DRED commissioner nominee questioned about Northern Pass
CONCORD - The controversial Northern Pass project took center stage Thursday during the Executive Council's public hearing on the nomination of Jeffrey Rose as commissioner of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development.
Rose, of Goffstown, never mentioned the proposed power project during his opening remarks, but some of his past remarks about the project and perceptions of his support for it were among the first questions leveled at him by Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who participated in the hearing by conference call as he continues to battle kidney cancer.
"I need you to square away with us some of those comments you made recently," Burton said.
Rose said the confusion seems to have its genesis with his former role on the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, which has come out in favor of the project. Opponents say the project, which would run high-voltage transmission lines from Canada through the North Country, would mar scenic views and hurt tourism in the northern part of the state.
Rose is listed as a board member on the chamber website, but said Thursday that his affiliation with the chamber ended in 2010. Its statement of support for Northern Pass was issued in December.
He said he has also been inaccurately portrayed in some media accounts as having a position supporting the Northern Pass project. He said he owns property in Campton and considers the scenery of the North Country part of the "crown jewels" of the state.
"I pledge to you that I do not have a position on the Northern Pass issue, councilor," Rose said to Burton.
He said that, as the public affairs director for BAE Systems of Nashua, he has commented about energy issues "on a macro scale" but has never indicated an opinion either for himself or BAE Systems.
"I sit here before you today with no preconceived notions on that particular project," he said.
Rose, a former congressional staffer for several New Hampshire Republican members of Congress, also faced pointed questions on economic policies from Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who peppered him about so-called Right-to-Work legislation, which Gov. Maggie Hassan opposes.
"Will you help her advocate against Right-to-Work when it comes up again, which it inevitably will?" Van Ostern said.
When Rose answered that he would work with the governor to "promote the economy," Van Ostern said he wasn't looking for a generalized answer about the economy.
"I understand what you're saying, but you're not really answering my question," Van Ostern said. "I'm asking you, specifically, will you help her defeat Right-to-Work legislation when it inevitably comes up again."
"If that is my role serving as the commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, then yes," Rose said.
Rose also seemed to try to avoid Van Ostern's questions on whether he would support Hassan's position that New Hampshire should have its own minimum wage beyond the federal minimum wage by saying the decision would be up to Hassan and the Legislature and that the free market is also able to dictate competitive wages. Van Ostern said Rose has been outspoken on some issues, including support for increasing the research and development tax credit, but has been less willing to take a stand on other issues, including Right-to-Work and a state minimum wage.
"Here's why I'm asking these questions," Van Ostern said. "I think that could be because those happen to be issues that you haven't spent as much time studying. I think it could be because there are issues that you don't agree with her on and are not comfortable advocating for her positions. If it's the former, great. I think that's fine . If it's the latter, I have a problem with that. My expectation is that the commissioner for this department will be an advocate for the governor and the policies she's put forward."
Rose said that he does not always have to agree with the governor to be an effective commissioner.
"I'm not going to agree with someone 100 percent of the time," he said. "But I can always be 100 percent agreeable."
Rose received support during public commentary from former DRED Commissioner George Bald, state Sen. Peggy Gilmour, state Sen. Jeb Bradley and the Business and Industry Association, among others. Several North Country residents expressed either concern or opposition to his appointment.