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Dave Solomon's Granite Status: Running for Congress, Marilinda Garcia of Salem faces blowback for gambling vote

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 21. 2014 5:12PM

Supporters of casino gambling in New Hampshire, having come tantalizingly close to victory only to see it slip through their hands, are looking for some payback.

One of their first targets is Salem State Rep. Marilinda Garcia, an up-and-comer in GOP ranks and a potential challenger to Democrat Ann McLane Kuster for the right to represent New Hampshire’s Second District in Congress.

Several Salem state representaives who support gambling plan to endorse Garcia’s primary opponent, Gary Lambert, the former one-term state senator and retired Marine from Nashua.

“If you came down to Salem and walked the streets as I do daily, you would hear and feel and sense the anger of the people here,” said Salem Rep. Robert Elliott. “They feel as though they have been betrayed. And this is a woman we are going to send to Congress?”

Elliott and three other Republican representatives from Salem plan to make their frustration known at a June 2 press conference, where they plan to endorse Lambert. Elliott will be joined by Representatives Ronald Belanger, Anne Priestley and Joe Sweeney. Rep. Gary Azarian, who resigned his seat in January citing personal reasons, is also expected to join in the anti-Garcia chorus.

Garcia was one of three state representatives from Salem to stand against gambling in the 173-172 vote on April 30, the other two being her sister, Bianca Garcia, and Patrick Bick, also Republicans.

In March 2013, 81 percent of Salem voters in a nonbinding referendum supported a casino at Rockingham Park, the iconic racetrack widely considered the most likely location for one of two casinos in the state had the measure become law. There was no guarantee for Rockingham in the legislation, but Las Vegas-based Millennium Gaming had offered to build a $600-million-plus casino, hotel and entertainment complex at Rockingham that would have created as many as 3,000 construction and gaming jobs, according to gambling supporters.

“If any one of those three from Salem had just stayed home that day, we would have a casino in Salem,” Elliott said.

Polls show Lambert and Garcia in a close race for the September primary, and both Republicans are within striking distance of Kuster. Anything that moves the needle slightly in one direction or another could matter.

Garcia says she is disappointed to see her vote against gambling surface as an issue in the Congressional race. “It concerns me that people would look at one local issue that’s frankly up to the state and translate that to support for a federal race,” she said.

Garcia was clear in her four campaigns for state representative in Salem that she opposes expanded gambling in New Hampshire and saw no reason to change her position. She suggested gambling opponents should applaud her decision to run for Congress. “I’m leaving the seat (in Salem) open to anyone they want who does support a casino,” she said.

Into the lion’s den

The president of Gun Owners of New Hampshire, Mitch Kopacz, said earlier in the week that U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown would be “entering the lion’s den” in a meeting with GONH members on Tuesday. Judging from the comments of some who did attend (reporters weren’t allowed into the session at the Concord Holiday Inn), Brown didn’t get eaten alive, but he did get his ear chewed off.

The former Massachusetts senator has strayed from the NRA agenda through his preference for letting states make some decisions regarding gun regulations on their own, including a ban on assault weapons.

“There was a two-hour conversation,” said Kopacz on Wednesday. “I don’t know if anyone’s mind was changed, but there was respect in the room and frankness. People were frank with their questions and frank if they didn’t like what they heard.”

Brown’s three competitors in the GOP primary for the nomination to run against Democrat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen are likely to get higher letter grades from GONH when it issues its report card.

“Scott got a good dose of New Hampshire gun owners — people who understand the Constitution and what the Live Free or Die state really means. And he’s going to get more of that as he goes about his campaign,” Kopacz said.

Brown has already been targeted by gun rights protesters, about 50 of whom showed up across the street from the Holiday Inn on Tuesday night.

The candidate and the GONH members reviewed the organization’s pledge to uphold gun rights, although Brown would not sign it on the spot.

“He seemed to agree with most everything in it, in terms of the intent of what it said, though he wasn’t ready to sign the pledge at this time until he’s done some more research on what he’s signing,” Kopacz said. “Because once you sign something, you own it for life.”

Big nod for Little

Retiring Republican State Sen. Bob Odell of Lempster on Wednesday endorsed Jerry Little in the GOP primary for the District 8 state Senate seat that Odell is vacating. The endorsement comes as another line in the sand between moderate, establishment Republicans like Odell, and the Republican Liberty Alliance of New Hampshire, which has endorsed Little’s primary opponent, J.P. Marzullo, a former Deering selectman and incumbent vice chairman of the N.H. Republican Committee.

The Liberty Alliance, a Tea Party-style group, indicated it would have targeted Odell had he decided to run again because of his support for expanded Medicaid and an increase in the state’s gasoline tax.

Odell focused on Little’s accomplishments in his hometown of Weare. “As a former town moderator and member of the town Finance Committee and current member of the town’s Capital Improvement Projects committee, he has made tough budget decisions, and understands firsthand the impact government can have on local families and small businesses,” he said.

Little is a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, the former president of the New Hampshire Bankers Association and a former press secretary to Gov. John H. Sununu. He was news director for WJYY in Concord and an assignment editor with WMUR-TV in Manchester.

Odell, who has served in the Senate for the last 12 years, announced his support for Little in a morning interview on WNTK radio in New London.

District 8 includes the towns of Acworth, Antrim, Bennington, Bradford, Croydon, Deering, Francestown, Goshen, Grantham, Hillsborough, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, Newbury, New London, Newport, Springfield, Stoddard, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Washington, Weare and Windsor.

College at the crossroads

The state’s Higher Education Commission could be on the verge of finally extricating itself from oversight of a troubled university in Italy that many in higher education circles say should never have been issued degree-granting authority by New Hampshire in the first place.

The saga of St. John International University in Torino goes back to 2009, when a Senate bill was introduced by Manchester Democrat Lou D’Allesandro to charter the school under New Hampshire law.

At the time, two other overseas colleges drew their degree-granting authority from New Hampshire, and the Granite State looked like it was on the way to becoming the Grand Cayman Islands of university certification.

The SJIU board of directors at first included D’Allesandro, as well as Republican State Sen. Nancy Stiles, and the Rev. Jonathan DeFelice, president emeritus of Saint Anselm College, all of whom have since stepped down.

The school has faced more than a dozen legal complaints over unpaid wages in its five-year history and a nasty series of lawsuits and counter-suits involving its first president.

The appointment in February of Ed MacKay, former chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire, as director of the Division of Higher Education seems to have turned the tide.

The commission recently voted to convene on or before June 30 to consider the degree granting authority of SJIU, with a number of conditions required, including meeting payroll, confirmation that employee claims have been resolved and submission of a financial report. The state is also awaiting reimbursement for expenses associated with site visits that SJIU was supposed to cover, MacKay said.

Anne Blake, the school’s former dean of admissions and student life, was among those pursuing claims for unpaid wages through the state Department of Labor.

“My contacts in Italy (those still waiting to be paid) have told me that serious pressure is finally being put on SJIU by the NHHEC to pay the money owed or face losing its license,” she said.

“These individuals have been very impressed with the new executive director, Ed MacKay, who also headed up the site visit team in March. In fact, Mr. MacKay met with some of those former employees while in Italy. Not only has he communicated with them on a regular basis, he has responded to their questions and concerns in a timely and informative manner.”

Libertas Award winner

Joseph McQuaid, publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News, will be honored at the Josiah Bartlett Center’s annual Libertas Award banquet on July 23.

Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the free-market think tank, said McQuaid was receiving the award in recognition of his “lifelong commitment to an informed public discussion.”

McQuaid will be the fourth recipient of the award since the event was inaugurated in 2011. Former Manchester mayor and Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek will serve as this year’s dinner chairman.

Past Libertas Award winners were Gov. John H. Sununu, Wieczorek and Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem.

The Josiah Bartlett Center was launched in 1992, following the election of Bill Clinton as President. According to its website, the center has as its core beliefs individual freedom and responsibility, limited and accountable government and an appreciation of the role of the free enterprise system.

Arlinghaus, who has served as president of the organization since 2003, writes a weekly column on public policy for the New Hampshire Union

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