Gov. Maggie Hassan’s political opponents on Tuesday attacked her plan to go ahead with a $15,000 trade mission to Turkey despite a travel ban she requested in light of state revenue shortfalls.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway launched a petition drive on his campaign website in the hope of blocking the trip, scheduled for June 20-27, with Hassan leading a delegation of eight business representatives and six state employees.
Hemingway’s opponent in the Republican primary for the right to challenge Hassan in the fall, Walt Havenstein, issued a statement of his own just minutes ahead of Hemingway, calling the trip a junket.
“A trade mission without an economic development plan is just a vacation,” said the former BAE executive.
The conservative policy group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire recently filed a right-to-know request for more details on the trip, and received a reply from Jeffrey Rose, commissioner of Resources and Economic Development, on May 30.
Among other things, Rose identifies the 15-member delegation, including Hassan, who, according to Rose, “Is paying all costs for her daughter to accompany her, but she is not an official part of the trade mission.”
The businesses had to cover their own costs, including international airfare, incidental expenses and a $2,500 per person “participation fee.”
The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists, known as TUSKON, is paying all of the costs for the governor and one member of the state police, according to Rose. The trade mission has been organized in partnership with TUSKON and the Turkish Cultural Center in Manchester.
Rose elaborated on the explanation provided last week by Hassan’s spokesman that most of the money has already been spent.
“In early May, when state revenues were still $25 million above plan and before the (travel) freeze, the state and the businesses paid most of the upfront costs for the mission,” he wrote.
A detailed expense ledger attached to Rose’s response reveals that only $5,000 remains in DRED’s “out-of-state travel account” due to a series of checks written on May 7 and 8 — including $6,000 to Milne Travel and $4,000 to the Turkish Cultural Center.
“DRED is required to use Milne Travel agency as they are the state contractor for travel,” the letter states. “Additionally, as required by state rules, all international flights are economy class.”
Money in DRED budget
The money for the trip was approved as part of DRED’s portion of the state budget, but money for other trips was approved as well. Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire is following up on its initial right-to-know request with a new request asking if any previously scheduled trips are being cancelled.
“If our revenue projections are coming in under expectations and we are running in the red, why would the governor take a trip to Turkey, of all places?” Hemingway said. “We would see a more immediate and larger growth from her traveling to Massachusetts and New York to bring new and growing companies to New Hampshire.”
Havenstein echoed that theme.
“Trade missions are an important part of the governor’s role, but they can only be effective if they are part of a coherent strategy,” he said. “Companies will be asking what the governor’s plan is for bringing business to New Hampshire from other states. They might also wonder why Turkey was chosen over our more important trading partners, such as Canada and Mexico.”
The state Republican Party ratcheted up the rhetoric with a news release of its own, headlined “Hypocrite Hassan readies for turkey trot despite travel freeze,” and played off the Havenstein reference to vacations by pointing out that Turkey was recently named the top travel destination in the world by tripadvisor.com.
Rose says that Turkey was selected for a number of reasons.
“Turkey is currently our 12th largest trading partner, with potential for even more growth, particular as direct flights from Boston to Istanbul began this spring,” he wrote. “In addition, we were able to secure TUSKON as a partner, helping reduce the costs for our business and state government.”
The delegation of business representatives headed for Turkey includes Andrew White, president of Comptus Environmental Sensors of New Boston, and a company shareholder, Tracy White.
Also on the list: Bella Okyar, controller of Conductive Compounds in Hudson; former state representative and lobbyist Jim Demers, president and CEO at Demers and Blaisdell; Susan Lehmann, an attorney at Hinckley Allen; Thomas Blais, president of Rokon 2-Wheel Drive Motorcycles in Rochester; C. Davis Farmer, a partner in Ulysses Group, an engineering and consulting firm in East Kingston; and Janet Kwiatkowski, president of MAE Consulting in Deerfield.
In addition to Hassan, state employees on the trip are Liani Balasuriya from the governor’s staff; officers Scott Frye and Sherry Vestal of the N.H. State Police; Jeffrey Rose, DRED commissioner; Tina Kasim, program manager for the state Office of International Commerce at DRED; and Laura Mayo, international trade officer at OIC.
“It is now abundantly clear that Governor Hassan actually plans to break her own executive order against out-of-state travel by utilizing $15,000 from the state’s general fund to pay for her trip to Turkey this month,” said Matthew Murphy, executive director of Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire. “The fact that she is yielding herself an exception to her own executive order only begs more questions that Granite Staters demand answers to. Once again, we will await a response from the governor’s office on our right-to-know request for more information.”