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Kathy Sullivan: Havenstein and Brown are hardly saviors of the NH GOP

April 07. 2014 5:27PM

New Hampshire Republicans are delighted finally to have “credible” candidates for U.S. Senate and governor in former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and former defense industry executive Walter Havenstein. Supporters of other Republican candidates would argue that the GOP already had credible candidates, such as Jim Rubens and Bob Smith in the Senate primary and former Republican Liberty Alliance chairman Andrew Hemingway in the gubernatorial race.

But to the Republican establishment and consultant class, “credible” means “access to bushels of money.”

Although Rubens will be able to put some of his own money into his campaign, Brown will attract significant, multi-million dollar support from the well-heeled energy and Wall Street interests who have supported him previously. Havenstein probably can self-fund an expensive gubernatorial race, as he earned seven-figure salaries before his retirement. Both Brown and Havenstein are stumbling out of the block, however.

Based on his election in historically Democratic Massachusetts, Brown’s reputation was as a savvy, grass roots Republican with cross-party appeal. Based on his performance so far in New Hampshire, it is pretty clear that Massachusetts sets a low bar in defining a savvy, grass roots kind of Republican.

By now most have heard of Brown’s response when asked about his New Hampshire qualifications, given that he had taken up residency here 10 minutes ago. “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. Cause, you know, whatever.” Cue the late night comedians.

This comment came during Brown’s New Hampshire “listening tour.” During this tour he lambasted the Affordable Care Act, only to listen to a Republican state representative who told him it had been a “financial lifesaver.” The representative’s wife added, “Thank God for Obamacare!”

Then there was Brown’s refusal to sign the “People’s Pledge,” an agreement to keep outside organizations from polluting the New Hampshire airwaves with grainy black and white ads telling us how bad the candidates for office are. Brown pooh-poohed the idea — and then we learned that not only did Brown sign this pledge in Massachusetts, just a few weeks ago he took credit for it, saying “I came up with the idea actually in the last election. We didn’t need another $30 to 40 million coming in to distort our records and positions on things. ...” What was good for Massachusetts is not good for New Hampshire.

Brown’s candidacy is becoming a little difficult to take seriously. When asked about reports that he was no longer working for a Boston law firm, he refused to comment, saying he did not talk about his “personal life” — even though he had no problem tweeting when his job with Fox was terminated due to his candidacy. Then his campaign manager tweeted a picture of Brown by himself at a bar, “during a busy day on the trail…” This is just one more in a series of pictures tweeted of Brown in Granite State bars.

Then there’s Walter Havenstein’s residency. In 2007, he purchased a $1.25 million condominium in Bethesda, Md. At that time, Havenstein signed an affidavit stating that the property was going to be his principal residence, in order to obtain a break on a recording tax. He also claimed a homestead exemption to gain a break on his property taxes, which he continued to claim through 2011. In addition, Havenstein admits to obtaining a Maryland driver’s license and registering his car in Maryland. The problem: New Hampshire law requires seven years residency here to be eligible to run for governor.

Havenstein says he never intended Maryland to be his domicile, using his lakefront vacation home as his voting address. But Maryland law defines principal residence for homestead exemption purposes as “the one dwelling where the homeowner regularly resides and is the location designated by the owner for the legal purposes of voting, obtaining a driver’s license, and filing income tax returns.” Either he was domiciled in Maryland, and therefore not eligible to run in New Hampshire, or, he was domiciled in New Hampshire, and taking tax breaks in Maryland that he should not have been taking.

Talking about whether you should have been taking tax breaks is not a great way to start your candidacy.

The residency problem for Havenstein serves to highlight the problems the New Hampshire Republican Party has had in recruiting candidates for higher office. It faces these problems because John Sununu, Chris Sununu, Jeb Bradley, Charlie Bass and assorted other current and former Republican officeholders begged off a race against the popular Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. The result is one candidate with significant flaws and another with a significant eligibility issue.

Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.

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