NORTH CONWAY — The air of inevitability around former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown as the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate from New Hampshire continued to build on Thursday when House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, officially endorsed the candidate during a visit to the Moat Mountain Smokehouse in North Conway.
“Scott Brown is a conservative leader who will fight for New Hampshire to restore the economy, pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and focus on getting the government off our backs,” said Chandler, now serving his 13th term in the House representing Carroll County District 1, which includes Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Hale’s Location, Hart’s Location and Jackson. He is a former speaker of the House, from 2001-2004.
“New Hampshire is proud of our individual freedoms, and it’s about time we elected someone who will represent our principles,” Chandler said. “We want an independent voice who will repeal Obamacare, lower taxes and restore America’s greatness.”
Brown said he was honored by the endorsement.
“Gene has fought tirelessly for the North Country to make sure his constituents are well represented in the State House,” he said. “I appreciate his support and dedication to restore conservative principles in New Hampshire.”
Fox in the henhouse?
CONCORD — Supporters of charter schools and school-choice programs along with opponents of the Common Core State Standards were disappointed by the 3-2 vote of the Executive Council on Thursday that puts Bill Duncan on the state Board of Education.
There’s no denying that Duncan is politically and legally active in the arena of public education. His lawsuit against the state, challenging a tax-credit scholarship program for private schools, is still working its way through the courts.
The retired business owner has spent a lot of his own time and a lot of his own money to manage an organization and a website (Advancing Public Education), testifying at hearings and traveling around the state in support of what his opponents often call “government schools.”
North Country Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, and fellow Republican Chris Sununu of Newfields voted against the appointment.
Democrats Chris Van Ostern of Concord, Debora Pignatelli of Nashua and Chris Pappas of Manchester voted to confirm.
Eight Republican state representatives on Tuesday joined the chorus of GOP candidates and conservative groups in calling for the nomination to be withdrawn or denied. In a letter to charter school parents and supporters, they provided home telephone numbers for the five councilors.
“If you value your children’s future and their education, please contact the following Executive Councilors immediately who will be voting on this nomination,” the letter stated. “Given Mr. Duncan’s radical activism against education choice in New Hampshire, we do not believe he can render an impartial decision regarding the oversight of charter schools and therefore is unqualified to fill the position he has been nominated for.”
It’s hard to imagine that Gov. Maggie Hassan could not see this maelstrom coming, so she must be trying to make a strong statement on the topic of education.
Duncan says his view of charter schools has been misconstrued. After a recent Granite Status posting on how charter school advocates were once again disappointed by the state Legislature, despite years of lip service, Duncan and I exchanged emails in which he detailed his concern that charters complement but not replace traditional public schools.
“I go into all this to say that I think charter advocates with we/they analyses create unnecessary obstacles for themselves,” he wrote. “As you said in your piece, there’s a lot of love out there for charters. But the advocates are not going to feel the love if their goal is to build a replacement school system paid for by the state’s general fund.”
Back on track
It’s taken five years and an unsuccessful bid by a competitor, but State Rep. Peter Leishman is finally going to get a contract with the state Department of Transportation to run a railroad on a stretch of state-owned track from Milford to Bennington.
“We have reached an agreement,” he said on Tuesday. “I signed the operating agreement yesterday with my corporate clerk.”
The DOT declined to confirm the deal until it’s ready for presentation to the Executive Council.
Leishman’s Milford-Bennington Railroad has operated on the state-owned track for the past 20 years, transporting crushed stone from a Wilton quarry to the Granite State Concrete processing plant in Milford, but he hasn’t had a contract with the state since the last one expired in 2009.
The issue became a political football as the largest railroad operator in the state, Pan Am, fought for an opportunity to bid on rights to the 18-mile stretch of track it had abandoned in 1986. The company at one point refused to cooperate in efforts to restore commuter rail in New Hampshire unless a bidding process took place.
So last year, the DOT accepted bids and recommended Pan Am over Leishman, but the Executive Council balked in a 3-2 vote. The project was re-bid and this time the DOT is recommending the Milford-Bennington Railroad.
Pan Am’s cooperation is seen as essential to any commuter rail project, so rail supporters are hoping that Pan Am will play nice now that the bidding process has occurred, even though it didn’t win. A Pan Am spokesperson recently confirmed that the company is cooperating in the rail feasibility study now underway.
Up in smoke
The last hope for marijuana decriminalization this year died at the State House on Wednesday, as representatives voted 245-99 against attaching pot-related bills to unrelated legislation headed for the Senate.
That didn’t stop the Marijuana Policy Project’s New Hampshire branch from releasing a study of marijuana arrests in the Granite State.
Titled, “Marked for Life,” the report released Wednesday details the “collateral sanctions associated with marijuana offenses in New Hampshire.”
Of the 2,728 marijuana arrests in New Hampshire in 2012, more than 85 percent were for possession, according to the report. For most of those arrested, the consequences can be quite severe.
“Although most low-level marijuana offenders in New Hampshire are not incarcerated, the reality is that the collateral sanctions associated with a criminal conviction add significantly to the harm inflicted by these punishments,” the report states.
Those collateral sanctions include difficulty in finding employment, loss of student financial aid and ineligibility for public sector employment, government assistance or public housing.
“Although New Hampshire should be applauded for becoming the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana,” the report states, “its penalties for possession remain much more punitive than those in other New England states.”
A full copy of the report is available at unionleader.com.
Senators for Walt
The line-up of Republican legislative leaders and two former governors at his campaign announcement made it clear that former BAE executive Walt Havenstein is the establishment choice for governor in a contested GOP primary.
The extent of that backing was made even more clear on Wednesday, when seven of 13 Republicans in the state Senate formally endorsed Havenstein’s candidacy, including Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro,
The other senators endorsing Havenstein are Russell Prescott, R-Kingston; John Reagan, R-Deerfield; Bob Odell, R-Lempster; Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford; and Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.
Politics do indeed make strange bedfellows, since Havenstein has publicly opposed casino gambling and a modified form of Medicaid expansion, both supported by the Republican Senate majority. The priority of fielding a competitive challenge to Hassan in the fall appears to trump any policy differences.
Andrew Hemingway, a 31-year-old entrepreneur and former state director for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, has been running since January and isn’t exactly folding his tent.
“Andrew is very excited about the level of support he is receiving from across the state,” said his campaign manager Alicia Preston. “He will continue to work hard to spread his message of solutions and earn each vote.”
Joining the chorus
Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Scott Brown on Wednesday added his voice to those calling for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to resign in the wake of a widening scandal at VA hospitals.
“Recent reports of delayed medical care that led to 40 patient deaths cannot be accepted with a business-as-usual attitude,” said Brown in a statement. “While I respect his service to our country, there needs to be accountability in government. For that reason, Secretary Shinseki should step down immediately. President Obama needs to install new leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs that will finally address persistent reports of gross mismanagement and restore confidence in an agency that has failed in its basic mission.”
Shinseki served as Army Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, and retired from active duty in 2003.
Brown himself will become a veteran soon, as he is scheduled to retire from 35 years in the National Guard with the rank of lieutenant colonel at a May 13 ceremony at the Pentagon, presided over by Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A bad backlog
One of Shinseki’s big goals has been to reduce the backlog of disability claims, which has not been going so well, according to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
On Wednesday Shaheen introduced the Veterans Appeals Improvement Act, which she said aims to reduce the disability claims appeals backlog by immediately increasing the VA’s capacity in under-served areas like New Hampshire.
Shaheen cited Government Accountability Office reports that show the number of appeals awaiting a decision grew 76 percent from fiscal years 2009 to 2012. The average processing time for processing a claim increased from 293 days to 460 days.
“I’ve heard time and again from New Hampshire veterans who have spent years waiting on their appeals and this is entirely unacceptable,” Shaheen said. “The VA must do better. I’ve spoken with Secretary Shinseki directly on this issue several times and yet we still haven’t seen the results we were promised.”
Lined up for Little
Republican candidate for State Senate Jerry Little released his first endorsements since officially becoming a candidate less than one week ago, among them State Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare.
“I am supporting Jerry because he believes in fiscal restraint, responsible budgeting and the personal private rights of citizens,” said Kurk. “Jerry also shares my belief in the importance of local government; he has been a member of the Weare Finance Committee, Weare Agriculture Committee, and Weare Capital Improvement Program Committee where he has demonstrated accountability, transparency and a firsthand understanding of local budget issues. He is thoughtful, thorough and does his homework. He cares about the people he serves."
In addition to Kurk, the following District 8 residents and elected officials have endorsed Little for State Senate: Rep. Steve Smith of Charlestown; Rep. Jim Grenier of Lempster; Rep. Skip Rollins of Newport; Paul Morin, Newport; Betty and Tony Maiola, Newport; Helene Kurk, Weare; John Tilley, New London; Ike Sheppard, Weare;Richard Butt, Weare; John Rauscher, Weare; Jack Donovan, Weare; Chip Meany, Bradford; Frank Campana, Weare; Rodalyn Knox, Weare; John Knox, Weare; Sherry Burdick, Weare; Matt Thomas, Weare; and Joe Geisler, Weare.
Little is the former President of the New Hampshire Bankers Association and a former press secretary to Gov. John H. Sununu. He faces J.P. Marzullo, a former Deering selectman and incumbent vice chairman of the N.H. Republican Committee, in the September primary.