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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Upcoming toll vote already likely to play 2018 role

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 30. 2017 9:55AM

The proposed, 50 percent increase in turnpike tolls has become a major talking point ahead of the 2018 election season.

And critics of that plan’s chief architect, Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Exeter, said his championing of this idea is the last straw.

“He must really want to be opposed in a primary between this and Planned Parenthood funding,” Dan Hynes, a House Republican from Merrimack and former State Senate hopeful, said on Facebook after news of the plan surfaced.

Veteran Republican operative Michael Biundo of Manchester noted this is not a good look for Prescott.

“Russ seems to be slipping,” Biundo posted.

Anti-abortion activist and former Manchester State Rep. Barbara Hagan chipped in, “Time to vote him out.”

Former Republican State Chairman Steve Duprey said there’s a silver lining to the plan.

“Remember, over half the tolls are paid by out of staters. I like that,” Duprey said.

Prescott had a voting record opposed to abortion in the State Senate. Like Gov. Chris Sununu, however, Prescott supported resuming state family planning grants for Planned Parenthood because no other providers emerged to do the work.

New Hampshire Motor Transportation Association Robert Sculley of Merrimack said Prescott’s backing of a toll hike would be a deal breaker.

“If someone opposes Russ in a primary next year, we’re not going to be with the councilor,” Sculley said. “Maybe there aren’t enough of us who feel this way but he’s hearing from our members, I know that for sure.”

For his part, Prescott said the responsible thing for him to do was to propose this toll hike. He stressed that he still has not committed to support the proposal when it comes for a final vote either Dec. 6 or Dec. 20.

“I’ve run a small business with my brother. We have grown a business from 10 to 45 employees,” Prescott began.

“We do that because when something needs to be done, we bite the bullet, work extra long and invest so the future is going to be a better place for our company. As an executive, we know we have a lot of these projects in the pipeline that must be done.”

The plan is not etched in stone.

Gov. Sununu could bring about changes to the proposal and the public’s input at a meeting next Monday will have impact as well, Prescott said.

“I brought it forward because I thought it was the right step for New Hampshire,” Prescott added.

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Fiscal conservatives are also warning Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, that his support of the toll hike could put him at risk as well.

Greg Moore, state director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, started a social media bid to poke Pappas that a vote for higher tolls could damage him in a general election campaign for First District congressman if Pappas got that far.

“He’s going to wear this vote if he makes it whether this toll increase ultimately goes through or not,” Moore vowed.

Pappas has pointed out this toll increase would speed up needed renovations and widening of Exits 6 and 7 off Interstate 293 in Manchester.

“In Manchester, I heard loud and clear that we need to expedite the construction,” he said. “It’s a public safety concern.”

State Democratic leaders have backed up Pappas and maintained hat the majority of voters would support raising more money for infrastructure through user fees.

Pappas had a very successful, grassroots kickoff Tuesday night at the Puritan Backroom Conference Center, winning the backing of Stefany Shaheen of Portsmouth, Durham Democratic Rep. Marjorie Smith, ex-State Sen. Andrew Hosmer of Laconia and Derry Town Council Chairman Josh Bourdon.

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The first forum of Democratic hopefuls to replace retiring Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, is this Saturday at the Manchester Public Library.

Each announced candidate will give remarks of up to five minutes and any Democrat can attend as guest of this winter’s Democratic State Committee meeting by preregistering at

The five hopefuls joining Pappas are State Reps. Mark MacKenzie, D-Manchester and Mindi Messmer, D-Rye, Rochester City Attorney Terence O’Rourke of Alton, former Somersworth Mayor Lincoln Soldati and ex-Obama administration official and veteran Maura Sullivan of Portsmouth.

The event starts at 11:30 a.m.

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Gov. Chris Sununu met with Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday and endorsed the tax reform bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, joined with 14 of her Democratic colleagues to call for a bipartisan bill that gives more aid to small business and middle-class families than they say the White House-backed version does.

Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, had her own victory this week when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill she had co-sponsored to require members of Congress and staff to complete sexual harassment training.

Kuster’s own sexual harassment story got more national attention with her interview on National Public Radio about being sexually assaulted as a congressional staffer by the late, famous heart surgeon, Dr. Christiaan Barnard.

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House Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, is expected to become the next speaker of the House when the full House makes that call today.

Once Chandler made it clear he was only going to be a caretaker — serve out this term and not seek re-election as speaker after the 2018 elections — he became the obvious favorite.

The one question today is the number of conservative House members who protest voting for Chandler by either casting a blank ballot or voting for North Swanzey Republican Rep. Jim McConnell who dropped out of the GOP caucus race to become the Libertarian Party nominee.

That party link gives McConnell only three votes so he would need several dozen more for this race to be winnable for House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff.

What most observers are closely watching is what comes next.

Who will Chandler name to replace him as deputy? Will he promote to that post House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack?

If he does, who would become the top House Republican? Chandler has said he will seek to name to his expanded team some groups that Speaker Shawn Jasper alienated such as the House Republican Alliance.

This now allows all those who didn’t win to keep campaigning full time to replace Chandler as the next speaker after November 2018.

One should expect Goffstown Rep. John Burt and Londonderry GOP Rep. Al Baldasaro to probably do just that especially since they closed ranks and supported Chandler after he opened up a first-ballot lead.

The tougher choice faces Bedford Republican Rep. Laurie Sanborn. For the second time, she’s been a very competitive runner-up for the gavel.

Does she try and make three times a charm in December 2018 or does she run for the State Senate seat, her husband, Andy, is vacating to run for Congress?

“We didn’t prevail today but we might try again; we’ll see,” Sanborn said. “It’s just too early to tell.”

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Congratulations to former Gov. John H. Sununu who had successful knee replacement surgery this week at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. He gave a Twitter shout out to Atlantic Orthopedics, Portsmouth Region and his physician, Dr. Akhilesh Sastry.

“Looking forward to driving the ball another 10 yards on the golf course next year,” the elder Sununu tweeted.

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First District Democratic hopeful Terence O’Rourke picked up his own key endorsement from Portsmouth Police Commissioner Joseph Plaia.

“I have known Terence for nearly a decade and he is the type of visionary and results-oriented leader we need in Congress. He is a wonderful father and the hardest working, most dedicated public servant I have ever met,” Plaia said.

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New Hampshire supporters are sponsoring a fundraiser at the Copper Door in Bedford Dec. 12 for Beth Lindstrom, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts to oppose Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Lindstrom is a former state lottery director under ex-MA. Gov. Mitt Romney.

She also ran the U.S. Senate special election campaign in 2010 for Scott Brown when he won his Massachusetts Senate seat and then went on to manage Hollis Republican Jim Bender’s own Senate bid.

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Noted tax cut advocate Grover Norquist will be the timely, keynote speaker for the Christmas meeting of Granite State Taxpayers on Dec. 12.

The Murphy’s Tap Room & Carriage House event in Bedford is open to all as those attending do not have to be a member of GST.

Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and will speak on the Capitol Hill debate on the issue, officials said.

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