June 23. 2018 11:07PM

Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Bye-bye, Mr. Bates


The decision by longtime Finance Committee chair Neal Kurk to step away from the State House, at least for now, got a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Kurk had seniority, experience and credibility gained in 16 terms, representing Deering and Weare.

But many other prominent lawmakers from both parties have decided not to seek re-election in the fall, and their names are noticeably absent from the final list of representative candidates on the Secretary of State website.

Rep. Dave Bates, R-Windham, is in that group. The assistant majority whip in his fourth term set the stage for the election law debate that dominated much of the two-year session. But he won't be back.

When the session got underway, there were more than 30 bills filed to change New Hampshire election law, many of them proposed by Bates. He served on the Election Law Committee from 2009 to 2012, and has been a supervisor of the checklist in his hometown.

He filed several House bills related to the process by which would-be voters register on Election Day, but they all got nowhere. Instead, many of his ideas got wrapped into Senate Bill 3, which was passed, signed into law and is now being challenged in court. Eleven Republican senators and Majority Whip Kathleen Hoelzel are listed as sponsors of that bill, but no Bates.

Another bill filed by Bates in 2017, regarding the definition of domicile and residency for purposes of voting (HB 372), passed the House in March 2017 and the Senate in 2018, but died in conference committee.

The language Bates created for HB 372 lives on, however, in another bill about residency and domicile, HB 1264, which now awaits Gov. Chris Sununu's decision, as Sununu awaits a Supreme Court advisory opinion.

If you find all this confusing, so does Dave Bates.

No one ever explained to him why House leadership took his language from HB 372 , and placed it in a new bill, HB 1264, with a new set of sponsors.

"The House leadership did something really bizarre," he said. "They took a bill that had been retained, filed a new bill absolutely identical to it, and then left the prime sponsor out of it."

Whose names are on HB 1264? Deputy Speaker Sherm Packard; House Majority Leader Dick Hinch; Deputy Majority Leader John Graham; and Hoelzel.

Apparently Bates' position as assistant majority whip was not sufficient to gain him a spot on a piece of high-profile legislation, even though it was his invention. The best explanation he ever got for the change was that the bill would not pass otherwise.

"Those kinds of games are part of it," said Bates. "The fact is, I have a lot to contribute on election law, and if that's something they're not interested in my opinion on, it doesn't make sense for me to spend my time there."

Also not seeking re-election in the fall, one of the leading liberal voices in the House, Barrington Democrat Jackie Cilley, who served in the state Senate, ran unsuccessfully against fellow senator Maggie Hassan for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2012, and has been a representative for the past four years.

Her decision, for family reasons, leaves the door open for young activist and former Girl Scout Cassandra Levesque of Barrington. With Cilley as her mentor, Levesque over the past two years was the moving force behind legislation to raise the marriage age, and now has filed to run as a Democrat in the fall.

Two big conservative voices are retiring from the State House, at least for now. Republican J.R. Hoell, a founder of the right of center Freedom Caucus, is running as a delegate to the state convention, but is not seeking a return to his seat representing Dunbarton. Republican Dan Itse, a 9-year veteran with strong conservative and libertarian credentials, is also not running for re-election.

Concord Democrat, Mary Stuart Gile, a longtime champion of paid family medical leave, and an 11-term veteran of the House, is out of the running in November, after a frustrating two years in which a paid family leave bill finally seemed within reach, only to slip away late in the session.

About one-third of the representatives are not seeking re-election, which is fairly typical, according to House sources, including former House Speaker Bill O'Brien.

"Whenever I'm asked about term limits, I always say we don't need term limits in New Hampshire," he said. "Just naturally, a third of the Legislature turns over each cycle."