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Dan Tuohy's Granite Status: FBI head's firing, midterm elections create buzz in NH

By DAN TUOHY
May 10. 2017 9:40PM


U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen promises to follow the money that fired FBI Director James Comey requested to expand the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Shaheen, D-NH, said she would look into Comey’s request, which came days before President Donald Trump fired him, through her role as the ranking Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FBI budget.

The request for additional resources for the investigation into Russian interference, including potential ties to Trump’s 2016 campaign, was first reported by The New York Times. In his letter to Comey on the immediate termination, Trump broached the subject of being under investigation:

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator called for an independent counsel to investigate. “The American public has a right to know to what end Russia interfered in our election,” Shaheen said.

In other news of the FBI vacancy, Fox News reported that former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican and former New Hampshire Attorney General, could be a potential successor.

Trump said a search for a new director would begin immediately. “The FBI is one of our nation’s most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement,” he said in a statement.

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THE 2018 MIDTERMS are already generating a lot of buzz based on the amount of GOP chatter about the depth of its candidate bench. In the 1st Congressional District, a familiar name recently came up: Jack Heath. The veteran newsman, host of “New Hampshire Today” on WGIR radio, tells Granite Status that some party leaders and activists have approached him about a potential run. “While flattered, I am not planning any run. I love doing my radio show too much,” he replied. Heath ran for Congress in a crowded GOP field in 1996, the year former Rep. John E. Sununu, R-NH, won his first term. New Hampshire’s all-Democrat congressional delegation is a motivating factor for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which this week launched a digital ad, “Promise Made, Promise Kept.” It’s about House Republicans passing the American Health Care Act and it accuses Democrats of trying to preserve the status quo while “Obamacare is collapsing.”

In the 2nd District, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, who argues that Obamacare should be fixed not replaced, is trying to nail down an administration commitment to ensuring coverage for pre-existing conditions, protection for rural hospitals and older Americans, and support for drug treatment and recovery services. Kuster wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price before joining the “opioid listening session” at the State House on Wednesday. She echoed Democrat concerns the American Health Care Act, aka Trumpcare, will result in millions of Americans losing coverage.

She also wrote Price a letter urging for commitments. “The ongoing debate about the future of health care in our country has left me deeply concerned that the Trump administration does not appreciate the need for a system that provides for the well-being of all Americans,” Kuster wrote.

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THE AMERICAN Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of New Hampshire for invalidating absentee ballots, alleging that many of those votes were cast by people with disabilities. The lawsuit challenges a state law that allows election officials to reject an absentee ballot, without notice, if they think there is a signature mismatch in the voter’s paperwork, according to the ACLU-NH, which estimates more than 500 voters over five years were disenfranchised under the law. The lead plaintiff is Mary Saucedo, a 94-year-old Manchester resident who is legally blind and allowed to get help in completing the absentee ballot request. In a statement via the ACLU, Saucedo recalled growing up during the Depression. “My father instilled the importance of voting in me,” she said. “It was not about the party you voted for, but about picking the most qualified candidate. He taught me that everyone who is eligible should vote. It was our duty because voting is what makes our country independent.”

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SO WHAT IS going on in the House Democratic caucus? State Rep. Joseph Stallcop, D-Keene, announced Wednesday he is now a Libertarian. He is the third Democrat to leave the House caucus. Rep. Mariellen MacKay of Nashua and Rep. Robert Theberge of Berlin changed their affiliation to Republican earlier this spring. Stallcop will join Rep. Caleb Dyer, L-Pelham, in the Libertarian caucus, which is all of two people in the State House. Darryl W. Perry, chairman of the LPNH, called it a historic day — the first time in nearly two decades that the Legislature has a Libertarian caucus. Stallcop said his decision to jump ship was inspired in part by watching the protests at Standing Rock. “I originally joined the Democratic Party in hopes of making a difference through critical thinking and my classical liberal viewpoint,” he said in a statement. “Yet, with the lack of unbiased data in caucuses as well as backlash on votes I’ve independently made, it seems there is no longer a place for me here.”

If the roles were reversed, Democrats would not likely be biting their tongues. And so we hear from Jeanie Forrester, the chairwoman of the Republican State Committee. “Would the last one in the New Hampshire Democrat Party please turn out the lights?” she said. “Yet another former Democrat has concluded that the party of big government and obstruction is no longer worth being a member of.” Forrester claimed the three former Democrats were “bullied by Democrat leadership.”

House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, said there is nothing to read into with his caucus being minus three. “It’s just kind of a shakeout,” he said.

For politicos keeping score at home, the House membership is now 221 Republicans, 170 Democrats, and two Libertarians. Speaker Shawn Jasper joined state representatives from both sides of the aisle this week in mourning the loss of Rep. William R. Polewarczyk, who died May 6 after a long battle with cancer.

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Quick takes:

• Shaheen and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, were on opposite sides of Monday’s vote to confirm Heather Wilson of South Dakota for Secretary of the Air Force. The Senate confirmed Wilson, a Keene native, 76-22. Shaheen supported her. Hassan opposed the nomination. Her spokesman said the senator had concerns about past allegations that Wilson, while in Congress, attempted to apply political pressure to a U.S. Attorney, and reports she may have overstepped or overlooked lobbying restrictions when she was a former consultant.

• Former Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, raised nearly $30,000 from his recent fundraiser at Chen Yang Li in Bow. He’s running unopposed for the GOP primary for the vacant Senate District 16. He and Libertarian Jason Dubrow will face the winner of the Democratic primary, either Kevin Cavanaugh or Jim Normand, in a special election July 25. Cavanaugh just picked up the endorsement of Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, who will be the special guest at a fundraiser Monday night.

• Is former U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, a Democrat, back to testing the political waters? Hodes was scheduled to speak Wednesday night in Exeter to the Rockingham County Democrats on "The Battle to Safe the Affordable Care Act.

• Gov. Sununu will sign a proclamation Friday for Children of Fallen Patriots Day, which recognizes the nearly 20,000 children nationwide who have lost an active duty parent in the military over the past 35 years.

Dan Tuohy covers politics and government for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Email news and information to dtuohy@unionleader.com.


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