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With Lynch out, lengthy list eyes governor's seat

TOM FAHEY
September 17. 2011 7:00PM



Let the games begin.

With Gov. John Lynch's announcement that he will not run for a fifth term, the gates are wide open for candidates in both parties.

A list of potential governor wannabes is a potpourri of the state's political scene.

The big names in the water so far are Ovide Lamontagne, who said he will announce his candidacy Monday, and former Sen. Maggie Hassan, who has been hiring staff. There are plenty of others.

Among Republican names are Executive Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Bender and Cornerstone Action Director Kevin Smith. Another includes John Stephen, who is doing very well in the private sector right now. He's not done with politics, though, having endorsed Rick Perry's candidacy for President. There's also Rich Ashooh, who ran a late-entry, respectable charge at Congress last year.

Another possibility lying in the background, says one long-time GOP operative, is Robert Finlay, owner of a Milford-based private investment firm.

Among the crop of Democrats, Stonyfield Farms President and CEO Gary Hirshberg gets a mention, as does former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand. There's also Mark Connolly, former chief of the Bureau of Securities Regulation, and U.S. Attorney John Kacavas. Connolly last week said only that he's considering. Kacavas would have to leave his job before he said anything, under federal election laws.

Besides Lamontagne, Hassan has made the most visible moves, having hired Wyatt Fore as a staff person and sending out news releases through Nick Clemons. He is a former state Democratic Party executive director and was Hillary Clinton's state campaign manager in 2008.

Hirshberg employs Colin Van Ostern, campaign manager for Annie McLane Kuster's congressional run in 2008. Van Ostern has already announced plans to run for Executive Council. Hirshberg also has Delana Jones, a former Democratic Party executive, and Howard Dean, a former presidential candidate, in his corporate stable.

The 16 months before the next general election gives Lynch plenty of time to consider where to put his weight. Some Democrats have griped that Lynch has not been enough of a team player, preferring to build political capital rather than spend it helping other Democratic candidates.

Lynch endorsements in state Senate races could bring Democrats more than the five seats they now hold. That would be one way for him to build a fence around the things of which he's most proud, including mandatory kindergarten programs and age-18 school attendance.

The big name to pull himself out of contention on Friday was Sen. Jeb Bradley, a former congressman who was said to have aspirations to the corner office. He said he'll stick to the state Senate for the time being.

With all the names floating around, money will become a scarce commodity, despite the interest of both the Republican and Democratic national governors associations. That should prove a winnowing process.

The last time out, Stephen and Gov. Lynch spent about $3 million in total. Candidates for governor have spent far less in recent years. There was Joe Kenney, whose total spending was just over $100,000. He also got clobbered by the Lynch juggernaut of ample funding and high popularity.

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Hassan suffered a setback with dismissal of her lawsuit against Speaker of the House William O'Brien over his decision to close the House gallery after some union members shouted during budget debate.

The court said the case was moot because the gallery was opened after about an hour. It refused to issue an injunction, saying it was a hypothetical situation.

Hassan and former Sen. Bette Lasky brought the suit after they were ordered out of the gallery along with the rest of the public.

Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald said the lawsuit was 'a headline-grabbing political stunt.'' O'Brien called it 'a frivolous lawsuit that clearly had so little merit that it could not survive its first day in court.'' But Hassan stood by her efforts. The state constitution says the gallery must be kept open.

She noted the judge said he dismissed the suit, 'only because the speaker had reopened the House gallery after we went to court to make him do so. The speaker's prior characterization of public access to the legislative process as 'frivolous' is troubling, as public access to and participation in our state government has been one of the foundations of our democracy.''

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Cancel all leaves.

Anyone concerned about sustaining or overriding the right-to-work veto or the veto of the car title lending bill might want to stick pretty close to Concord.

After last week, it's clear that Speaker O'Brien will take up a veto when he feels like it, and there is nothing to stop him.

O'Brien first scheduled the right-to-work veto for an override vote on May 25. It was on the agenda, but he pulled back when it was clear the votes for override weren't there. He said then that it was his prerogative to choose the time a vote occurs.

After his office said repeatedly the deadly force bill (SB 88) wouldn't come up last week, it did.

Challenged on it by Democrats, O'Brien repeated that it's all up to him. 'Now it's on the agenda,'' he told Rep. Lucy Weber, D-Walpole, when she complained that the veto had not appeared anywhere on any calendar or agenda.

The House will meet on Oct. 12, and it's a safe bet there will be a roll call vote early on - even if it's just regarding a resolution about the weather - so O'Brien can figure out who's around for an override.

He's most interested in the right-to-work bill (HB 474). But there's also a bill that would bring back high-interest loans that use car titles as collateral (SB 57). It passed narrowly in the House, 180-171, nowhere near the two-thirds majority needed for an override.

But one company behind the bill, LoanMax of Alpharetta, Ga., now has two lobbying firms - Bianco Associates and Sheehan Phinney. They are steadily swinging votes toward a win.

The outcome on both bills will depend on who is in the House on whatever day O'Brien chooses to say: 'Now it's on the agenda.''

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You see them passing by on the highway now and then - lawmakers.

One of them has apparently fled the scene of a parking lot hit-and-run fender bender.

Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, returned from Wednesday's session and found his car had been hit while parked on the third level of the legislative garage.

The culprit did leave a note, blaming Watrous and his car for the accident.

'Nice Parking! Please see the Dept. of Safety to learn how Parking lots work,' the note read.

Legislative security officers are investigating. House Chief of Staff Bob Mead asked anyone with information to contact Security Chief Randy Joyner. The garage is not equipped with security cameras.

Mead said that security checks at the garage entrance leave no doubt that the person involved was a fellow lawmaker.

Watrous said anyone who saw his car agrees he left plenty of room for other cars to move by. The damage is minor, he said, but 'The most irritating thing was the note. The whole thing seems needlessly uncivil and mean-spirited.''

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He's only been in office for one House session, but so far Rep. Kevin Janvrin, R-Seabrook, has a solid record of voting with Republican leadership.

Janvrin, who has said he will break with most Republicans and vote to sustain Gov. Lynch's veto of the right-to-work bill, was a team player Wednesday. He voted to override the veto of SB 88, the deadly force bill, and with the majority of Republicans on three other votes that were recorded Wednesday.

Democrats have won two of three special elections this year. Next up is in the Peterborough area Tuesday, where five-term former Rep. Peter Leishman faces Republican David Simpson. Simpson won the backing last week of the N.H. Liberty Caucus. The district includes New Ipswich, Sharon and Greenville.

Tom Fahey is State House bureau chief for New Hampshire Sunday News and New Hampshire Union Leader. E-mail him at tfahey@unionleader.com.


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