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Dan Tuohy's Granite Status: Korea vet Barnes on current standoff: 'It's a helluva mess'

August 09. 2017 8:00PM

Former state Sen. Jack Barnes, a Korean war veteran, is concerned about the war of words over North Korea. (UNION LEADER FILE)

One night in the summer of 1951, Jack Barnes was assigned to an Army post during the Korean War. When the sun came up the next day, two of his fellow soldiers were dead. Two were missing. He went off in search of them, "A kid from Texas and a kid from Oklahoma." They were never found.

Barnes recounted his time on the front lines while discussing today's headlines: North Korea's nuclear threats and President Donald Trump's response.

"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen," Trump said Tuesday.

Barnes, a former state senator from Raymond, hopes diplomatic channels do not get gunked up. "It's a helluva mess," he said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sees Trump using language that North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un understands. That fiery rhetoric is part of the problem, according to U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH.

Hassan said she is concerned about North Korea's destabilizing actions. She supports steps to "check their aggression," such as new United Nations Security Council sanctions.

"This is an extremely volatile situation and we need steady and strategic leadership from the White House, not dangerous rhetoric that could further inflame this situation," Hassan said in a statement.

Tillerson said, "Americans should sleep well at night."

Barnes, who backed a different candidate in the New Hampshire primary, said he hopes Trump is more careful with his choice of words in exchange with a "two-bit dictator."

The Korean War veteran said he is also thinking of the U.S. troops, and their dependents, stationed in South Korea. And this point brings him back to 66 years ago, and the remains of two soldiers that were never repatriated to U.S. soil.

Military records show 137 Granite Staters died in the Korean War.

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THE "MOOCH," aka former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, generated a bit of a buzz on social media this week when he followed a number of Granite Staters on Twitter. The list included several journalists, business people, and politicians, including @NeilLevesque, @TrentSpiner, @cityhallpaul, and yours truly.

"He spent quite a bit of time at the Institute," said Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics & Political Library. He recalled Scaramucci accompanied Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at a couple of events.

The Valley News reported last week that Scaramucci was a trustee at the Cardigan Mountain School, a private boarding school in Canaan, from 2013 until his resignation at the beginning of summer.

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FORMER U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-NH, argues evidence is mounting that Trump is unfit for office. This "Never Trump" conservative from Chichester sent a letter to U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster, D-NH, and Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, calling on them to support H.R. 1987, to create an Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity Act, to determine if Trump is "mentally fit." Democrats in the GOP-controlled U.S. House introduced the resolution early this year.

"President Trump's threat to rain down ‘fire and fury' on North Korea is like pouring gasoline on a fire. It's crazy," Humphrey wrote.

Don't expect Shea-Porter to sign on to H.R. 1987.

"The congresswoman agrees with Senator Humphrey that the Trump presidency has veered far off the rails," said Marjorie Connolly, her spokeswoman. "However, she believes creating a commission to pass judgment on the President's mental health sets a potentially anti-democratic precedent." Kuster spokesman Nick Brown said Kuster is also concerned about the potential precedent.

State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, an early Trump supporter, said Humphrey is letting his outrage cloud his judgment. He said the President is taking the correct course.

"That's how you stand up to a bully," Baldasaro said of North Korea.

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THE PRESIDENT calling New Hampshire a "drug-infested den," in a leaked phone call with Mexico's president six months ago, has had serious legs. Trump loyalists and a couple of recovery advocates have questioned if his statement, however ridiculous, rings true.

Renee Plummer, a Portsmouth businesswoman, GOP activist, and recovery advocate, recalled that opioid and heroin addiction was the top issue discussed by candidates in the year leading up to the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary. With the nation watching, "it looked like we were," she said, referring to the now infamous "drug-infested den" line.

Lou Gargiulo, who was Rockingham County co-chairman for Trump in 2016, said he would not have chosen such words. But, with nearly 500 drug overdose deaths last year, he said it is not incorrect. If the President's comments bring greater attention to the drug epidemic, then it's for the better, according to Gargiulo.

Plummer, who sits on the board for Hope for NH Recovery, was a co-organizer of a benefit Monday night for a Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, which raised close to $70,000. She said she wishes for continued support, and greater support, but expressed a level of frustration that is familiar to this story over the past year.

"I don't think people know what to do," she said.

New Hampshire Democrats faulted Trump for not coming up with specifics or a policy during his update this week on the opioid abuse crisis.

It is worth noting that Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump who visited New Hampshire in May to discuss the opioid and heroin epidemic, had this to say Tuesday of the health crisis: "No state has been spared and no demographic group has gone untouched."

The all-Democrat congressional delegation has called for Trump to apologize for his "drug-infested den" reference. Kuster, in an open letter to Trump, continued to push back.

"We are a small, but mighty state — home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the first American in space, and the first all-female congressional delegation," Kuster wrote. "We host championship dog sledding and ski races, Highland Games, and NASCAR. We boast the White Mountains, the world's largest pumpkin festival and the world's longest candy counter. Tourists flock to New Hampshire in every season to experience all our state has to offer."

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Theo Groh, of the New Hampshire Young Democrats and director of 603 Forward, said a record 21 young Democrats filed for various Manchester city and school office, including alderman, selectman, moderator and school board.

• The National Governors Association announced its 2017-2018 committee assignments Wednesday. Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, will serve on the NGA Economic Development and Commerce Committee.

Andy Martin, who won 202 votes in the 2016 New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, went on later that year to run in the GOP primary for the 2nd Congressional District, where he received 3,145 votes. Martin, of Manchester, filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission last month to run as a Republican for the 1st District in 2018.

• Martin is the third Republican in the race, after Eddie Edwards of Dover and state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford. Matt Mayberry, a former state GOP vice chairman, is expected to join the field soon. Mayberry says a decision is imminent. Sanborn has announced that five former state senators and one current senator, Harold French of Franklin, have endorsed him for Congress. The former senators coming out for Sanborn: former President Peter Bragdon, Jim Forsythe, John Gallus, Tom DeBlois, and Sam Cataldo.

• On a personal note, this is my final Granite Status column before I move on to a new opportunity at New Hampshire Public Radio. Thank you for reading and for caring so much about the Granite State and New Hampshire politics. The column will continue in a slightly different format with more frequent contributions from Dave Solomon, our Statehouse Bureau Chief, and Kevin Landrigan, along with others in the newsroom.

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