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National Dems Target NH State House, But Packard, GOP Aren’t Worried

A national Democratic organization that works to win state legislative elections is targeting Concord with the goal of wresting control from the Granite State GOP. But despite its money and aggressive rhetoric, local Republicans say they aren’t worried.

“Good luck with that,” said New Hampshire GOP chairman Steve Stepanek, a former member of the House himself.

According to a report in the Daily Beast, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) is targeting legislatures in New Hampshire, Michigan, and Minnesota.

“We know what we’re up against, but we are making a play to undercut GOP power in the Michigan House and Senate, the Minnesota Senate, and the New Hampshire House and Senate,” DLCC President Jessica Post said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

And while Democrats pushing the plan are angry the Democratic National Committee has refused to fund their efforts, President Joe Biden came through with a direct fundraising appeal on the DLCC’s behalf to help fill their war chest.

“State legislatures are the key to stopping Republican abortion bans, attacks on L.G.B.T.Q.+ rights, bills that undercut our democracy by making it harder for people to vote,” Biden wrote in an email to the DLCC mailing list. “Not just that, state legislatures are essential — I mean it, essential — to lowering prices for American families and building an economy that works for everyone.”

And, the DNC says, it is spending on federal races in New Hampshire and other swing states which will help drive up turnout for every Democrat on the ticket.

State Rep. Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, who may be making a play to lead the House Democratic Caucus, touted the state party’s campaign to take control in Concord. He said at a recent party gathering that the team behind the Democrats’ fall push has put together a data-driven organization focused on winning the House and Senate.

“We have built an unprecedented campaign,” Wilhelm said.

But despite the big talk — and big money– House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) told NHJournal he feels very good about his party’s prospects to hold both the House and Senate.

“Their chances of flipping the legislature are extremely thin. How anybody could think they could flip the House or Senate with the disastrous fiscal policies Democrats have imposed at the federal level,” Packard said. “And if the Democrats did take over here, the terrible fiscal policies of Washington, D.C. would come to Concord. Let me tell you, that’s not what the voters of New Hampshire want.”

As for resources, Packard says Republicans will have the money they need “to get out the message about what Democrats would do if they take over.

“And that stunt in Rockingham County– where I live –and their claim that it was a printer’s mistake? That’s beyond laughable. It was a trick and they got caught. Where did the printer get the name of the ‘Rockingham Board of Elections?’ It’s a typical Democratic stunt, trying to fool the voters.”

State Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), one of the members working on the House campaign efforts, said state Democrats need the out-of-state cash and all the help they can get, because the Democratic Party is not a winning organization in the Granite State.

“It is not surprising that New Hampshire House Democrats will once again benefit from large out-of-state contributions and D.C. support. In their last report one couple in California gave them $40,000,” Berry said.

“If this was a race of New Hampshire money only, they wouldn’t have two pennies to rub together,” he noted. “The Committee to Elect House Republicans has a record number of donors (over 950), virtually all of whom are from New Hampshire and over three times the number of donors as the House Democrats. Sadly, extremist liberals from New York and California are more than willing to finance the lies and half-truths of New Hampshire House Democrats, but we weathered their storm in 2020 and we will do it again in 2022.”

Another asset for GOP legislators? Having popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu at the top of the ticket. Polls consistently show he is popular with both Republicans and independents, and he is credited with helping his party flip the state House and Senate in 2020, even as Joe Biden was beating President Donald Trump in New Hampshire by about eight points.

With Biden’s job approval numbers deeply underwater among Granite State voters, he is unlikely to help Democrats improve their performance over two years ago.

Still, Democratic Party state chair Raymond Buckley sees a blue wave coming, despite recent polling that puts Republicans on top when it comes to the economy, crime, and border security. The national funding could be just what Granite State Democrats need to buck the trends.

“Granite State Democrats more than doubled our voter turnout in this year’s Primary Election over the last midterm when a Democrat controlled the White House,” Buckley said in a recent email to his fellow Democrats. “Even with a limited number of contested primary races, over 90,000 Democrats turned out and voted, as opposed to 2014’s 40,000. There is so much at stake this November, and Granite State Democrats have shown time and time again that we are fired up and are doing what it takes to win.”

Both House Democratic Leader Rep. David Cote (D-Nashua) and Senate Leader Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) declined to comment for this story.

The political website CNalysis, one of the few that analyzes state legislature races, reports the New Hampshire State House “tilts Republican” and predicts Republicans are likely to hold onto their majority.

And Packard said he sees a strong showing for the GOP as voters worry about inflation, soaring grocery prices and high energy costs — all under the leadership of Biden and the Democrats.

“People are hurting like hell right now. And if Democrats ran things in New Hampshire and Washington, they would be hurting even more,” Packard said.

New Hampshire Debates Turning Over Public Voter Data to Trump Election Commission

Gov. Chris Sununu and Secretary of State Bill Gardner are on board to turn over publicly available New Hampshire voter data to President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission. Before that happens though, the matter is under review by the state Attorney General and a petition is circulating the state asking the N.H. House to call a special session to deny the commission’s request.

In a request, Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity Vice Chairman and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is asking states to turn over “publicly available voter roll data” including full names, addresses, birth dates, party affiliation, voter history, any felony convictions, and the last four digits of voters’ social security numbers.

Gardner, who also sits on President Donald Trump’s voter integrity commission, says he plans to share the Granite State’s information next week if the Attorney General’s office signs off that it’s legal. Gardner said he views the request as a way of crosschecking voters nationwide to ensure that people aren’t voting twice in future elections. His involvement in the commission has been widely criticized by Democrats and advocacy groups who call the commission’s mission a “sham.”

Sununu made it clear that the only information New Hampshire would provide is a voters’ name, address, party affiliation, and voting history, including whether a person voted in a general election and which party’s ballot a voter took during a primary election.

That information is already available to political parties and committees for a price and it should be shared with the commission, Sununu said. The statewide voter checklist can also be viewed by members of the public online, except they can’t “print, duplicate, transmit, or alter the data.” It has yet to be determined if the state will charge the federal government for access to the voter information. Private data — like birthdays and social security numbers — would not be provided by the state because it’s not publicly accessible, he said.

“I think every state should comply. Any state not complying is simply playing politics at this point,” Sununu told MSNBC on Friday. “You have to have a system that people can trust, that people can believe in. And this is simply a review to make sure that where our system is today and where it’s going tomorrow has that integrity.”

As of Wednesday, 44 states have denied the commission’s request for access to their voter information. The White House claims 20 states have agreed to provide the publicly available information and 16 other states are reviewing which information can be released under state laws.

“At present, only 14 states and the District of Columbia have refused the Commission’s request for publicly available voter information,” Kobach said in a statement. “Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American’s vote because the public has a right to know.”

Democrats and some legal experts are blasting the request, questioning its legality and saying the data could be used to suppress voters and gerrymander in the future.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said under state law it would be illegal for Gardner to provide private voter information. Gardner and Sununu have indicated they would not provide that information as requested by the commission.

“It is disappointing that Gov. Sununu has chosen the Trump administration’s unwarranted request over the privacy of Granite Staters,” Buckley said in a statement. “He is once again falling in line behind President Trump and pledging to hand over our highly personal information to a federal government commission created at best to soothe the president’s ego, and at worst, undermine the integrity of our elections and disenfranchise millions of voters.”

Paul Twomey, a former House legal counsel and attorney specializing in voting issues, sent a letter to top state officials in the attorney general’s office asking them to “immediately intervene to halt any transmission of voter file information to any entities associated with the federal government by the Secretary of State or his office.”

Twomey, who has also served as a lawyer for several Democratic campaigns, argued that Gardner shouldn’t be the one to determine if the state’s information is released since he was involved in the commission’s request for the information as a sitting member of the commission.

“Gardner thus is the requester and should not take part in any decisions about release of this information,” Twomey wrote. “I urge you to immediately review the applicable statutes and take action to safeguard the privacy of the state’s voters.”

Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky sent his own letter on Monday also saying the state is not required to turn over any information to the commission.

“The Commission has not issued an order or a duly authorized subpoena. Your actions most likely violate New Hampshire law,” he wrote. ““The letter requesting New Hampshire’s voter information makes clear that all records provided to the Commission will be made public. Once the Commission makes our voter information public, it will be subject to commercial exploitation.”

Even former New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Fergus Cullen opposes sharing data with the commission.

An online petition on Change.org was created on Monday that is requesting the N.H. House call a special session to discuss the commission’s voter information request.

“Tell the Governor and Secretary of State to deny this frivolous and intrusive request that is unacceptable and a troubling violation of the state’s laws governing public disclosure of voter records,” the petition states.

As of Wednesday, the petition had more than 500 signatures, including several from people who live outside New Hampshire.

Several Democratic state lawmakers have indicated they support calling a special session, but House Majority Leader Dick Hinch called their petition “political grandstanding.”

“I have a high level of respect for Secretary of State Bill Gardner and it’s unfortunate that Representative Shurtleff and others in the Democratic Party have chosen to suggest he would divulge information that is not public,” he said. “If Democrats had a genuine concern about the availability of the data, they had decades to change the law. By petitioning for a special session they demonstrate their political motives and their disregard for the usual and customary legislative process.”

Gardner is looking at a law passed last year that allows New Hampshire to share information from its voter registration database with the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.

Under state law, “the secretary of state may enter into an agreement to share voter information or data from the statewide centralized voter registration database for the purpose of comparing duplicate voter information with other states or groups of states.”

The law also stipulates that the state “shall only provide information that is necessary for matching duplicate voter information with other states and shall take precautions to make sure that information in the database is secure.”

The commission has yet to have its first meeting, but Gardner is expected to travel to the first gathering that is scheduled for July 19.

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Minuteman Health Ends Services Due to Obamacare Costs, Company Says

A health insurance cooperative offering individual and small group health insurance plans for 27,000 customers in New Hampshire announced Friday it would stop writing new policies in 2018, but it is working to reopen as a private company to ensure a “smooth transition” for its members.

Minuteman Health and 22 other small nonprofit insurers were created by the Affordable Care Act to stimulate competition and push for lower prices. However, nearly all of them have folded since they were first formed in 2014. Minuteman blamed a provision of the Obamacare law that requires insurers with healthier customers to make payments to insurers with sicker customers.

“Unfortunately, the program has not worked as intended,” the company said in a press release. “It has been difficult for insurers to predict their risk adjustment obligations that has led some to withdraw from the ACA market. The program also unfairly penalizes issuers like Minuteman Health that are small, low-cost, and experience high growth. The significant negative impact from risk adjustment has been the principal driver of a reduction in Minuteman Health’s surplus and capital over time.”

In 2016, Minuteman Health filed a federal lawsuit arguing that it had been punished for offering lower-cost products. They claim the risk adjustment payments are based on how a company’s premiums compare to statewide averages. The company said its premiums were significantly lower than average because its business model was focused on keeping costs low, not because its customers were healthier .

For 2018, the company was seeking to increase premiums by about 30 percent but is working to organize as a new insurance provider, Minuteman Insurance. It would remain in the ACA exchange but would not be subject to the co-op rules.

“Offering our members a quality, more affordable coverage option has been Minuteman’s mission from day one,” said Minuteman Health CEO Tom Policelli. “We want to continue that mission in 2018 and beyond through the new company we are currently working to organize. Forming Minuteman Insurance Company will allow us to address numerous federal restrictions and work to make our coverage available to more people.”

Nationally, insurers are pulling out of some markets or are seeking to charge higher premiums. Republicans are hoping to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, and the Senate is pushing a bill that would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured over the next decade, according to a Monday analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. It would also cut the federal deficit by $321 billion, driven by reductions in Medicaid and smaller subsidies to help people buy insurance.

Minuteman Health is the second co-op to drop out of the New Hampshire market. Community Health Options pulled out for 2017 to focus on Maine, and recently announced it made a surplus after two years of losses. With Minuteman Health exiting, individual and small group customers in New Hampshire will have three options in next year’s exchange: Anthem, Harvard Pilgrim, and Ambetter.

“Today’s announcement by Minuteman Health is more clear evidence that Obamacare has failed and that our nation’s health care system demands reform,” said New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. “This environment of instability was created by Obamacare’s costly regulations and taxes that are causing premiums to skyrocket. Washington must work together to end the partisan gridlock and move reform forward otherwise more Granite Staters are likely to be negatively impacted.”

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said Sununu was “stoking fear about the future of Minuteman Insurance and claiming ACA has failed based on misleading information.”

“Governor Sununu is seeding deep uncertainty in New Hampshire’s state exchange while President Trump intentionally undermines our health care system,” he said in a statement. “We expect our leaders to operate in good faith, but it’s hard to give them the benefit of the doubt when Trump and Sununu continue to work together to undercut health care for millions of Americans.”

Current Minuteman Health members’ policies will remain in effect for the rest of this year “and claims under those policies will continue to be paid without interruption.”

The new company would need to be authorized to write insurance in Massachusetts and New Hampshire before August 16 in order for it to be eligible to offer insurance in January 2018.

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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House Approves Full-Day Kindergarten, Democrats Claim Legislative Victory

In a win for Gov. Chris Sununu’s agenda, the New Hampshire House gave a preliminary vote of approval for full-day kindergarten. While some are calling it a bipartisan victory, the state Democratic Party is taking credit for the proposal getting passed.

Senate Bill 191 calls for providing $14.5 million during the next two fiscal years to help communities that want to implement full-day kindergarten.

In Sununu’s budget proposal, he provided $9 million a year to establish programs in the neediest communities of the Granite State. That original funding amount passed the Senate at the end of March on a 21-2 vote.

The House Education Committee changed the funding to the full $14.5 million to allow all communities, regardless of need, the opportunity to implement the program. About three-quarters of New Hampshire’s communities currently have full-day kindergarten, but the state only pays half the per-student amount for children in kindergarten. The House approved that funding on Thursday on a 247-116 vote.

“I applaud the House for taking this important step today to provide financial support to communities that choose to support and create full-day kindergarten programs,” Sununu said in a statement. “I believe strongly that this is the right thing to do and I look forward to continuing to work with the legislature as the measure moves forward.”

The roll call vote saw 87 Republicans join 160 Democrats in supporting the bill. Many education advocates cheered the bipartisan work of the House and Senate for getting the bill passed.

“With today’s vote, strong bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate are on record supporting increased state funding for full-day kindergarten,” said Mark Shriver, president of Save the Children Action Network. “We are encouraged that lawmakers from both parties have made investing kids in the Granite State a priority.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party framed it another way. In their own press release, chairman Ray Buckley called Sununu’s original proposal of funding full-day kindergarten at $9 million a year a “half-baked plan.” He also highlighted that no Democrats opposed the bill and a majority of Republicans (115 of 202) voted against the legislation.

“Today, Democrats held him accountable for his broken promise by finally providing every child in the state full-day kindergarten instead of ceding to his half-baked budget proposal,” he said. “Democrats carried the bill across the finish line in the House, with every single Democratic House member voting for the legislation while a majority of Republican members voted against it. Sununu’s inability to lead almost cost us full-day kindergarten. Today was another example of why we need Democrats in the State House.”

House Republicans are pretty divided over whether the state should pay for full-day kindergarten.

On the House floor, Rep. Victoria Sullivan, R-Manchester, said she opposed the bill because it removes local control from the communities and removes parental choice.

“It was never intended that 5-year-olds would be sitting at a desk for six hours per day,” she said. “We must allow districts to keep decisions regarding early childhood education as a local control issue so that we can fix Kindergarten and restore it to its intended purpose, which is to foster the individual talents and abilities of each child through exploration, creativity and movement.”

Other Republicans say the bill doesn’t mandate that schools offer full-day kindergarten, but simply allows communities access to funds to help pay for it.

“If Kindergarten is important, why don’t we fund it for everyone?” said Rep. Terry Wolf, R-Bedford. “This bill helps offset the downshifting of costs from state to local communities. Funding education makes a statement that we value education and support our communities.”

SB 191 was one to watch on Thursday because House GOP leadership did not take an official position on the bill or whip any votes. House Speaker Shawn Jasper was presiding over the session, so he didn’t cast a vote, but House Majority Leader Dick Hinch voted in favor of the legislation.

Leaders of the two conservative House caucuses voted against the bill, showing there isn’t widespread support among those factions for full-day kindergarten. Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, who is a leader of the House Republican Alliance, and Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, who is a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, opposed the bill.

SB 191 now heads to the House Finance Committee for representatives to look at the cost since the measure uses state revenues. In an earlier session, members of the committee refused to put any money for kindergarten in its version of the state budget.

After the committee makes a recommendation, the bill returns to the full House for another vote. If the House approves funding again at the $14.5 million-a-year level, then it will go to the Senate.

The Senate could then approve the bill at that funding level or the chamber could reject it in favor of their previous $9 million-a-year plan for targeted communities. If that happens, it’s likely a committee of conferences between the two chambers would be established to negotiate a compromise.

Regardless, the House’s approval of full-day kindergarten on Thursday is a good indication that a bill at some funding level will end up on Sununu’s desk, fulfilling one of his campaign promises.

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House Votes to Review Controversial Online Comments From Fisher, Frost

In an unusual move, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to review controversial comments made online by two lawmakers. Yet, Republican leaders aren’t expecting the committee to find that they violated any House ethics codes.

It started as an inquiry into Rep. Robert Fisher, R-Laconia, and comments he made in an online forum that were construed as misogynistic, but Republicans successfully added Rep. Sherry Frost, D-Dover, in the inquiry for tweets she wrote earlier this year that some found “offensive.”

Before the House met in their regularly scheduled session on Thursday, it was anticipated that House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff would bring up a motion for a House committee to investigate Fisher’s comments.

“At any time any member says anything or does anything that holds this body in disrespect, it affects each and every one of us,” he said on the House floor.

Fisher was identified as the creator of a a Reddit forum called “The Red Pill” in a report from The Daily Beast last week. His posts on the message board garnered criticism for being disrespectful toward women and normalizing rape culture. He admitted to the comments, which were made as far back as 2008, but said they were taken out of context.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and New Hampshire Republican Party Chair Jeanie Forrester have called for his resignation, but Fisher insists he will not step down.

Frost posted tweets earlier this year that said more terrorism is perpetrated by “white men who claim Christianity than by Muslims in the USA.” She also tweeted, “The people (read; men) telling me to ‘calm down’ & ‘not take it so hard’ are making me homicidal.”

The NHGOP criticized her for the tweets, calling her a “radical” and “a threat to her colleagues.”

“All representatives should be held to the same standard,” said Rep. Victoria Sullivan, R-Manchester, who put forward the amendment to include Frost. “This body cannot pick and choose who they support and who they do not.”

The House voted 182-180 to include Frost in the inquiry and then approved of the investigation of both lawmakers by a 307-56 vote, with Fisher and Frost voting in favor of the review.

“I think the truth will be out at the hearing,” Fisher told the Concord Monitor. Frost said she has nothing to hide.

The Legislative Administration Committee’s reviews will be limited to comments made by the two lawmakers during the current legislative session, which means Fisher’s previous posts will not be included, but Frost’s tweets will be reviewed.

After that, the committee will make a recommendation to the full House for each lawmaker. The committee could recommend that no action should take place, or that the representatives should be reprimanded, censured, or expelled. The House will then vote on the recommendations.

“Referring this matter to the Legislative Administration Committee will allow for an investigation into Representative Fisher’s involvement with this forum since his election to the New Hampshire House,” Shurtleff said in a statement. “As elected officials it is our duty to act with honor both inside the State House and out, and I am confident that the Legislative Administration Committee will give this serious matter the consideration it deserves.”

His statement didn’t include any comments about Frost, though.

Some lawmakers criticized Republicans for including Frost in the inquiry, saying the two lawmaker’s comments do not equate to equal treatment. New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley took to Twitter to criticize the decision.

Yet, House Speaker Shawn Jasper admitted that he doesn’t believe the committee will find that the lawmakers violated any ethics codes.

“I don’t think we’ve ever done anything quite like this,” he told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “Normally there would be something that falls under the ethics guidelines, and there’d be a complaint made by somebody and it would go to the ethics committee.”

Some lawmakers questioned why they spent time debating the issue.

Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, motioned to table the matter, but it overwhelmingly failed.

“This is being used as a political football,” he said. “We need to have some more harmony in this body.”

Protesters lined the hallways of the State House and gathered outside on the plaza to protest Fisher’s comments. A protester’s sign said, “Rep. Fisher: This feminist says resign!” Another read, “Rape culture: He isn’t a symptom, he is a disease. Fisher must go.”

Fisher’s review hearing will begin on Tuesday, with Frost’s review to follow on Wednesday.

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Chaos in the NH House: What Happened to the GOP State Budget?

For the first time since at least 1969, the New Hampshire House did not pass its version of a state budget. The budget is the second major issue that House Republicans had split factions on, highlighting deep and unhealed wounds within the Republican Party. While many people are putting the blame on Gov. Chris Sununu for not leading the party, he stands to gain the most from it.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, did not mince words after the House voted to adjourn and recess before a budget could be passed by the Thursday deadline. He blasted those who opposed the budget.

“They were bankrupt in terms of ideas,” said Jasper. “There were really no ideas that they had other than to say ‘somebody else needs to figure this out.’”

Thirty-two Republicans did not support Republican’s leadership trailer bill, which failed by a 177-169 vote. That came the same day that 66 Republicans rejected the leadership’s $11.9 billion budget bill, which failed by a 220-134 vote. One of the key components of the leadership budget was $50 million in property tax relief for cities and towns.

Yet, for keen political observers the ultimate failure of the state budget was predicated weeks ago, as conservative House members did not like that spending increased over former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s budget and that the budget created by the House Finance Committee lacked tax cuts.

Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, is the leader of the House Freedom Caucus. He led the charge against the House Republican’s leadership budget. He tweeted about how he could “see trouble” getting the budget passed two weeks before the vote.

“The Speaker pulled me out of the budget hearing,” Hoell told New Hampshire Public Radio before the vote. “We sat in the back of the room and talked and I explained that some of us wanted to see tax cuts. There are no tax cuts in this budget. I’ve left it up to the Speaker whether he wants to play ball and make these changes or not. That’s entirely up to him.”

The comparisons between the conservatives in the New Hampshire House derailing the budget and conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives blocking the Obamacare repeal because it didn’t go far enough are justified.

On Wednesday, the House failed to pass HB1 and HB2, which were created by the House Finance Committee and approved by the Republican leadership, by a 220-134 vote. After that budget was voted down, conservatives attempted to cobble together in an amendment their version of a budget, but that also failed on a 282-76 vote. House Democrats offered their own plan, but it lost by 34 votes, the closest any budget came to passing that day. The final vote was 196-162. The House then tabled the budget bill and recessed until Thursday morning.

A Wednesday deadline for new amendments to be brought forward to the state budget debate saw six amendments filed, yet none from House Republican leadership. They said it would be “disrespectful” to change the hard work and time the Finance Committee put in to create the budget.

When the House reconvened on Thursday, a trailer bill that accompanied the budget proposed by the finance committee failed, and the leadership saw no possible way they could get a budget passed, so they voted to recess, essentially not giving a budget to the Senate to work on.

Jasper condemned the 32-member conservative caucus who voted against the budget.

“This is just a movement of people who, I think, are totally disconnected from their constituents and totally disconnected from the facts,” he told reporters after the vote.

Yet, Jasper wanted to quell fears about the implication of the House not passing a budget.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “This is a step in the process, and while it is unusual, it really doesn’t affect anybody in the state because the Senate is going to move forward with their proposal.”

The Senate Finance Committee will begin drafting its version of a state budget on Monday, launching a weeks-long process of hearings and meetings before they present it to the full Senate for a vote. Senate GOP leaders said they will use Sununu’s budget proposal as a base and have also invited House Finance Committee members to present their plan, so they aren’t completely shut out of the process.

 

THE O’BRIEN FACTOR

There were outside groups influencing representatives before the state budget vote this week. It wasn’t the usual dark money organizations that try to sway elections. It was former House Speaker William O’Brien. Jasper defeated him in the 2014 speaker race with the help of the entire Democratic caucus. O’Brien was in contact with several conservative members ahead of the budget vote, encouraging them to vote their conscience.

“You have the critical mass to require a budget that fulfills the commitment that the NH Republican Party has made in its platform to: ‘[l]imit the growth of state spending to not more than the rate of inflation plus population growth.'” He wrote in an email to representatives. “If you ignore the threats, warnings, and ultimatums, and if you stand together and tough, you will prevail.”

After the budget failed, O’Brien sent a congratulatory email to members who voted against the budget and trailer bill.

“I don’t want to talk about individuals,” Jasper said when asked about whether O’Brien influenced the state budget vote. “But there were clearly outside influences who were ginning up members to vote no. There’s no question about that, and that’s unfortunate.”

 

JASPER SPEAKERSHIP IN JEOPARDY

With the recent budget failure, this marks the second important issue Jasper failed to get through the House. Right-to-work legislation, which Sununu called a top priority for the state, failed earlier this year in the House after moderate Republicans sided with Democrats to kill the bill.

With a 53-member majority, Jasper shouldn’t have that much of an issue getting bills passed, and if he can’t keep his party unified, there could be calls for him to resign as speaker in favor of someone else.

Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, challenged Jasper for the speakership in November, but lost. She’s a member of the conservative House Republican Alliance who voted against the leadership budget on Wednesday, but voted in favor of the trailer bill on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, we were shut down in many steps in the process,” she told WMUR. “I think we could have come up with a way to pass a Republican budget, and, unfortunately, that debate was shut down.”

She has no intention of challenging Jasper, but said she has heard from people who are not too happy with how Jasper is doing as speaker.

“Many folks are concerned about the leadership’s style because there’s a feeling that there hasn’t been a lot of give and take and listening, and they’d like to see more of that,” she said. “I’m hoping the speaker listens and learns from this experience so we can get together to get one Republican budget accomplished this year.”

 

DEMOCRATS BLAME SUNUNU

While fingers were pointed at Jasper for the budget failure, Democrats were quick to cast blame on Sununu for not effectively leading his party and getting a budget passed.

“[Sununu] has chosen to threaten rather than build coalitions, stay silent rather than making his opinions known, and stay distant rather making his presence felt,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley in a statement. “His sense of entitlement has led him to expect support rather than work for it. Sununu was supposed to be the leader of the party; instead, the tail is wagging the dog.”

Even Jasper said he didn’t want to comment on Sununu’s involvement in getting the budget passed.

“With all due respect I’m just going to keep my thoughts on that to myself,” he said. “I have enjoyed my working relationship with the governor. He did come into our caucus twice and I’m going to leave it with that.”

Yet, in a statement from the governor’s office, it appears Sununu is putting the budget failure in the hands of House leadership.

“While I’m disappointed that House leadership couldn’t get a budget passed today, I am encouraged that the Senate has moved swiftly to take up my budget as a starting point for their deliberations,” he said.

Although Sununu is essentially the face and leader of the Republican Party, he might actually end up getting what he originally wanted.

The House version of the state budget cut his full-day kindergarten proposal, scholarship fund, and funding for the Alcohol Fund. Those were key priorities he made during his budget speech in February.

Now, the Senate said they will use his budget proposal as a starting point and they’ve already passed a number of bills on issues related to Sununu’s budget priorities, which indicates they’re more likely to include several of the governor’s wish list items.

While Democrats are trying to paint Sununu as the loser of this budget battle, he actually poises as a potential winner for not having his budget slashed…yet.

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Where Does NHDP Chairman Ray Buckley Fit In With DNC Reform?

After an unsuccessful run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Ray Buckley wants to change the way the national party does its elections–yet how much influence and power he wields in the new DNC leadership is still largely unknown.

In an email to DNC members, Buckley, the chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP), laid out his proposal on how to improve campaigns and elections for officers in the coming years. He noted that an impressive $4 million was spent in the DNC chairman’s election, an unprecedented number of candidates ran, and the race was in the national spotlight in a way that it hasn’t been in the past.

“It is likely that the level of interest we saw this year will continue, and so it is a good time to examine whether any reforms or changes could improve the process, while insuring more fairness, accountability, and transparency,” he wrote.

His proposal includes campaign finance limits and full disclosure of receipts and expenditures. He suggested limiting contributions to $500 per donor and not accepting any “dark money.”

“As the party that opposes big money and corporate money in politics, I also would limit donations to individual donors, labor, and progressive organizations,” he wrote. “No donations from any business, corporation or their PAC [political action committee] or lobbyists would be permitted.”

He would also forbid DNC employees, consultants, or even employees of consulting firms that do business with the DNC from publicly or privately supporting a candidate for DNC officer.

WMUR was the first to report about Buckley’s plan.

It’s not immediately clear if any of his proposals would be implemented under the new DNC order.

Despite having the most party leadership experience of the lot, he was still a dark horse candidate. Buckley was vice chair for the DNC and president of the Association for State Democratic Chairs (ASDC), which led him to have many voting members as friends and allies.

The two frontrunners, Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Tom Perez, labor secretary under President Barack Obama, stole the headlines at the various debates and forums. It was essentially a Clinton versus Sanders match up again, since Ellison backed former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Perez was a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Buckley eventually dropped out of the election, shortly before the DNC chair vote in February, endorsing Ellison for the post. Ultimately, Perez won the chair and made Ellison a deputy chair.

The DNC chair race revealed deep wounds for the Democratic Party, which still had not healed from the hotly contested battle between Sanders and Clinton for the presidential nomination. Some Democrats claim the DNC favored Clinton when it was supposed to be neutral. The Wikileaks emails didn’t help the cause, revealing that former DNC chairs Debbie Wasserman-Schulz and Donna Brazile coordinated with the Clinton campaign during the primaries.

After his victory, Perez vowed to heal the party and bring a unified Democratic Party to defeat President Donald Trump’s agenda and beat Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections, but Buckley’s role in the national party has changed since he ran for the chairmanship.

He’s no longer a vice chair for the DNC and there is a new president for the ASDC, with Buckley’s position now listed as “president emeritus.” Although Perez made Ellison a deputy chair after the close election between the two, the position is largely symbolic and doesn’t have any official duties. Even though Buckley backed Ellison, and Ellison has a prominent position, it’s not clear if their agenda would be enacted.

Ellison was recently in New Hampshire for his first public appearance as deputy chair at the NHDP’s state committee meeting on March 25, where Buckley was reelected as state party chairman for a sixth term. Ellison and Buckley argued that the party has been too focused on the White House and not enough on the state legislatures and governorships.

“We’ve got to have a higher vision than just winning an election,” Ellison said. “When we set our sights as really agents and champions for the American people, people start feeling the flow.”

On top of that, Perez is launching a major overhaul of the party’s organization, requesting resignation letters from all current staffers. While it’s usually routine to see major turnover under new leadership, the mass exodus allows Perez to completely rebuild the DNC and determine how it should be structured in the future.

“It sounds good if you’re looking for change, but it’s not what people were clamoring for,” said liberal New Hampshire radio host Arnie Arnesen to The Boston Herald about the DNC shakeup.

“They weren’t angry at the people working within the base of the Democratic Party. They were furious with the leadership. I’m not sure that gets us to the goal,” she added. “I think it hurts a lot of little people. Is that what the Democratic Party is supposed to be known for?”

As for Buckley, it looks like he’s going to be focused on New Hampshire for a while. He’s going to focus on strengthening local communities and grassroots ahead of 2018, with the hopes of flipping the state legislature and taking back the corner office. Will he, or his platform, still be heard up the ranks at the DNC, though? Only time will tell.

“With all that we’ve accomplished, 2016 is a prime example of why we cannot afford to rest on our laurels,” he wrote in a Monday op-ed for the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We know that our economic and social progress means Democratic ideas are working, and our electoral success shows Granite Staters understand that. But we need now more than ever to put our nose to the grindstone and keep fighting.”

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Who’s Responsible for NH Being Named 2nd Best State in US?

It’s official. New Hampshire is ranked the 2nd best state in the country. Well, according to U.S. News & World Report, which released Tuesday the findings of its “Best State” rankings.

To some, the rankings are looked at as a symbol of the progress the Granite State has made. For others, it’s seen as a waste of time and not reflective of what’s actually going on in the state.

That’s true, at least, for Louisiana, which came in last place, and whose governor told The Boston Globe that the list used statistics and indicators from before his term. A spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who took office in 2016 after years with Republicans in charge, said the ranking system could be helpful in guiding public policy, but it “lacks critical information.”

New Hampshire’s southern neighbor, Massachusetts, took the title as “best state” and state officials, on both sides of the aisle applauded the news.

Regardless if states agree with the rankings or not, it’s true that they do shape the public policy discussion and highlight issue areas where the state could improve.

Even Gov. Chris Sununu told reporters that the number 2 ranking “helps immensely” as he works to court new businesses from out-of-state.

“Though we have much work to do to ensure that our state continues to grow and thrive, this announcement is something that Granite Staters can be particularly proud of today,” he said in a press release. “It will also serve as useful information to those considering moving their home or business to New Hampshire.”

The survey was conducted by evaluating states across 68 metrics and tens of thousands of data points provided by McKinsey & Company’s Leading States Index. The seven different categories — healthcare, education, infrastructure, crime and corrections, opportunity, economy, and government — were weighted based on a national “citizen experience” survey asking people to prioritize each area in their state and their levels of satisfaction with government services. The combined ranking in each category determined a state’s order.

For New Hampshire, the state ranked 4th in healthcare, 3rd in education, 12th in infrastructure, 13th in crime and corrections, 1st in opportunity, 13th in economy, and 30th in government.

Photo Credit: U.S. News & World Report

Photo Credit: U.S. News & World Report

As with any good news in the state, the second place ranking quickly became a battle over who should get credit for it. Can Sununu, who has been in office for only two months, tout it on his resume? Should former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan receive the praise? Or how about the Republican-controlled Legislature which passes the bills and laws impacting these rankings?

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said the state’s high ranking reflects the accomplishments of Hassan, who is now the freshman senator from the Granite State.

“Thanks to Senator Maggie Hassan’s steady leadership in the Governor’s office over the last four years, New Hampshire has been recognized as the number one state in the nation for economic opportunity and the number two-ranked state overall,” Buckley said in a statement.

“As Governor, Senator Hassan worked across party lines to balance two fiscally responsible budgets that protected critical economic priorities for our people and to pass and reauthorize our Medicaid expansion program that has strengthened the health and financial security of more than 50,000 hard-working Granite Staters,” he added. “She also froze in-state tuition at our universities and reduced tuition at community colleges, and cut taxes for our small businesses that are the backbone of our economy.”

Democratic politicians also said Hassan’s leadership deserves the credit for the high ranking. Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said “Maggie Hassan made this happen.”

However, others said it doesn’t matter who is responsible for the high ranking. It should be on what the state needs to do in order to improve, said Greg Moore, state director for the New Hampshire chapter of the Americans for Prosperity.

For example, even where the state received high rankings, there are still some troubling statistics within those numbers. New Hampshire ranked 3rd for education. It came in first place for “Pre-K to 12” education, for its strong test scores and college readiness. Yet, it came in 39th for higher education due to high college costs and amount of student debt at graduation.

Sununu admitted to the high cost of tuition for the public university system. In his budget that he revealed in February, he didn’t increase funding for it either, but he revealed a plan that he believes will help solve the problem.

“I’ve put forth a plan for a $5 million scholarship program in the state, not to help 10 or 20 or 100 students, but over 8,000 students, [who] can really grab on to these funds and not just use them for our university system, but they can use it for community colleges, career schools, private schools,” he told NH1 News. “Whatever pathway they think will best provide them the tools to enter the workforce. We’re making those changes today and again I think we’ll see a lot of growth in those rankings as we move forward.”

Moore also said the state should focus on the business tax rate as a way to stimulate economic growth and encourage businesses to expand to New Hampshire. In the rankings, New Hampshire ranked near the bottom for GDP growth (32nd place). He pointed to the fact that the Granite State has a higher business profits tax rate (8.2 percent) than Massachusetts (8 percent). He is supportive of further reducing that rate.

“It certainly is fair to point out that that legislative leaders pushed for the tax cuts strongly, and that then-Gov. Hassan vetoed the budget over them, but thankfully we were able to make them a reality,” he told NH Journal. “If we want to be more competitive than Massachusetts, we need to continue to expand on the successful business tax relief efforts we’ve had to this point.”

By looking at the low rankings in the different categories for New Hampshire, lawmakers can figure out what they need to discuss to take the title of “Best State” away from the Bay State.

Although, New Hampshire is already technically the “Best State” since Massachusetts is a Commonwealth…if you want to be technical.

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