July 26. 2018 9:55AM

Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: How party leaders ended up with egg on their faces

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


Leaders in both political parties in the New Hampshire House of Representatives forgot an essential truth about special sessions.

They operate in a parallel universe from the regular meetings that lawmakers have. Anyone who wants to accomplish anything in them had better be careful, cautious and well-schooled in their studies.

On Wednesday, the powers that be in Representatives Hall did none of the above and that’s why Gov. Chris Sununu and many others with fancy political titles have egg all over their faces.

This looked like a slam dunk. Here comes a heavy-hitting task force offering all the legally crafted solutions needed to respond to a stunning U.S. Supreme Court decision that would make New Hampshire businesses collect sales taxes for other states chasing online purchases.

But Yogi Berra was right. This was deja vu all over again.

What we saw was exactly the outcome in the spring of 2017 in the House when then-Speaker Shawn Jasper had to endure the embarrassment of watching a proposed two-year state budget go down in flames.

Back then, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats who both didn’t like the spending bill for different reasons joined forces to croak it.

On Wednesday it was Special Session Senate Bill 1 getting its own one-way ticket to nowhere.

There were 78 libertarian-minded Republicans and 85 liberal Democrats opposing the solution and voting instead to just go with a commission to study the issue further.

The Republican-led state Senate, its GOP members seething that their 24-0 task force blueprint had blown up, refused to accept the bread crumb the House offered.

So we were left with a special session that got nothing done.

Meanwhile in the run-up to Wednesday, there were plenty of signs that this could happen.

House Freedom Caucus leader and Dunbarton state Rep. J.R. Hoell came with former House Speaker Bill O’Brien and like-minded colleagues on Tuesday afternoon to tell Sununu’s staff brain trust in person that this bill was in trouble.

The Freedom Caucus had put out a statement urging the bill be rejected.

Here comes the careful and cautious part. The one thing rank-and-file House members don’t want to be told is that the Senate calls the shots.

So you put out special session rules that clearly state only a Senate bill or Senate-sponsored resolution may be acted upon in this session.

“What does this say to every House member?” Hoell asked rhetorically. “It says that they don’t matter, we’re here to do the Senate’s work, not our work.”

Hoell offered a comprehensive alternative rules change for the House which would keep legislators in special session for six weeks and allow House and Senate committees to further refine the work of the task force. The House rejected it.

“I’m not saying the task force product was awful; it just was rushed and we needed to do this right,” Hoell said.

On the Democratic side, Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff of Penacook was on board with the task force that he served on, but so many of his colleagues sure weren’t.

The Union Leader has confirmed Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, a holdout against the special session, had been calling House Democratic members urging them to go along only with a commission on the topic.

The message among many House Democrats also was in an election year, why would they give Sununu an obvious soap box to pontificate from on broad-based taxes.

It truly was the perfect storm and the H.M.S. Anti-Sales Tax tall ship’s voyage got dashed on the rocks.

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There’s another lesson from Wednesday’s debacle.

Anyone who tells you they know who the next Speaker of the House of Representatives will be really doesn’t have a clue.

There were three candidates for House Speaker that served on the task force and all were blindsided by the result — House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, Rep. Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown and Shurtleff.

Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, has nearly won the Speaker’s post and both times she had the backing of many in the House Freedom Caucus.

But she too didn’t defy the wishes of the elite and she backed the compromise.

The only three Republicans who in the past have run for Speaker and didn’t go along with the task force product were Reps. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, John Burt of Goffstown and Steven Smith of Charlestown.

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Eddie Edwards, 1st Congressional District Republican candidate, made some key staffing moves this week.

Sam Rubino of Rochester was named his campaign manager. Rubino has been a top advisor since last fall and prior to that worked on Congressman Greg Gianforte’s special election in eastern Montana.

Andy Demers of Manchester became grassroots consultant after having worked on Sen. Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign as well as a get-out-the-vote consultant to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2014 campaign.

Cody Belanger of Epping, at 23 the youngest ever elected selectman in that town, was tapped as the campaign’s field manager.

Liam Sullivan, a treasurer of the UNH College Republicans and Rochester native, will be field coordinator.

Next Wednesday Edwards gets to celebrate perhaps his biggest prize when former New York Mayor and Trump legal advisor Rudy Giuliani comes to campaign and raise money in Portsmouth.

Former GOP Chairman Wayne Semprini will host the Edwards fund-raiser.

He was a prominent supporter of Giuliani’s presidential campaign.

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There are five still running for the GOP nomination in the 1st District but the other major challenger to Edwards, state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, continues to be someone hard to pigeonhole.

Even some of his Senate GOP colleagues were shaking their heads as Sanborn on three occasions voted with Senate Democrats to permit topics other than the sales tax issue to come up at the special session.

Senate Democrats wanted to bring up two moves protesting the Trump tariffs; Sanborn was for letting one of them come in and that was for the Department of Justice to study their impact on New Hampshire businesses.

Sanborn also went with the minority party to permit the suspension of Senate rules by a majority vote rather than a two-thirds vote.

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Democratic candidate for Executive Council Garth Corriveau of Manchester continues to build his grass roots organization as Allenstown Democrat Alan Turcotte is the 20th state legislator from this 4th Council District to support him.

What we haven’t seen is how much money Corriveau has put together in contrast to his primary opponent, Gray Chynoweth, who has raised more than $125,000 for this open seat.

Corriveau doesn’t have to report his campaign finance activity until three weeks before the Sept. 11 primary.

Corriveau has insisted that he’s not taking any corporate money.

“We reiterate our Accountable to the People Pledge challenging our fellow candidates to reject corporate contributions,” Corriveau said. “Our campaign finance report next month indeed will show that I am the only candidate in this race not accepting corporate money. I will be accountable to community stakeholders, not corporate shareholders. Everyday people deserve a seat at the council table.”

We’ll see what comes in but raising money has never been Corriveau’s strong suit.

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Longtime GOP political consultant Mike Biundo dodged a serious health scare when he fell down a full flight of stairs at his Manchester home last weekend.

The always optimistic and constant cut-up Biundo was joking on social media Tuesday as doctors let him go home to more fully recover.

“I want to thank everyone for their support and prayers over the last couple days. The doctors released me today from CMC. My stress test came out fine and I broke nothing when I fell down a flight of stairs,” Biundo wrote on Facebook.

“I am in a lot of pain because you see, as it turns out, that lady in the “I’ve fallen and I can get up” commercials had good reason to stay down. That falling stuff hurts.

“In all seriousness, I am blessed by God for sure. Who falls down 18 stairs and doesn’t break anything?

Biundo remains under his doctor’s care to treat dizzy spells he’s been having but all his vital signs are solid.

The number of liberal Democrats who chipped in with get well wishes for Biundo reminds us that politics is fun, but family and health are what matters and that’s a universal point of view.

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This was one of those throw-down hearings in the U.S. Senate and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, was doing the tossing.

The scene was over convicted trainer Larry Nassar’s wanton abuse of more than 100 women gymnasts and how executives at Michigan State University had ignored all the red flags and done nothing to prevent it.

The man in the hot seat was interim President John Engler who also served as a longtime governor of Michigan, former chairman of the National Governors Association and one-time, potential presidential candidate.

Hassan was going after an insensitive email Engler had written disparaging Rachael Denhollander, a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse.

“The email, of course, was in the midst of our very difficult negotiation and it was private, it was never public,” Engler said. “And it reflected, I guess, just the passions of the moment about whether or not there were referral fees being paid.”

Hassan didn’t let Engler go on much longer.

“I’m going to interrupt you Mr. Engler, I’m sorry. When you write an email referring to athletes as being manipulated, not only are these strong, accomplished, smart athletes who have overcome enormous barriers in their lives to reach the pinnacle of their sport,” Hassan said. “They have survived unspeakable abuse, and the notion that you think they could be manipulated by trial lawyers, and that you would speak of them that way is just deeply, deeply offensive.”

“Private email or not, it reflects an attitude at the top of the institution that you’re asking this committee, your current students, your current athletes, your alumni to trust, and I think you have some repair work today to put it mildly.”

A chagrined Engler came back with, “Well, I think you’re right. That’s why I apologized.”

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Tonight at 6 in Exeter, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will join the New Hampshire Coordinated Campaign to celebrate the official opening of the campaign’s Exeter office.

Jon Morgan, the Democratic Senate candidate in District 23, will join the governor for the event at 104 Epping Road.

The Democratic candidates for governor, council and legislative seats will join Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton for a summer potluck social known as Building a Blue Wave in Bow this Saturday.

The event with former Congressman and Ambassador Dick and Dr. Katrina Swett will be at 1 Putney Drive in Bow.

klandrigan@unionleader.com