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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Secretary of State race getting louder, more bitter

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
October 03. 2018 11:42PM




A small universe of elected officials will select the Secretary of State for the next two years, but the campaign has become very public and increasingly bitter.

Challenger and former executive councilor Colin Van Ostern fired the latest volley with an op-ed column on Sept. 22, which accused longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner of not being transparent enough in how his office does business.

“With no legislative financial audit in more than 11 years and a payroll that grew to more than 100 people in the last decade, New Hampshire’s Secretary of State has traditionally resisted accountability to legislators and the public,” Van Ostern wrote pledging to pursue financial and performance audits of that agency if he’s elected with follow-up report audits done every four years.

The 424 legislators elected in November will elect both the state treasurer and Secretary of State on Dec. 6.

“Even our state’s constitutional offices must be accountable to the people. No one is above accountability, and it’s time for a Secretary of State who welcomes it,” Van Ostern concluded.

Less than two weeks later, Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan shot back with his own commentary defending Gardner’s record.

“Colin Van Ostern cites a thoroughly vetted and discredited audit of the Department of State that is more than a decade old to justify his latest criticism,” he wrote, calling the lack of accountability “ridiculous.”

“That statement is simply not true, and Van Ostern should know it. He has repeatedly been making misleading and reckless claims about the Department of State, and then immediately following up with fundraising requests. That fact says a lot about his motivation.”

This race has also been a debate between those supporting each camp.

On Wednesday, Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald weighed in more than most party leaders have in the past on this race squarely behind Gardner, a Manchester Democrat and former state legislator.

“Colin Van Ostern would represent a seismic shift in how the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office is run, threatening New Hampshire’s status as the first-in-the-nation primary,” MacDonald said.

“When voters go to the polls this November, people need to support Republican state representatives and senators who will reject Van Ostern’s candidacy.”

But some Democrats didn’t think Scanlan’s remarks were proper.

“I respect Dave Scanlan, but this action was totally inappropriate,” tweeted Paul Bergeron, the longtime, now-retired city clerk in Nashua who’s seeking a seat in the NH House this fall. “Bill Gardner should speak for himself, not have an underling speak for him.”

State Rep. Tim Smith, D-Manchester, offered a similar view.

“You’d think that someone in his position would know better ... you’d REALLY hope so, at least ... especially ironic is the ‘Everything is fine’ argument he made, while using his state title, which is itself NOT fine,” Smith posted on Twitter.

Gardner has said he should not outwardly campaign for the job he’s held longer than any state election official in the country.

He turned down an invitation to debate Van Ostern in Hanover, offering that he would have only appeared to make a presentation on what his office has been doing.

The other declared candidate for this post, former Manchester Democratic Rep. Peter Sullivan, had accepted the debate invite from the Hanover Democratic Committee.

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It’s less than five weeks before the election and there’s very little sign of life from political action committees that would play in the New Hampshire governor’s race.

Through mid-September, the Live Free or Die PAC that represents the Republican Governors Association raised only $100,000 and spent just over $83,000 — including $15,000 on direct mail pieces supporting Gov. Chris Sununu.

The Democratic Governors Association raised just a bit more, $139,162, but spent much less only $23,300 by that time.

There had been signs last summer that Democrats were far more focused on financially backing Democrats elsewhere against Republican incumbent governors seen as more vulnerable than Sununu is.

We’ll know in a few weeks whether that’s true or not.

The way campaign finance reports are filed, both committees have to reveal in mid-October whether they are playing big in New Hampshire.

For example it wasn’t until that time, Oct. 19, 2016, to be exact, when the national Democratic Governors Association, backing Van Ostern, reported the first $2.8 million down payment supporting him. Likewise the Republican Governors Association PAC in that same period disclosed it had raised $2.8 million.

By the end of the race, the GOP’s PAC had outspent the Democratic counterpart, $5.2 million to $4.6 million.

The large financial backing from union PACs helped Van Ostern’s side have $3 million more than Sununu’s did.

There’s another reason why the NH governor’s race is less important than others. Only Vermont and New Hampshire have two-year terms.

Thus, all of the other 34 governors elected in states this November will serve through 2022, which puts that governor in the driver’s seat when it comes to redistricting legislative and congressional seats after the 2020 Census.

With only two U.S. House seats, New Hampshire isn’t the redistricting prize that other swing states are with much bigger delegations like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.

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The conservative Josiah Bartlett Center put out a report Wednesday refuting the claim of Democratic candidate for governor Molly Kelly that Gov. Sununu placed more of a priority on big tax cuts for wealthy corporations than shoring up services for abused and neglected children.

The report maintains Sununu’s budget increased spending for the Division of Children Youth and Families by more than twice the increase in total state spending in that budget.

“No other budget in the last decade comes close to increasing DCYF funding by as large a percentage as the budget Gov. Sununu signed in 2017. Far from neglecting or under-funding DCYF, the 2018-19 budget treated it like a favored child,” the report said.

The essay maintained that business tax cuts did not restrict what could be spent on DCYF since business tax revenues have gone up since those taxes were cut.

“The Bartlett Center is a partisan sham group funded by the Koch Brothers and the Sununu family to do the Sununu campaign’s dirty work. Today, Chris Sununu’s extended campaign apparatus is working overtime to hide his record of putting corporate special interests ahead of the best interests of children and families in New Hampshire,” said Kelly campaign spokesman Chris Moyer.

“Chris Sununu received an audit report in December 2016 outlining exactly how to fix DCYF, but he failed to follow those recommendations.”

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The Josiah Bartlett Center also announced Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor at National Review, as their headliner for the 2018 Libertas Award Dinner on Dec. 10. Reservation details will be available soon on the center’s website. Goldberg’s column appears in the Union Leader.

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During the primary, Republican Eddie Edwards of Dover was the only one hosting town hall style meetings in the 1st Congressional District race in either party.

Edwards continues that tradition of sorts with a twist today, a roundtable on the state’s opioid crisis at the SOS Recovery Community Center in Dover.

Former State Rep. and Dr. Joseph Hannon is moderating the panel and also is seeking a seat in the House this fall.

Others on the panel include Kerry Norton who is chairing a state commission to study hypodermic needles and syringes, New Durham Fire Chief Peter Varney and Jay Ruais who serves on the Addiction Policy Forum after having been chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-NH.

Edwards will be hosting a Veterans Town Hall meeting at the Derry VFW post next Tuesday with local advocates Paul Chevalier of Hudson, Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry and Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead.

He’ll follow up with a general purpose town hall session a week from today at Turbocam in Barrington.

Democratic 1st District rival Chris Pappas instead has retail style events like his latest move, a series of chili fests with the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire that starts this Saturday at the Alpine Club in Manchester.

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Pappas did get the jump on Republican Edwards by putting up the first television commercial Wednesday that aired on WMUR and on cable outlets.

Once again he used his restaurant the Puritan Backroom in Manchester as the video backdrop for his ad that highlights his support for job training.

“It’s time for Washington to move beyond political differences and get our economy working for everyone. That will be my number-one priority if I have the honor of representing you in Congress,” Pappas said.

According to federal filings, Pappas is spending about $75,000 on the one-week ad buy.

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There was an outpouring of support from prominent to rank-and-file Democrats for Jason Kander after he revealed Tuesday morning that he had suffered from depression and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that go back to his service as an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan 11 years ago.

Kander went public with his symptoms and in so doing ended his bid for mayor of Kansas City, Mo. The former Missouri secretary of state had also been exploring a Democratic bid for President in 2020.

Over the past two years he’d already drawn one of the biggest crowds for a New Hampshire Democratic Party fundraiser last spring.

“So after 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it’s faster than me. That I have to stop running, turn around, and confront it,” Kander posted.

What is more significant for New Hampshire is Kander is also stepping away from leading Let America Vote, the left-wing PAC that has proven to be indispensable in helping to galvanize Democratic turnout here and in key states across the country.

State Democratic leaders fully acknowledge that Let America Vote wasn’t the only reason they won nine of 11 special elections in legislative seats but it played a pivotal role especially in helping to win over five seats that had previously been Republican.

“@JasonKander visited Manchester many times to support me & my campaign; now we’re here to support him,” Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig tweeted Tuesday.

“Jason, thank you for your bravery, honesty and service, wishing you all the best from New Hampshire.”

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The economic outlook for the state of New Hampshire looks pretty good with one month before the general election.

September’s state revenue report is an important one because it represents when most major corporations make a quarterly tax payment on what they owe in profits taxes.

This often indicates how optimistic business owners are about their profitability in the near future.

After the first quarter of the state’s financial year, revenues are already up nearly $45 million over the estimate and all but $1 million of that excess revenue is coming from the two taxes on business profits and business activity (Business Enterprise Tax).

All of the other taxes are less than 1 percent different than what legislative budget writers had expected when they wrapped up the two-year state budget in June 2017.

For the year business taxes are 32 percent over what had been forecast and they are 22 percent higher than for the same period a year ago.

“Tax relief for employers isn’t just creating a record number of jobs here in New Hampshire, it’s also growing record state revenues,” said Greg Moore. state director of Americans for Prosperity. “Our businesses are thriving and that is a win-win for everyone in the state. We are rebuilding the New Hampshire Advantage, which is improving the lives of thousands of people who now have work and making New Hampshire the destination for employers in the Northeast. We need to continue building this momentum and make ourselves even more competitive by doubling down on further tax relief.”

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How is it that in politics too the rich often only get richer?

This week’s case in point is three-term U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, who is far and away the healthiest (read campaign $$$) candidate on the ballot this November.

As of late August, she had nearly $3 million in the bank and in this cycle alone had raised $1 million of it from special interest groups.

Kuster’s TV commercial went up in the closing week before the primary when she was unopposed and she’ll no doubt remain on the air through the Nov. 6 election.

Meanwhile her GOP opponent, state Rep. Steve Negron of Nashua, may have to dip into his own personal wealth to get back up on the air to keep this race competitive.

So given her advantages why would the New Hampshire Democratic Party bankroll her first two mailings since the primary to Democratic and independent households across the 2nd District?

The answer likely lies in the hopes of Democratic Party leaders that their early support can help create enough of a lead for the incumbent that the national GOP party committees and the ideological PACs that support their chosen candidates don’t decide to weigh in big on Negron’s behalf.

On Wednesday, Kuster’s campaign hosted an event in Nashua to highlight her Veterans for Annie committee.

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Democratic candidate for governor Kelly said she’s agreed to these five debates with Gov. Chris Sununu:

• New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs, Oct. 11 in Durham;

• Nashua Chamber of Commerce, Oct. 22 in Nashua;

• NHPR, Oct. 24 in Manchester;

• Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Oct. 30 in Manchester and,

• WMUR/Union Leader, end of Oct./early Nov. in Goffstown (NH Institute of Politics).

“These debates will show the clear choice facing the people of New Hampshire this year. My opponent puts corporate special interests first. As Governor, I will put the people first and build a New Hampshire that works for everyone,” Kelly said.

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Cassandra Levesque, a Southern New Hampshire University student seeking a seat in the Legislature this fall, got a big political shout-out on social media this week.

Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Cassandra Levesque is only 19 years old, but she already has a successful statewide campaign under her belt: She spent four years working with her legislator to end child marriage in New Hampshire. Now she’s running for state rep herself.”

She championed the legislation Governor Sununu signed to raise the age for marriage from 13 to 16.

Levesque wanted and has vowed to keep pursuing reform that would raise it to 18.

Matthew Towne and Levesque, both of Barrington, are the two Democrats running for two seats in Strafford County against Republicans Robert Drew and Jenny Wilson.

Both incumbents, Democrat Jackie Cilley and Republican Leonard Turcotte, are not seeking another term in the House this fall.

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Gray Chynoweth, the Democrat running for Pappas’ seat representing the 4th District, continues to highlight abortion rights as a big difference between he and GOP candidate and former Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.

He’ll be the guest of honor for a Planned Parenthood fundraiser with Kuster and other abortion rights leaders Oct. 10 at the home of Kristyn Van Ostern, 111 Centre St. in Concord.

It’s also home to 2016 nominee for governor Colin Van Ostern.

This issue was a rallying cry for Van Ostern who filed in 2012 against then-Executive Councilor Dan St. Hilare, a Concord Republican who voted against Planned Parenthood grants.

St. Hilare ultimately decided not to run for another term as councilor.

“In New Hampshire, extreme politicians only need three votes on the Executive Council to deny patients access to the critical health care services that Planned Parenthood provides,” Chynoweth’s campaign said in an email invitation.

“They already have two votes, and Gray’s opponent, Ted Gatsas, has pledged to be vote number three. We need to fight back in order to protect access to Planned Parenthood for all New Hampshire residents.”

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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