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Dave Solomon's Granite Status: Mutual respect and sincerity in the 'sausage factory'

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 05. 2014 12:13AM

Mutual respect and genuine affection spread across the aisles of the New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday, as three senators were honored upon their retirement and a fourth made a surprise announcement. Partisan politics were set aside as the Senate wound up business for the current session.

There were hugs, tears and speeches from the heart, as the Upper Chamber bid farewell to retiring Republicans Bob Odell, R-Lempster, Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and Jim Rausch, R-Derry, and then heard the surprise announcement from the Dean of the Senate, Democrat Sylvia Larsen, that she would not seek reelection.

Larsen struggled to retain her composure as she bid her peers farewell and suggested the best tribute they could provide would be to honor her legacy of decency and fair play, whether in the majority or minority. Odell and Rausch offered sincere personal reflections not often heard in the "sausage factory" that is the State House.

A retired veterinarian, Rausch was nearly poetic as he described his most calming moments amid the stress of his practice — the birth of a new litter of puppies.

"I would hold that newborn puppy close to me," he said, "and smell the sweet aroma of puppy breath, those tiny little fingers trying to cling to me, and their wet nose against my face. It always made my day a little easier, and a lot nicer."

He urged his peers to "find your puppy kiss moment to make your day a little easier and a lot nicer."

Odell choked back tears as he described the trauma of his wife’s struggle and eventual death from ovarian cancer in 2009, and how he found support in the Senate.

"Who do I call but Sylvia Larsen," he said. "I don’t know why, but I felt a part of this chamber, and I thought she should know. She made accommodations for me, and it was heartening."

He recalled the words of a previous Senate chaplain who said "It’s OK to tell your colleagues you love them." So he did. In the season of graduations, the Senate had an impromptu commencement of its own.

Ethics complaint filed

It’s been a year since Republicans first accused Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and six other senators of pressuring the IRS to audit conservative political groups, but with the campaign season heating up, the charge is being revived in the form of a formal complaint to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

The Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative policy group that identifies itself as a supporter of the First Amendment, on Tuesday filed the complaint calling for an investigation of nine senators, including Shaheen, claiming they "violated Senate rules and abused the powers of their office for political gain by requesting IRS investigations of specifically named organizations and interfering with IRS adjudications of non-profit tax status."

The issue revolves around letters Shaheen and other senators signed in 2012 asking the IRS to review its oversight of 501(c)(4) organizations that get involved in politics — organizations like Americans for Prosperity.

"Richard Nixon faced impeachment charges for attempting to use the IRS for political purposes. These similar actions surely require the Ethics Committee to sanction one or more of these senators or, at the very least, to adopt rules to ensure it never happens again," said David Keating, president of the center. "Over many years, both Republicans and Democrats sought to use the IRS for political purposes and this must stop."

In addition to Shaheen, the complaint names Democratic senators Carl Levin, Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer, Michael Bennet, Sheldon Whitehouse, Al Franken, Jeff Merkley, and Tom Udall, and accuses them of improperly interfering with IRS administrative proceedings.

"This a frivolous, partisan complaint rooted in attacks already discredited by independent fact checkers," said Shaheen spokesman Shripal Shah. "Senator Shaheen believes the IRS should make sure all groups, regardless of their partisan leaning, are not exploiting the tax code for political purposes."

By "independent fact checkers" Shah was alluding to the PolitiFact media consortium, which in late 2013 examined the issue and labeled claims that Shaheen "got behind the idea of using the IRS to target American citizens for their political views" as "mostly false."

"Shaheen did ask the IRS to tighten its oversight of groups that are tax-free because they’re supposed to be pursuing social welfare efforts, but which are actually spending substantial amounts of money on political campaigns," according to PolitiFact. "Shaheen, however, voiced her opinion about two years after the controversial IRS efforts were already under way, and there is no evidence that she was aware of alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups before it became public."

Brown’s energy tour

The man who would like to challenge Shaheen in the fall, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, spent the week on his "Making Energy Affordable" tour, making several stops throughout the state to promote his recently unveiled energy policy.

Brown’s plan would focus on increasing domestic production, promoting energy efficiency and supporting renewable energy through what he called an "all of the above" approach.

He said he would rein in the EPA’s regulatory power through stronger Congressional oversight and work on passing the Keystone pipeline to "create good-paying jobs and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy."

The plan calls for encouraging natural gas production in New Hampshire by fast-tracking projects like one proposed in Groveton Village at the site of a former paper mill, where developers are proposing a $100 million liquefied natural gas production facility.

He also called for programs to help establish natural gas storage facilities in New Hampshire.

Expanding the use of biofuels and renewable energy sources, along with support for nuclear energy, are also part of the Brown energy platform. The candidate, who faces four opponents in the primary, made clear his opposition to a tax on carbon emissions.

Christie to campaign for Havenstein

Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein has announced that New Jersey Gov. and Chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, Chris Christie, will be campaigning with him in New Hampshire later this month.

"I’m excited that Governor Christie is coming to the Granite State to support my campaign," Havenstein said. "This is a sign that momentum is building and we are on our way to winning the governor’s office in New Hampshire.

Havenstein is in a primary fight with conservative businessman Andrew Hemingway for the nomination to face incumbent Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in the fall.

"Across the country it is Republican governors who are leading America’s comeback." Havenstein said. "In the 29 states led by Republican governors, we see economic growth and job creation."

Christie and Havenstein are planning campaign stops in the Manchester area during the day and a fundraiser in Atkinson during the evening of June 20.

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