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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Sununu touts successes, saying, 'You can't win them all but we've won a lot'

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 16. 2018 9:59PM

Gov. Chris Sununu pushed back this week regarding his mixed record of success with the Republican-led Legislature that has rejected some of his top priorities — right-to-work, Marsy’s Law, education vouchers among them.

When Republicans gained control of the corner office, the Executive Council and the entire Legislature in 2016 for the first time in 14 years, some people may have assumed it would be smooth sailing for the likeable new governor with the famous name who had both a former governor and U.S. senator to call upon for advice.

But the Newfields Republican said every New Hampshire chief executive must appreciate that winning every battle isn’t possible when dealing with one of the largest legislative bodies in the free world, whether they are in your party or not.

“We fight hard for things we believe in,” Sununu told reporters, then firing a shot at some previous Democratic governors who, he suggested, were more cautious than he.

“Unlike previous administrations, I am always going to do that, fighting for what’s best for the people of this state...You win some, you lose some, and there is nothing wrong with that; it’s part of the process.”

Most issues aren’t seen through a partisan prism, he continued.

“It is not always about the Republican majority, it is about what is the best for the state.”

On Marsy’s Law, Sununu said its abject failure in the House was a matter of salesmanship and not the issue itself.

“It’s a phenomenal idea. It was messaged fairly poorly by the advocates and they couldn’t get around to messaging it properly to get House support,” Sununu said.

He has not given up on the cause. “It didn’t pan out. I would love to see it come back as a potential constitutional amendment so we are protecting the rights of victims of crime, that’s a fundamental right.”

Sununu went over the long list of agenda items he has achieved: a balanced budget, two years of business tax cuts, regulatory reform, universal public kindergarten aid, a flush Rainy Day Fund and a massive investment in fighting the opioid crisis.

“I am not the Legislature. We work with the Legislature, we try to advocate with them. They are going to vote the way they are going to vote; we advocate the best we can. You can’t win them all but we’ve won a lot.”

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The fight over campaign finance reform between two Democratic candidates for governor is not going away any time soon.

Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand reignited the battle this week calling upon rival and former state Sen. Molly Kelly of Harrisville to sign the People’s Pledge for reform that seeks to get all third-party spending for or against candidates out of the process.

Under the pledge, the candidate who profits from any independent spending campaign would have to donate 50 percent of its value to the charity of the rival candidate’s choice.

Both U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, D-NH, failed to get their GOP rivals to agree to the pledge as did U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, when she unseated 1st District Congressman Frank Guinta in 2016.

This comes after Marchand unveiled his campaign finance plan that includes taxpayer-paid financing of state campaigns for candidates who raise a threshold of money from their own donors.

“As bold and specific as our plan is, however, it does not directly address the role of outside spending in our state elections,” Marchand wrote Kelly.

In response, Kelly spokesman Chris Moyer referred to last week’s Status that noted while Marchand’s plan included getting rid of corporate donations, he had already taken more than $13,000 of them for his 2018 campaign. “Let’s set the record straight: Molly Kelly is the only candidate in this race — not Chris Sununu and not Steve Marchand — who has not accepted a penny of corporate contributions — a commitment she made on day one of her campaign to ensure the people of New Hampshire’s voices are heard in this critical election,” Moyer said.

“Steve Marchand should keep his supposed commitment to campaign finance reform and return the thousands of dollars of corporate contributions he’s already accepted.”

You have to figure this will come up when the two address the Cheshire County Democratic Committee Saturday at the Keene Country Club. The guest speaker is Ohio Congressman and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Tim Ryan.

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There looks to be a showdown today between House and Senate Republican budget writers over how much extra spending is going to be permitted in the so-called Christmas tree bill (HB 1817) that came over from the Senate last week.

To be sure, legislative leaders agree on much of it. House leaders have already offered to vote for the $44 million out-of-court settlement over uncompensated care, $13 million pay raise for state workers, $20 million for red-listed bridges and $10 million deposit into the Rainy Day Fund.

But they are balking at the rest, which includes some Sununu-backed initiatives like a one-time tax break for first-time home buyers, more money for full-day kindergarten and a tax credit for recovery-friendly workplaces.

What gives? Well, many House conservatives remain ticked off over the education choice scholarships, including House Finance Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, who was concerned the program’s cost would be borne by taxpayers.

Then there’s the fiscally-conservative Americans for Prosperity digital ad buy that has urged viewers to sign a petition urging lawmakers to reject the spending spree.

State Director Greg Moore said 15,000 citizens have signed the petition.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, is worried his proposals may not come off the chopping block, in-home services for seniors and volunteer “foster grandparents” for at-risk children.

“These are such short spending items that do so much good in the community,” D’Allesandro said.

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One hot topic Sununu is not going anywhere near was the fight over ending the Republican Party platform’s support for “traditional” families and marriage as being between only a man and a woman.

The Republican state convention last weekend refused to make any changes to the platform and ousted the architect of the gay rights plank, former Chairman Jennifer Horn, and her husband, as voting delegates because they had moved from their Nashua ward.

“I really don’t get involved in the platform issues, my job is to manage the state of 1.3 million people,” Sununu said.

Asked if he wasn’t the titular head of the Republican Party as its highest elected official Sununu answered, “Jeanie Forrester is chairman of the GOP, that’s not my job.”

But Sununu pointed out that he spoke last year to the New Hampshire Log Cabin Republicans, a pro-gay rights organization that Horn serves as co-chair.

“I think I was the first governor to do so,” Sununu said.

Sununu said he’s committed to a party that takes all comers.

“The party is a big tent. We are inclusive of the ideas of individual liberty, personal responsibility, local control, local government,” Sununu said.

“Are we going to agree on every issue in the platform? Not necessarily but at the end of the day we come together.” Sununu also didn’t want to weigh in on whether barring press and public from the convention and several GOP fund-raisers other than his own has been a good idea.

“That’s really up to the individual holding Republican and Democratic functions,” Sununu said. “Have the Democrats opened every fund-raiser?”

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Former Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern of Concord has made some big headway on a central theme of his campaign for Secretary of State in New Hampshire — ending partisan gerrymandering of election districts.

At Van Ostern’s urging, the New Hampshire Democratic Party looks to be on the verge of becoming the first in state history to openly advocate a non-partisan process for redrawing districts.

The party has released its draft platform for 2018 and it states, “We support a non-partisan state redistricting process designed to be free of partisan gerrymandering.”

Last month, Van Ostern ensured that supporters pushed for this change at all 12 platform hearings that were held across the state.

Meanwhile, Democrats may not be alone.

Van Ostern attended in late April the N.H. Libertarian Party convention and that platform panel adopted this language: “We oppose the practice of partisan gerrymandering on the grounds that it grants undue control over the electoral process to those currently in power by enabling them to marginalize constituents who hold opposing views and nullify the impact of their votes.”

“Having a secretary of state leading this change to end partisan gerrymandering would be a much better way to strengthen our elections than the various legislative proposals that our current secretary of state has chosen to actively push this past year — including efforts to restrict voting rights of college students or strip local officials of the power to reschedule town meetings in dangerous weather,” Van Ostern said in a statement.

In response, Secretary of State Bill Gardner has said he does not believe it is appropriate for the state’s non-political top election official to get into the middle of redistricting, a process that is the sole authority of the Legislature.

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Gray Chynoweth of Manchester, Democratic candidate for the District 4 seat in the Executive Council, has hired a campaign architect and released the names of 15 community leaders who will help him.

Rich Thuma has signed on as campaign manager. His experience includes New Hampshire Democratic politics in 2015-16 and he more recently managed a successful, Red-to-Blue campaign for a Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. He also worked on the Massachusetts campaigns of Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy.

Chynoweth’s advisory panel includes activists from Auburn, Barrington, Loudon, Deerfield and Hooksett along with several Manchester wards.

“New Hampshire works best when everyone is included. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I know Gray understands that and will look to our community for feedback on important issues,” said Mariana Rosas-Beer and Vivian Beer of Pembroke

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U.S. Sens. Hassan and Shaheen are pushing back hard on the Trump administration following published reports that a draft assessment is being withheld regarding the dangers of PFAS chemicals to human health.

Last week, Shaheen confirmed those living near the Pease International Tradeport were going to be the first case group as part of a nationwide $7 million study she championed over the dangers of these chemicals.

Politico Pro reported earlier this week that the draft report concludes these chemicals pose a danger at much lower levels than the Environmental Protection Agency has previously said were safe.

“The Trump administration must release this report immediately and hold accountable all who were involved in hiding it from the public,” Shaheen said. “This is an egregious example of politics interfering with the public’s right to know. New Hampshire families have been waiting for years for information that will shed light on the health impacts of exposure to PFAS chemicals and it’s unconscionable that even the existence of this study has been withheld until now.”

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Carly Fiorina, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is the featured speaker at the Freedom Founders Dinner for the Rockingham County Republican Committee at their annual event tonight at the Atkinson Country Club.

Since 2016, Fiorina has kept working on helping women out of poverty as chairman of Good 360 and Opportunity International and co-founder with Condolezza Rice of One Woman Initiative to help women in developing countries.

Senior Reporter Dave Solomon contributed to this report; Email news and tips to

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