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Dave Solomon has been a reporter or editor for New England news organizations since 1977. He has served as executive editor of both the Portsmouth Herald and the Nashua Telegraph. He joined the reporting staff of the New Hampshire Union Leader in 2012.

Recent Granite Status

February 13. 2013 10:56AM

John DiStaso's Granite Status: Hassan expected to include $80 million in gambling licensing revenue in her budget


 

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 13. GAMBLING. Gov. Maggie Hassan is expected to include about $80 million in gambling licensing revenue in her budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015.
 
She is scheduled to present her budget tomorrow and is expected to formally express strong support for expanded gambling.
 
The approximately $80 million expected to be included in the budget is anticipated revenue from licensing fees.
 
Her call for gambling won't be a huge surprise since Hassan has repeatedly said she could support a single casino in the southern part of the state ever since she campaigned for governor.
 
But in making it official, she will formally part ways with her predecessor, fellow Democrat John Lynch, who had opposed expanded gambling during his four terms.
 
 
A recent poll indicated that 66 percent of Granite Staters support legalizing gambling if it meant that an income tax or sales tax are off the table.
 
Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, said his gambling bill, Senate Bill 152, will be up for a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
 
D'Allesandro said today he did not know for certain if gambling revenue will be included in the governor's budget plan, but he said, "You can't build a budget for 2014 and 2015 without it."
 
(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)
TUESDAY, FEB. 12: HEATH'S NEW GIG. Veteran broadcast newsman Jack Heath is moving his "New Hampshire Today" radio talk show to Clear Channel Media and Entertainment stations WGIR 610 AM in Manchester and 96.7 FM The Wave in Portsmouth.
Heath's program has been airing on 107.7 The Pulse WTPL-FM in Concord for the past five years.
At the Clear Channel stations, Heath's program will air from 6 to 9 a.m. beginning Monday, Feb. 18, and will continue to include interviews and roundtable discussions on politics and current topics.
Heath, a former news director at WMUR television and a 1996 candidate for the U.S. House, confirmed the move and said he was excited about it "because it's Manchester, the state's largest city, and the Seacoast, and there is a potential to build an audience and get good talk on the issues and good sponsors."
"I've certainly enjoyed where I've been," he said. "But this will be more of a statewide platform. It will be a fun challenge."
Clear Channel general manager Joe Graham said, "We are ecstatic to have Jack join us. Our goal is to provide the best content for our listeners. In bringing in Jack as a long-time New Hampshire insider, we know he is going to have a great perspective."
Graham said Heath also fits the company's role of being extensively involved in the communities it serves.
(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)
TUESDAY, FEB. 12, UPDATE: OVERWHELMED. Executive Council dean Ray Burton said Tuesday he is overwhelmed by the outpouring of good wishes he has received since we reported late Monday that he is battling kidney cancer.
"The phone has been ringing all morning," he said. "The emails! I'm just humbly honored that so many people would take the time to send me their best wishes and their prayers.
"I'm just so honored to be one of their public servants. It's been amazing," Burton told us.
Burton, who is also a Grafton County Commissioner, said he was diagnosed with "curable" kidney cancer more than a month ago and began chemotherapy at the beginning of February.
He said that last Saturday he became very tired as a result of his second treatment and decided to check himself into the Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, where he rested until being discharged on Monday evening.
"It literally lays you flat," he said of the treatment. He said he expects to undergo chemotherapy treatments through March and possibly into April.
This morning Burton issued a statement saying, "After months of tests, I have been diagnosed with curable kidney cancer. The treatment process expects to be about two to three months."
He said that while under treatment, "I will temporarily reduce my travel and meetings schedule through the 108 towns, four cities -- all part of the seven northern counties of New Hampshire I represent as Executive Councilor and Grafton County Commissioner."
Burton said he will continue to respond to "folks who want my help within the executive branch of state government, and county government, from my home office here at 338 River Road, Bath, NH, telephone 747-3662 and email ray.burton@myfairpoint.net."
Burton, 73, said, "I am still on duty to serve the people in the towns, cities and counties in the land I have come to love over my lifetime of public service."
He said he intends to participate "via electronic hookup" in meetings of the Executive Council and county commissioners until he is able to resume traveling.
"In 35 years, I have missed only one meeting of the Governor and Council and rarely miss a County Commissioner meeting or events,"he said.
He also said his intern, Plymouth State University senior Ben Belanger, "is ready to respond to any inquiries" at 271-3632.
"I expect to be back under full steam shortly," Burton's statement said. "I thank my constituents, family, and friends for the outpouring of support, but fear not, Ray Burton will be back to 100 percent before you know it passing out business cards and combs! I am forever humbly at your service!"
Burton, a Republican, is now in his 18th two-year term on the council and has served since 1977, with the exception of 1979 to 1981. He has also been a county commissioner for 19 years.
Burton's Facebook page today is filled with well-wishes.
"Get well soon so you can go back to doing what you love," wrote Lori Santora.
Deb Max wrote, "Sending many prayers to you for a healthy recovery. New Hampshire needs you and we love you."
"The thoughts of thousands of friends present and past are with you," wrote former state Rep. and state Sen. Jim Splaine of Portsmouth. "You've fought many battles, and you will win this one. The example you have set and your gentle persuasion on matters big and small has allowed us to win in areas of fairness and equality for all in the way government and society treats us."
Former State House aide and broadcast veteran Ed Lecius of Nashua wrote, "I guess this means your work day will be cut back to 20 hours a day! Seriously, the people of the north country and NH appreciate all you have done and will continue to do! You are in our prayers."
Abd long-time GOP strategist Jim Merrill of Manchester wrote, "What a tireless and remarkable public servant for Council District One. A New Hampshire original."
(Earlier Granite Status reports, on Burton and other issues, follow.)
TUESDAY, FEB. 12: BURTON: I'LL BE BACK. Following our report that he was discharged from a hospital after undergoing chemotherapy treatments for kidney cancer, Executive Councilor Ray Burton said today the cancer is "curable" and promised to be back to "full steam" shortly.
Burton today issued the following statement:
"After months of tests, I have been diagnosed with curable kidney cancer. The treatment process expects to be about two to three months. While under treatment I will temporarily reduce my travel and meetings schedule through the 108 towns, four cities -- all part of the seven northern counties of New Hampshire I represent as Executive Councilor and Grafton County Commissioner."
Burton continued, "I will be responding to inquires for relief, assistance and information from folks who want my help within the NH Executive Branch of State Government, and County Government from my home office here at 338 River Road, Bath, NH. tel 747-3662 and email ray.burton@myfairpoint.net.
"I am still on duty to serve the people in the towns, cities counties in the land I have come to love over my lifetime of public service."
"I will be participating via electronic hook-up with the Official Meetings and hearings of the Governor and Executive Council and County Commissioner Meetings. In 35 years I have missed only one meeting of the Governor and Council and rarely miss a County Commissioner Meeting or events."
"Ben Belanger Plymouth State University Senior is the 142 Intern ( since my first term -1977) to my State House Office and is ready to respond to any inquires. He is at 271-3632."
"I expect to be back under full steam shortly. I thank my constituents, family, and friends for the outpour of support but fear not, Ray Burton will be back to 100% before you know it passing out business cards and combs! I am forever humbly at your service!"
See our earlier report on Burton below.
(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)
MONDAY, FEB. 11: BURTON FIGHTING CANCER. North Country icon and Executive Council dean Ray Burton was hospitalized briefly following chemotherapy treatment for kidney cancer, several sources close to Burton said Monday.
Burton was being released from the Cottage Hospital in Woodsville Monday evening.
He is expected to make a public statement on his illness shortly after his discharge.
Burton told close acquaintances of his kidney cancer about a month ago, sources said.
He is believed to have begun chemotherapy treatments in recent days and had been resting at home. But he then checked himself into the hospital in the past few days due to flu-like symptoms as a result of the treatments, sources said.
Burton, 73, always active, attended the Executive Council meeting last Wednesday.
He has represented District 1 on the council since 1977, with the exception of 1979 to 1981. He has also been a Grafton County commissioner for 19 years.
A Republican, Burton is, by far, the longest-serving elected official in the state.
His immense pride in his huge district, which extends from the Canadian border to the Lakes Region and west to the Claremont area and Upper Valley, is well-known.
He has long been well-respected throughout his district and the state by politicians on both sides of the political aisle, as well as by his constituents.
News of Burton's illness drew attention on Twitter Monday night.
"Ray Burton is one of a kind," wrote Concord attorney and veteran Republican strategist Tom Rath. "His years of service to his district and to New Hampshire are unmatched. All of New Hampshire will be hoping for the best."
"Thoughts and prayers for a full recovery," wrote former candidate for governor Kevin Smith.
Former state Sen. John Gallus of Berlin told Union Leader correspondent Sara Knox-Young, "We're all wishing him the best."
He said he talked to Burton on Sunday, and, "He sounded really good."
Gallus said he told Burton to take care of himself, sit back for awhile, and then get back to work.
(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)
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MONDAY, FEB. 11, UPDATE: TARGETING CAROL, ANNIE. The National Republican Congressional Committee included New Hampshire Democratic U.S. House members Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter on a recent list of 45 targeted races for 2014.
A memo by NRCC executive director Liesl Hickey, obtained by the Granite Status, says that although Democrats remain in "decisive control of Washington" having won the White House and the Senate, "they failed miserably" at their goal of winning control of the House last year.
"In 2014, Republicans will employ the same proven strategy that brought us such historic success in 2010 and 2012: Stay on offense," the memo says.
Hickey wrote that the GOP efforts will begin with seven districts in six states -- Arizona, Georgia, Utah, North Carolina, Minnesota and West Virginia -- they will soon expand to the other districts, including New Hampshire's two.
"Republicans will continue the offensive strategy that led to success in 2012, to keep Nancy Pelosi from ever being Speaker of the House again," Hickey wrote.
Both of New Hampshire's seats were targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last year, and both of course flipped from Republican to Democratic with victories by Kuster and Shea-Porter.
Although President Barack Obama won a decisive victory in the popular and electoral votes, Hickey pointed out that nationally, Mitt Romney won in 227 House districts while Obama won in 208.
"The national map of competitive House races looks very different headed into 2014," Hickey contended. "Namely, it's smaller and Republicans have the upper-hand."
(Earlier Granite Status reports follow.)
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THURSDAY, FEB. 7: GEARING UP. Former candidate for governor Kevin Smith is in Washington this week, and he's not just sight-seeing.


Smith, who won high marks for an issues-oriented campaign despite losing big to Ovide Lamontagne in the 2012 Republican primary, has made no secret that he's looking at a return engagement.


So while in Washington for the National Prayer Breakfast today, Smith is stopping by the Republican Governors Association to discuss the political landscape in 2014.

It's never too early in New Hampshire, with our two-year term for governor. After all, Maggie Hassan has been in office more than a month already.





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WHAT THEY'RE WORTH. The story behind U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster's three years of late property tax payments is perplexing.

Voters would probably understand if Kuster and husband Brad were "regular" working people.

But they're both attorneys. And Kuster lists assets in the $2 million range, including two vacation homes which are rented out, and more than 20 mutual funds.

Why, some ask, couldn't they just cash in a mutual fund, pay up and avoid the embarrassment?

There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation. Apparently, even people worth $2 million can have cash flow problems, the poor things. But for three years?

We may never know why it happened, unless she decides to come out and simply explain.

Now, if Rep. Carol Shea-Porter missed a tax payment, people might understand better.

She lists on her most recently available personal financial statement, covering 2011, no personal income and only two assets - U.S. Savings Bonds and a cash reserve account listed at a maximum of $15,000 each.

She notes that her husband has a salary, the amount of which is not reportable on the form.

Gene Porter as of 2011 still worked for the IRS. (In 2008 he told us he was a program analyst.)

Shea-Porter had been earning a U.S. House salary of about $174,000 until she was voted out in 2010. Now she's back.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, meanwhile, lists a net worth between $1.7 million and $5.2 million. (House members and senators, and candidates, are required on their reports to list assets and liabilities only in broad ranges.)

Shaheen's worth ranked 39th in the Senate in 2011, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Top ranking at the time, John Kerry was worth about $235 million.

Shaheen lists 23 assets with a total value of between $3.5 million and $6 million.

But she also lists nine "liabilities," all mortgages, valued between $2.7 million and $5.5 million.

Shaheen's Senate salary is $174,000 while her husband, Bill, is a well-known attorney.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte lists a 2011 net worth between $242,000 and $1.4 million, which ranked 70th in the Senate.

She lists 13 assets with a combined value between $622,000 and $1.4 million and six liabilities valued between $400,000 and $880,000.

The liabilities are mortgages on her primary residence and a condominium in Nashua that she and her husband, Joe Daley, rent out, as well as four truck and/or equipment loans, presumably for Daley's landscaping/plowing business.

By the way, looking back, former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta listed his 2011 net worth as somewhere between a "negative" $194,000 and a "plus" $1.47 million. Quite a difference there.

Former Rep. Charlie Bass listed a net worth between $3.5 million and $10 million.




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ASLEEP AT THE SWITCH? Republicans are amazed Bass and his campaign didn't check into Kuster's tax situation BEFORE the election.

"It's Campaign 101," said longtime GOP strategist Mike Dennehy. "When you begin a campaign, you check three things about your opponent: the voting record, which is when they registered and whether they voted in elections; motor vehicle violations, and the tax record.

"To not do those things is campaign negligence," he said.

Had Bass or the Republicans dug up the tax dirt and framed it in some way that could have outraged the average voter, would it have mattered?

Given the state's swing to Democrats and Kuster beating Bass about 50 to 45 percent (with nearly 5 percent for the Libertarian), or by 16,298 votes, probably not. But we'll never know for sure.

Dennehy said if he were advising Kuster, he'd tell her to come forward with some plain talk and "be a lot more apologetic than she has been. She needs to show that she feels the pain that others who can not pay their taxes feel.

"It's hard for ordinary people to understand someone who is a millionaire not paying taxes on time," he said. "It's either an oversight, which is doubtful for three years, or a conscious decision. She needs to come clean on that."

Democrats we spoke with see it as a problem, but far from a long-term or fatal one.

They point out that it's not that Kuster didn't pay her taxes. She did; and in all but one case made payments just a few weeks or a month or so late. (Her July 2012 payment was six months late and one other payment was three months late.)

True, Kuster received negative headlines Wednesday and she can expect mail pieces blasting her on the topic to be sent to voters in 2014.

The Dems' message: Was it sloppy? Yes. Unfortunate. Embarrassing. But not dishonest and certainly not illegal.

Whether it's unethical is in the eye of the beholder. Same goes for whether it's hypocritical given her support for higher income taxes for the wealthy.

While some Democrats believe Kuster would benefit from providing a personal explanation, others say there's no upside to doing so, that there's no explanation that can make it better, and it's best to try to let the story die as soon as possible.

Remember that the Democrats in 2009 and 2010 tried to make hay with Guinta's missed property tax and utility payments in prior years. It didn't hurt him in 2010, when he won. When he lost last year, they were not an issue.

Newly elected state GOP Chair Jennifer Horn has more than $92,000 in tax liens filed by the IRS. She says she is working to pay them down.

That was well-known to Republicans and she was elected to the post anyway.

Both sides agree on one thing: The timing for Kuster was perfect. The Republicans will try to resurrect it in the fall of 2014, but it will be very old news by then, assuming she makes all future payments on time.




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PAID UP. Kuster, by the way, is now paid up on her outstanding $3,800 tax bill for her home in Jackson.

The assistant tax collector there told us the payment arrived Wednesday morning, via over-night courier. Her Hopkinton tax bill was paid up Tuesday.



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KELLY LEANS. It's not a surprise given her questioning at last week's confirmation hearing. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte says she is "leaning no" on confirming Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.

Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone emailed the Granite Status: "Senator Ayotte is still reviewing this nomination, including written answers Senator Hagel provided this week to several specific questions. Although she hasn't yet reached a final decision, she's leaning no at this point."

Shaheen has announced her support for Hagel.


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HER FIRST OPPONENT? Former Nashua state Sen. Gary Lambert has emerged as the first serious potential Republican challenger for Kuster next year.

He had been quietly making it known he was interested in the 2nd District seat before the tax story emerged.

The state Republican Party quoted Lambert calling on Kuster for an explanation and the release of her state and federal tax records.

"By releasing her 2010 and 2011 tax returns, and pledging to release her 2012 returns once they are prepared, Congresswoman Kuster can begin to regain the trust and confidence of her constituents that has been lost as a result of this embarrassing incident," Lambert said in the prepared statement.

State Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley countered that it is "unbelievable that the same party that just elected as chair a person with a lien of over $90,000 for years of back taxes continues to keep unpaid taxes in the news. From Chairwoman Horn's tax lien, to former Congressman Frank Guinta's mystery bank account, I would say that Republicans should worry about getting their own personal financial houses in order before spending any more time thinking about anyone else's."


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MERRILL'S BIG MOVE. After five years heading the strategic consulting group affiliated with the Devine Millimet law firm in Manchester, Jim Merrill has moved to Bernstein Shur to become state director of a new "multi-state strategic consulting subsidiary."

The former senior advisor to Mitt Romney and Ovide Lamontagne will work with David Farmer, who will be based at the firm's Portland office as The Bernstein Shur Group's managing director.

Merrill is a lifelong Republican. Farmer is a former deputy chief of staff to Democratic former Maine Gov. John Baldacci and was the communications director of a successful Maine campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.


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SELLING VOTER LISTS. An independent, non-profit news organization called Pro Publica reported this week that state Democratic parties across the country are considering selling to credit card companies, retailers and other "commercial interests" their research data on voters in their states.

New Hampshire Party Chairman Buckley, who also heads the Association of State Democratic chairs, declined to comment in that story and was unavailable to this column on the potential new source of income for state parties.

Pro Publica reported that state party leaders formed the National Voter File Co-op in 2011 to sell their information on individual voters' political leanings and interests to "approved groups like the NAACP."

The story reports that in addition to basic voter information such as names, addresses and party affiliation, the Democrats have added valuable information about voters' views and preferences.

According to Pro Publica, there appear to be mixed opinions among Democrats on whether the information should be sold to commercial interests. Some want to be careful to sell to corporations that share "Democratic values."

Other Democrats see it as a potential area for "growth" in income, the story says.

John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at jdistaso@unionleader.com. Twitter: @jdistaso.


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