 votes, while Molly Kelly underperformed her Democratic colleagues by 48,000.

“It’s not that unusual, actually,” Gardner told NHJournal. “When Ronald Reagan ran in 1980, he won New Hampshire by a 2-1 margin. The same year, the Democrat running for governor won 2-1, too.”

(NHJournal checked, and Gardner was right: Reagan got 58 percent of the vote in New Hampshire in 1980, and incumbent Democratic governor Hugh Gallen got 59 percent.)

 

GOP TURNOUT WAS GOOD. DEMOCRATIC TURNOUT WAS BETTER

“The Democrats did an unbelievable job of drilling down into the lower-tier GOTV universes,” Greg Moore, Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire, told NHJournal. “Net-net, they brought out 320,000 of their folks and the conservatives brought out 260,000.

“To put that into perspective, Eddie Edwards in the NH-01 race got 6,000 more votes than Republican Frank Guinta did in 2014–and Guinta won by 9,000 votes. Edwards lost by 24,000.”

 

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. AND MOSTLY DEMOCRAT.

Billionaire Tom Steyer has been bragging for more than a year about the $1 million or so he planned to spend in New Hampshire getting college students out of their dorms and into the polls. His organization NextGen America had almost 40 paid workers covering the campuses, and according to NextGen’s New Hampshire comms person Kristen Morris, it worked. She tweeted:

 

THE GOP NEEDED A BIGGER WIN BY SUNUNU

It’s easy after a wave election–and that’s certainly what happened in New Hampshire–to simply be grateful the party held onto the governor’s office. But several NHGOP pros have noted that the governor’s race was closer than it should have been, and the rest of the ticket suffered.

“With a popular incumbent governor running for re-election against a hitherto unknown former state senator, Molly Kelly significantly out-raised and outspent him,” veteran GOP strategist Tom Rath told NHJournal. “And that should never happen.  Keeping the governor’s race close allowed the Democrats to make big gains down ballot.”

 

SHOW THEM THE MONEY

Final numbers aren’t in, but it’s clear that New Hampshire Democrats had a huge financial advantage, in part because of a massive amount of money donated through the ActBlue program at a national level (more than $1 billion in small-dollar donations alone), some of which made its way to New Hampshire.  And in part because Republicans did not raise the resources they needed.

“We’ve been outspent in the past,” outgoing Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley told NHJournal, “but not like this. This time it would appear our Democratic colleagues had so much money that it almost didn’t matter how they spent it.”

“Drilling down as deeply in their GOTV efforts as the Democrats did takes tons of money,” Greg Moore notes.

And GOP strategist Mike Dennehy is even more blunt: “If New Hampshire Republicans don’t figure out fundraising, they can kiss this state goodbye.”

 

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL, NH VOTERS WANTED TO VOTE DEMOCRAT. 

At the Union-Leader, Kevin Landrigan picks up on the fascinating story of Manchester Republican Ed Sapienza.

“A lifelong Democrat, Sapienza changed his party affiliation to the GOP last spring to run for Hillsborough County Register of Deeds,” Landrigan reported. When nobody filed to run as a Democrat, some friends of Sapienza wrote him in during the primary and so his name appeared on Tuesday as both the Republican and Democratic nominee.

“In rock-ribbed Republican Merrimack for example, Sapienza the Democrat got 500 more votes than Sapienza the Republican did,” Landrigran noted.

That’s 500 more votes simply for being a Democrat.  That number pretty much sums up the 2018 midterm election in New Hampshire.

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:

 

WINNERS:

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.

 

LOSERS:

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.

 

UNDECIDED:

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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NH Republicans Work Together to Pass State Budget, Full-Day Kindergarten

In two legislative victories for Gov. Chris Sununu, he saw Republicans unite to pass a state budget and full-day kindergarten. The New Hampshire House and Senate met Thursday for the final session of the legislative year in their respective chambers, and behind-the-scenes negotiations on the budget led to a win for the NH GOP platform. An $11.7 billion biennium budget is on its way to Sununu’s desk for his signature.

The scene was a joyous one for Sununu and Republican lawmakers in the Executive Council chambers at the State House after the budget vote. As Sununu walked into the room, cheering and applause broke out to celebrate their victory.

“Absolutely a big win, a big win for New Hampshire,” Sununu said after the vote. “People sent us to Concord to get a job done and we did it. And we did it the right way, we brought folks in and we listened and we talked, we kept working it the best we could and we came out with what I think is incredible progress for the state of New Hampshire.”

The Senate passed a committee of conference spending plan on a party-line vote of 14-9 in its Thursday morning session. About an hour later, the House passed the same budget on a roll call vote of 198-169. Only 14 Republicans voted in opposition and five Democrats supported the budget.

The margin of passage was wider than many people expected. Just a week ago, the fate of the budget in the House was uncertain, after conservatives tanked an earlier version of the budget in April. After some wheeling and dealing with Sununu and GOP Senate leadership, members of the conservative House Republican Alliance and House Freedom Caucus said while it was an imperfect budget, it was something that had some benefits for Granite Staters.

“Although the caucus as a whole is still concerned about the level of spending, there are definite benefits for the NH taxpayers,” the Freedom Caucus said in a statement. “The majority of our caucus members were able to support the budget in order to bring these benefits to our constituents.”

The business tax cuts added by the Senate were a significant factor in motivating the conservatives to vote in favor of the budget.

“There are many Republican leaders to thank for the passage of this bill — [House] Speaker [Shawn] Jasper, Senate President [Chuck] Morse, and Governor Sununu united the party in Concord and ensured passage of this Republican budget,” said NHGOP Chair Jeanie Forrester. “Republicans of all backgrounds and stripes united to pass this budget and ensure a stable and bright future for the State of New Hampshire. This shows that when Republicans are united, Republicans win and New Hampshire is better off for it.”

A companion bill that made the policy changes reflected in the budget also passed the Senate by a 14-9 margin and in the House by a vote of 212-161.

The companion bill included a phase-in of business tax cuts, elimination of the electricity consumption tax, and authorization of online lottery games. The budget will take effect on July 1, the first day of the new state fiscal year.

While Republicans claimed a win for their legislative agenda, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley sent a fundraising email to supporters, blasting the GOP-backed spending plan.

“Gov. Sununu’s reckless and dangerous budget will take New Hampshire’s progress and turn it into disrepair,” Buckley said. “Republicans assume New Hampshire’s problems will just fix themselves. That’s not leadership, that’s ignorance. Let’s work together to make sure we have the state government we deserve in Concord.”

Later in the day, the House and Senate also passed another of Sununu’s policy priorities: funding for full-day kindergarten. The funding starts with state dollars, but after two years, it would be funded from revenue generated by newly authorized Keno.

Over the legislative session, Sununu stuck by his campaign promise to see full-day kindergarten come to fruition. He called for it in his budget, stood by his pledge after House Republicans stripped its funding from their budget, and then applauded once the Senate revitalized it as a standalone bill. He showed his flexibility when the policy and funding levels changed each time and while the final bill was not what he originally intended, he called it a “first-step.”

The House overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 191 on a roll call of 251-111. The Senate vote was 15-8, with 12 Republicans and three Democrats in favor, and two Republicans and six Democrats opposed.

It was a difficult bill for some lawmakers to stomach tying online gambling revenue to education. For Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Concord, he’s been a longtime advocate of casino-style gambling in the state, but he voted against the bill since he didn’t believe the two issues should be linked.

On the opposite end, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley is not a big supporter of Keno, but he voted in favor of the bill to invest more in early education.

Still, the bill made it through the legislature and is headed to Sununu’s desk, who applauded its passage and declared that he is “the first governor” to deliver a full-day kindergarten.

“The investments made today will give New Hampshire’s children a strong foundation for tomorrow’s future,” he said. “I am proud to be the first governor to deliver a real full-day kindergarten program for communities across our state, which will close the opportunity gap and provide students, regardless of their economic status, an extra step up as they enter the first grade. Full-day kindergarten is good for children and families, and a critical tool in retaining our future workforce.”

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State, Local N.H. Communities Disagree on How to Handle U.S. Withdrawal From Climate Deal

As with the rest of the country, it appears New Hampshire is pretty divided on the Paris Climate Agreement. At the state level, Republicans are applauding President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the global climate pact, while Democrats are hoping to use the issue as political ammo in next year’s elections. At the local level, a couple cities, colleges, and universities are figuring out how they can commit themselves to reducing carbon emissions to show the rest of the world that not everyone agrees with Trump.

That division was very apparent Thursday during one of the last full House sessions of the year. Several House Republicans staged a walkout after Rep. Lee Walker Oxenham, D-Plainfield, was granted the right to speak on the House floor about Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision not to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of 12 states and Puerto Rico that are committed to upholding the Paris climate deal.

The representatives that walked out were forced to return to their seats because House Speaker Shawn Jasper needed quorum in order finish the day’s business. In her speech, Oxenham mentioned Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and Republicans let out a cheer. The New Hampshire Democratic Party was quick to criticize Republican members for their actions.

“Rather than hear their colleague on a key issue, Republicans decided to continue to plug their ears in ignorance on climate change,” said Ray Buckley, NHDP chairman, in a statement. “In doing so, they are standing with Governor Sununu and President Trump against the rest of the world. This Republican walkout is symbolic of their willful ignorance on basic science.”

Sununu stated last week that he “stands by” Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Agreement and he said Monday that New Hampshire would not join the U.S. Climate Alliance.

“Not at this time, especially when we do not yet know its impact on our economy and environment,” he told the Concord Monitor.

That drew criticism from U.S. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, and U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster — all four members of New Hampshire’s Democratic congressional delegation — who wrote a Wednesday letter to Sununu encouraging him to change his mind.

“Governor, we write in support of New Hampshire joining the U.S. Climate Alliance. It is vital that the Granite State continues to be a leader on climate change and clean energy,” they wrote. “Just as the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord cedes American global leadership, New Hampshire’s refusal to acknowledge the clear consensus on climate science will similarly damage our state’s reputation.”

New Hampshire already participates in a regional cap-and-trade pact with nine other states in the Northeast that works to reduce carbon emissions. Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, fossil fuel power plants have to buy allowances for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Sununu has previously indicated he would be support withdrawing from RGGI, but only if other states also did it.

While lawmakers battle it out at the State House on climate change, several cities and universities in New Hampshire are reaffirming their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A national movement called “We Are Still In” has gained steam since Trump made his announcement last week. As of Monday, a total of 1,219 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities across the country declared their intent to ensure the United States remains a global leader in the effort to combat climate change.

“In the absence of leadership from Washington, states, cities, colleges and universities, businesses and investors, representing a sizable percentage of the U.S. economy will pursue ambitious climate goals, working together to take forceful action and to ensure that the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing emissions,” the statement reads.

While no Granite State cities have signed on to that specific statement, two colleges have joined the cause — the University of New Hampshire and Southern New Hampshire University.

In a separate statement from the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, 274 mayors committed to adopt, honor, and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

“We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks,” the statement reads. “We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice

Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess and Portsmouth Mayor Jack Blalock have signed on to that statement, but not the one from “We Are Still In.”

In other communities in the Granite State, Durham officials held a Tuesday forum about the feasibility of scaling down the targets of the Paris agreement to a municipal level. The town of Hanover also voted in May to establish a goal of transitioning to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050.

Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon didn’t sign on to the “We Are Still In” statement, but he signed onto a similar letter with the presidents of 11 other leading research universities. That letter commits the universities to transition to low-carbon energy and enhance sustainability practices on their campuses.

In the letter released Monday, the presidents “reaffirm that commitment, which is consistent with the Paris Agreement and recognizes the concerted action that is needed at every level to slow, and ultimately prevent, the rise in the global average temperature and to facilitate the transition to a clean energy economy. Universities have a critical role to play in reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions, continuing to advance evidence-based understanding of the causes and effects of climate change on the environment, the economy and public health, and developing solutions.”

The other signatories include all the Ivy League institutions, except Princeton University, and also Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.

Earlier this year, Dartmouth announced it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations by 50 percent by 2025 and by 80 percent by 2050. They also pledged to transition their campus to renewable resources by 2025.

In its announcement, Dartmouth admitted that it had fallen behind some of its peer institutions on a number of sustainability fronts.

“Although Dartmouth has substantially reduced campus energy use and made other significant advances over the last decade, we lag our peer institutions with respect to commitments, actions, and reporting in the sustainability domain,” the college released in its sustainability report. “Our report recommends principles, standards, and commitments in the areas of energy, waste and materials, water, food, transportation, and landscape and ecology.”

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