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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Is Van Ostern trying to get a running start on 2018?

December 27. 2017 9:11PM
Colin Van Ostern, the runner-up for governor in 2016, hasn't declared whether he will contest Gov. Chris Sununu's bid next year for a second term as many observers believe he will. (Kimberly Houghton/Union Leader Correspondent file photo)

Did you really think Colin Van Ostern was going to sit out 2018?

The runner-up for governor in 2016 hasn’t declared whether he will contest Gov. Chris Sununu’s bid next year for a second term as many observers believe he will.

But a look inside his first foray into fundraising as a non-candidate shows that when it comes to big money, the Concord Democrat still has it.

Van Ostern’s political action committee, N.H. Forward, has largely stayed in the background since he formally filed it right around the one-year anniversary of his defeat to Sununu last November. That doesn’t mean it’s been inactive, just under the radar.

Indeed, over a two-month period from Oct. 3 through Dec. 4, Van Ostern’s committee raised a cool $46,500 and almost all of that in effortless $500 or $1,000 donations.

The names and their relationships with Van Ostern were already well known: former Democratic National Committeeman and ex-state Sen. Peter Burling ($5,000), Stonyfield Farm Yogurt co-founder and Concord Democrat Gary Hirshberg ($1,000), Dr. Geoffrey Clark, husband of state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth ($5,000), Keene businessman and retired investor Jim Putnam ($1,000), and ex-Democratic Chairman Charlton MacVeigh of Marlborough ($1,000).

This was a vivid reminder of how this former executive councilor lost the election but beat the well-connected Sununu pretty handily when it came to identifying a big donor base.

The New Hampshire Union Leader was the first to chronicle after that election thanks to the special interest groups representing labor, education and other sources, Van Ostern’s money advantage over the Republican standard-bearer was more than 2-to-1.

Now that he’s the incumbent, Sununu won’t let that happen to him again in 2018.

Should Van Ostern jump back into the race for governor, however, he’ll have enough money to put up a fight.

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State Senate Dist. 23 is a struggle for Democrats but it appears they’ve found at least one solid candidate for it in 2018.

He’s Jonathan Thomas Mongan of Brentwood, who attended public high schools in Manchester before working on terrorism threat assessments for the Department of Defense.

Mongan then built a business development effort assisting companies in emerging markets including Africa.

He and his wife, Katie, lived there before returning to New Hampshire to raise their three children.

Prior to the 2010 redistricting, it was a swing seat and much of it was the seat Democrat Maggie Hassan held before winning the governor’s office.

It’s much more GOP leaning now and Bill Gannon of Sandown will be no easy incumbent to beat.

“It doesn’t get as much attention as Washington, but there’s a lot that needs fixing in Concord,” Mongan posted on his Facebook page. “Our current state senator, along with many of his colleagues, has fought against NH workers, our public schools and our voting rights. He wants to take health care and food stamps away from tens of thousands of low-income, working NH citizens and their children.”

Most recently, he’s managed to raise $8,080 and spend $4,456 on his fledgling campaign. Half of that money came from family members, according to his most recent report.

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The Trump administration has rewarded another seasoned political operative with the next opportunity in federal employment.

Mark Sanborn, who served as the state political director for the Trump-Pence ticket in New Hampshire during the fall of 2016, was recently named a senior adviser in rural development for the U.S. Department of Agricutlture.

Since January, Sanborn had served the U.S. Department of Transportation in the area of pipeline and hazardous materials safety administration.

Sanborn has had a long history of federal service that included staff jobs for former Congressman Charles Bass and ex-Senator Bob Smith, both R-N.H.

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The big question when Jeanie Forrester became chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee was could she raise enough money to be competitive.

The first year is in the books and after having raised nearly $200,000, Forrester gets a passing grade.

But she sure owes a holiday gift card to her biggest booster — Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem.

Morse controls the Senate Republican Majority Political Action Committee and that PAC in the last six months alone gave the state GOP $52,500.

For those who might scoff at relying upon the big donors, Forrester is merely parroting the political party master at this art form — New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley.

The New Hampshire Dems collected $835,452 in the entire year and spent all but $120,000 of it to support a full-time staff of more than 15. For more than a decade, Buckley has made the state party a one-stop shopping mecca from where most of the political advertising, mail and hired strategic help spring.

As a result, Democratic candidate committees exist to feed the beast.

In 2017, Manchester Mayor-elect Joyce Craig got the brightest gold star in Buckley’s corner turning over nearly $153,000 of her donations to state party coffers.

But she wasn’t alone as other big sources of state party support this past year included state Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh ($19,000), the Senate Democratic Caucus ($90,797), the Committee to Elect House Democrats ($35,682) and New Hampshire Young Democrats ($21,000).

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GOP Chairman Forrester said it was more than a bad look last week when House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff and Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley showed up in defense of Concord Democratic Rep. Katherine Rogers who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge against Susan Olsen, a gun rights activist.

As part of the deal, Rogers, a former county attorney, has agreed to take an anger management class.

The incident happened at the state archives building on South Fruit Street during a ballot recount between Democrat Andrew Hosmer and Republican Harold French after the 2016 election.

Forrester and other GOP lawmakers have called on Rogers to resign from the House.

“This news is startling and should lead directly to Representative Rogers’ resignation from office,” Forrester said. “The fact that Democrat Party Chair Raymond Buckley and Democrat Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff showed up to signal their support for her is deeply disappointing. We encourage New Hampshire Democrat leaders to send a strong message to Granite Staters that violence against anyone is not acceptable by demanding Representative Rogers to resign effective immediately.”

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It’s hardly Washington’s version of tax reform but Jan. 1 brings another round of business tax cuts to New Hampshire.

The state’s two main taxes on business go down Jan. 1. This springs from the 2015 state budget but only became real last June when the first round of tax cuts brought in more state revenue than had been estimated.

The Business Profits Tax drops from 8.2 percent to 7.9 percent, which brings it below the 8 percent rate in Massachusetts.

The Business Enterprise Tax goes down again, this time from .72 percent to .675 percent.

The budget Gov. Sununu signed last spring will deliver two more rounds of tax cuts in 2019 and 2021.

Americans for Prosperity made these tax cuts a top priority.

“Dropping our primary state business tax rate below that of Massachusetts is a clear signal that the Granite State is rebuilding the New Hampshire Advantage,” said Greg Moore, AFP’s state director.

“Moreover, the additional tax relief in the current budget will ensure that we extend that advantage for years to come. This is a critical milestone to making our economy the strongest in the Northeast.”

Democratic Party Chairman Buckley said Sununu’s priorities are misplaced.

“Governor Sununu had an opportunity to fully fund the alcohol fund, freeze tuition for New Hampshire students and fund workforce training. Instead, he chose to give himself a $22,000 raise and give the wealthiest 3% of corporations a $100 million tax cut, shortchanging so many key services in the process,” Buckley said in a statement.

“Alongside his support for the Republican tax scam, Sununu has demonstrated a pattern of favoring corporate special interests over working families. It’s one of the many reasons we are working to make Sununu a 1-term governor.”

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Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, discovered one of the vagaries of campaign finance law in New Hampshire and that is you can’t move all your state campaign cash into a bid for Congress.

So Pappas has decided to do the next best thing — buy some good will with the war chest he has.

Before declaring he was going to run to represent the First Congressional District, Pappas had raised nearly $25,000.

By early December, he had already spent three-fourths of it, sending nearly $4,000 to the state party and $100 to $250 apiece to candidates for state House and city aldermanic and school board seats.

Email news and tips to granitestatus@unionleader.

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