February 15. 2017 11:43PM

Dan Tuohy's Granite Status: Right-to-Work showdown creates unique dynamics




ON THE RIGHT-TO-WORK BILL, is Gov. Chris Sununu working the hard-sell? Is he wooing state reps? Engaging in the proverbial arm-twisting?

The first-term Republican says he’s talked to “a few people” about one of his campaign promises, but he tells us he’s respecting the legislative process.

“We feel pretty good that the votes are very likely there, but we’ll see what the House does,” Sununu said Wednesday. “We’re not out there banging the walls by any means. We’re letting the process take its place.”

As the House prepares to vote on it today, both friends and foes of the bill are counting heads and wondering what impact the snow storm will have on attendance.

Union members are rallying to oppose what they call “Right to Work for less.”

Former House Majority Leader Steve Stepanek, an Amherst Republican who was a state co-chairman for President Donald Trump, said he had not heard of any out-of-state leader reaching out to House members on the issue. He’s encouraging Republicans to support Right to Work as a pro-growth, pro-development, and pro-business law.

“All we have to do is get Republicans to vote as Republicans and not as Democrats,” he said.

The House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee voted 14-7 to recommend the full House of Representatives kill the bill. The dynamics of the debate this year are rich. For example, the committee report advocating for defeat of the bill was written by Rep. Fred Doucette, R-Salem, another state co-chairman for Trump’s campaign.

House GOP leadership is behind the bill, and Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, might be hoping to get beyond this bill, already. He has promised to hit the floor to vote for it — Speakers rarely vote, typically to break a tie. Yes, Jasper’s name is on the 2016 endorsement list for the SEIU Local 1984, State Employees Association. So maybe he’s got something to prove in this debate, when the Sergeant-at-Arms’ voice booms, “ROLL CALL!”

Jasper’s been clear on his support for the bill. He even mentioned it at recent Republican State Committee meetings. Still, some supporters of Right-to-Work legislation claim the House Labor committee was stacked with opponents of the bill.

“It was set up for an ITL,” said Stepanek, referring to acronym for “inexpedient to legislate.”

Rep. Keith Murphy, R-Bedford, a Right-to-Work supporter who sits on the committee, tells Granite Status that the membership was not intentional. It’s not unusual, for example, for a legislator with experience in labor or employment issues to be on the committee, just as one will find a few retired teachers and school administrators sitting on House Education (like my high school math teacher, Rep. James Grenier, the gentleman farmer from Lempster).

Now the House, where Republicans enjoy majority control, will set about trying to overturn a committee recommendation, which, once upon a time, was a more challenging feat.

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SUNUNU SAYS he is unaware of any evidence of widespread voter fraud. Reporters asked about it again Wednesday, following Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, and his adviser Stephen Miller repeating an unsubstantiated claim that Democrats bused voters from Massachusetts into the Granite State to vote. In a radio interview last fall, Sununu made a similar claim about Democrats “busing them in” to sway elections. Does he stand by his comment? “I stand by the comment in that it was really referencing the ambiguity and the looseness, the gray areas, that we currently have within our election laws. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. He said he did not personally witness any busload of Bay State voters.

If he did, and had evidence, he could have collected $1,000 from former state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen. Cullen posted on Twitter that he would offer that sum to the first person who could prove that even one out-of-state voter took a bus from Massachusetts to a New Hampshire polling place. “Shockingly,” he said in a phone call Tuesday, “no one has come forward with any proof whatsoever.”

Sununu is interested in some of the election law bills pending in the Legislature, including better defining residency and “domicile” for the purpose of voting. 

“We have some of the loosest election laws in the country yet we have the first-in-the-nation primary,” he said. “That is a great responsibility and we have to make sure that system has the utmost integrity.”

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U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, met Wednesday with Judge Neil Gorsuch, the President’s nominee to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. (See related story.) Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, who’s tasked with guiding Gorsuch through the process, introduced them. When she was a sitting senator, Ayotte voted for lower court nominations, but never had the opportunity to vote yea or nay on a Supreme Court judicial nominee. For the most recent additions to the high court, Justice Elena Kagan in 2010 and Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009, then Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, and Shaheen voted in favor. Gregg and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were two of only five Republicans to support Kagan. Gregg and former Sen. John E. Sununu, R-NH, backed Justice Samuel Alito, who was confirmed on a 58-42 vote in 2006, and Chief Justice John Roberts, in 2005.

The last New Hampshire senator to oppose a Supreme Court nominee was former Sen. Bob Smith, R-NH. He opposed Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, confirmed on a 96-3 vote in 1993, and Stephen Breyer, confirmed on a 87-9 vote in 1994 (Gregg voted in favor of both).

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THE GOVERNOR and Executive Council have approved special elections for two House vacancies. The first is for Hillsborough District 44, which is Litchfield and Manchester wards 8 and 9, which was created when Rep. Andre Martel of Manchester died in December. The second vacancy is Carroll County District 6, which represents Wolfeboro, and the vacancy resulted when Rep. Harold Parker resigned in order to join the administration of Gov. Chris Sununu. The state set the primary for April 4, and the special election is May 23. The candidates for the Manchester-Litchfield seat are Republicans Mark McLean of Manchester and George Lambert of Litchfield, and Democrats James R. Morin of Manchester and Ryan Curran of Manchester. Candidates for the Wolfeboro seat are Republicans Seamas Oscalaidhe and Matthew J. Plache, and Democrat Edith DesMarais.

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Patrick Hynes, president of Hynes Communications, is helping the Republican State Committee and new Chair Jeanie Forrester. The consultant, whose long resume includes being an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain, will be a senior adviser, likely starting in March. He’s currently volunteering in a limited capacity, and will continue with existing clients. He’s based in New Hampshire and in Washington.

• Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, cheered Andrew Puzder withdrawing his nomination Wednesday for U.S. Labor Secretary. “The American people deserve a Secretary of Labor who will put workers before corporate special interests, and that is what I will continue to stand up for,” she said.

• Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is the guest speaker for the Concord-Merrimack County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner Feb. 20, starting at 5:30 p.m., at the Grappone Conference Center. The city and county GOP committees are cheering Bevin, a New Hampshire native, for signing his state’s Right-to-Work law.

• The Hillsborough County GOP holds its Lincoln-Reagan celebration March 2, starting at 6 p.m., at the Event Center in Brookline, with Gov. Sununu as their guest.

• Quote of the week: “Cultural Resources has always been treated like an adopted stepchild in this state,” Gov. Sununu during his budget presentation to the House Finance Committee on Tuesday.

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