Emotions were running high as supporters of medical marijuana crowded into a small hearing room at the Legislative Office Building in Concord on Tuesday to press lawmakers on a bill that would allow legally certified patients to grow two plants of their own.
A threatened veto by Gov. Maggie Hassan was, as Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn said, "the elephant in the room" during the long and at times heated hearing.
At one point, a supporter of the measure held up a picture purporting to show the governor about to take a shot of vodka with a group of revelers at what was allegedly a promotional event for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission.
The picture originated on the website of FreeKeene.com, hosted by "liberty-minded activists" in the Keene area. It's also posted on the governor's Facebook page, with the following text: "Your actions speak louder than your photo opportunities, Governor. Stop arresting patients for possessing their cannabis."
The only problem? The picture is a fake. It's a composite of three photos, amateurishly mashed-up in Photoshop. The background comes from a party that no one in the governor's office could identify. The picture of Hassan comes from a photo published in the dailybeast.com, taken at a 2012 fundraiser.
Hassan appears to be clutching the Old Man of the Mountain commemorative liquor bottle designed to raise funds to preserve the Historic Hall of Flags at the Statehouse, but that too was "Photoshopped."
The image was still on Facebook as of Wednesday afternoon. "Our policy, and it's written on the Facebook page, is we take down only obscene comments," Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said.
The stage is now set for Hassan to veto the "grow your own" provision, and face a likely over-ride. Supporters of medical marijuana do not appear willing to wait another year or two for the state-licensed "alternative treatment centers" to get up and running.
The self-cultivation measure passed the House with a veto-proof majority, and the numbers for an override in the Senate look good, according to lobbyist Kirk McNeil, volunteering as executive director of N.H. Compassion, "dedicated to protecting New Hampshire's medical marijuana patients."
McNeil said 13 senators have indicated by previous votes that they would support an override, and three more are on board, getting backers to the necessary 16 votes.
McNeil said Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, is onboard, but declined to name the other two, saying they have "verbally committed support."
Meet Mr. Meerkat
Sources in the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Walter Havenstein say the former chief executive officer of BAE will formally announce next week at a Concord news conference.
Although well-known in business circles, Havenstein is largely unknown to voters at large. Anyone looking for some insight into the nature of the GOP contender might study up on the habits of the meerkat, the furry little antagonist from the Lion King.
While running BAE, Havenstein made the meerkat a metaphor for the work culture he was trying to create, suggesting how he might run his campaign and the office of governor.
The emphasis was on teamwork, according to Rich Ashooh, a longtime friend who worked with Havenstein during his years at BAE and is still there as director of strategy.
"There are still lots of former meerkats like myself traipsing around New Hampshire," Ashooh said. "His approach was to use the meerkat as a metaphor for good behavior, and he had a list of the behaviors that meerkats were known for — things like taking care of the group, nurturing the young, contributing to the team — things like that.
"We called each other meerkats. There were actually meerkat awards, which were kind of acknowledging good behavior. You got this little meerkat statue. They were highly coveted."
Some of those statues still stand on BAE desks.
Havenstein is facing a possible residency challenge, given his occupancy of a condo in Maryland during much of the time he also owned a home and worked in New Hampshire.
"He'll be eligible when he files in June. We're very confident," said a campaign source. "He has domiciled in New Hampshire since he moved here in 1999."
What's in the numbers?
In an unusual move, the state Department of Insurance came out hard on Wednesday against a study of Obamacare impact on health insurance premiums that claimed a 90 percent increase in New Hampshire. (READ REPORT)
"We have some concerns about the Morgan Stanley survey and have since discussed its claims extensively with our in-house actuaries," wrote Danielle Kronk Barrick, director of communications, in an email to reporters.
"Premium rates in New Hampshire, in the aggregate, did not go up 90 percent. An independent actuarial analysis modeling the Affordable Care Act impact on New Hampshire policyholders found that, on average, New Hampshire policyholders will realize an 8 percent rate decrease after subsidies," she wrote.
"We would like to see the survey, but we were told it was proprietary and confidential. We don't understand how Morgan Stanley is able to generalize what's going on in the New Hampshire market based on talking to 158 brokers nationally."
The Union Leader requested a full copy of the report and it was delivered 48 hours later. Readers can check it out as a link to this column at unionleader.com, and come to their own conclusions. Key chart is on page 6.
Politician on Parade
Watch for the next issue of Parade magazine this weekend inside the New Hampshire Sunday News, featuring the popular annual report "What People Earn."
Right there on the cover, bottom left corner, is state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican elected to the Senate in 2010, then again in 2012.
Her $100-a-year salary as a New Hampshire lawmaker gave her the dubious distinction of being the lowest-paid person in Parade.
"New Hampshire's Constitution stipulates that senators are paid just $100 a year," the magazine reports. "Some view the position akin to community service."
Well, there's always that mileage check.
Meet the new guy
Today marks the first time since 1982 that the Granite Status column has not been authored by John DiStaso.
He's off on a new digital adventure, and I plan to do the best I can to maintain his tradition of presenting a weekly political potpourri, taking readers off the beaten track from day-to-day reporting.
Although I haven't been covering New Hampshire politics since 1982, I have been in the fray since 1986, most of that time with either the Portsmouth Herald or the Nashua Telegraph.
I learned a lot in my role as editor at both, and am excited at the opportunity to put that background to work as a political writer and columnist.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org