By any definition, it was a big special election win Tuesday for Democrats in Concord and Nashua municipal races.
The first question is whether the Republican party, under new Chairman Steve Stepanek, had enough time and money to affect the outcome after five weeks at the helm.
The second is whether this will be a harbinger of even more Democratic wins in special elections to come through 2020 as we saw throughout 2017-18.
In Nashua, Ben Clemons won a citywide seat on the Board of Aldermen with a 2-1 margin over former Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, a fiscal conservative.
Clemons had the entire Democratic Party establishment behind him as the brother of a national political operative and the son of former Rep. Jane Clemons, who for years was chairman of the city’s House delegation.
Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said the win continued a streak of party domination in the Gate City.
“We have steadily been making progress in Nashua over the past several years, and this was a real satisfying victory in what should have been a very competitive race,” Buckley said.
To be sure, Teeboom hurt himself with comments in the community that critics said were homophobic. Over the years, Teeboom also has had strident fights with school administrators along with court battles with the city over the now-unenforceable tax cap.
But Buckley said Teeboom had his followers.
“Fred had served citywide twice before in Nashua. Voters in every community tend to be supportive of having at least one gadfly on a government board so as to keep everyone honest,” Buckley said.
He was alluding to Manchester’s Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, a Republican, whom the voters have returned to city government even as more Democrats get elected.
“I didn’t want to mention his name,” Buckley said, referring to a longtime feud the two have had.
Buckley said a turning point in Nashua’s Democratic dominance came in 2017 when young Democrats helped elect three people to citywide seats on the board: Shohanna Kelly, Brandon Laws and David Tencza.
Both the citywide and young Democrats groups worked together in 2018 to scoop up all Nashua seats in the House delegation and run up big totals that helped Nashua Democrat Debora Pignatelli return to the Executive Council and Michael Conlon beat Nashua Republican incumbent Dennis Hogan as Hillsborough County attorney.
Stepanek said those kind of devastating results weren’t going to be undone in a month. “There are parts of Nashua where Republicans remain strong and we’re going to start with those,” he said.
Retired Nashua car dealer Jack Tulley has agreed to chair the Nashua GOP City Committee, and Stepanek said they’ll get about the job of rebuilding a financial base and recruiting candidates to run for local, state and county seats over the next 18 months.
In Concord, Zandra Rice Hawkins of the liberal interest group Granite State Progress took back a Concord City Council seat in Ward 10 that Republican Dan St. Hilaire had held until Gov. Chris Sununu nominated him to a superior court judgeship.
Likewise, Byron Champlin, a three-term city council member, Democratic fundraiser and supporter, easily won a citywide seat on the council over three rivals.
Stepanek said despite St. Hilaire’s pedigree, the Concord GOP has a lot of catching up to do.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us in Concord; it’s a Democratic enclave, but we’ve got supporters in the city, of course, and the challenge going forward is to organize them and strategically try to make gains,” Stepanek said.
Bringing the ’18 band back
Republican losses in those midterm elections last November haven’t dampened the spirits of candidates prepping for another run at it in 2020.
Eddie Edwards of Dover, the GOP nominee in the 1st Congressional District, told conservative activists last week that while the decision isn’t definite yet, he’s serious about seeking a rematch with U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-NH.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report this week identified this seat as one of only two in New England now held by a Democrat where Trump won in 2016.
Former Nashua GOP state Rep. and 2nd Congressional District nominee Steve Negron says he “hasn’t stopped running” and intends to again try to defeat four-term U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, next year.
Then there’s Lynne Blankenbeker, the former Concord state representative and Navy veteran who lost to Negron in the 2018 GOP primary. Blankenbeker told the Right of Center meeting earlier this week that she too could join the field.
Stepanek said he’s not surprised those who came up short last time are looking to get back into the arena.
“I think part of that is the Trump factor; no question about it that the liberal base was fired up during the midterm, but next year all those who support this President and his policies are going to come out of the woodwork,” Stepanek said.
Gregg: Buck Trump
Former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, joined a growing number of Republican voices calling for the GOP majority in the Senate to buck President Trump and block his declaration of an emergency to build the border wall.
In a lengthy op-ed published in The Hill on Wednesday, Gregg said Trump came into office in 2016 vowing to shake things up, but he has cheapened the office.
“Unfortunately, his waves of tweets and helter-skelter approach have compromised the office of the presidency,” Gregg wrote.
“He came into office with the stated purpose of creating disorder in Washington. But in doing so, he has degraded the status of the presidency, so that it no longer serves as an emblem of the higher calling that Americans expect and the world needs.
“In the process, he has inflicted wounds upon his own ability to pursue his agenda.”
The opinion piece also condemns congressional Democratic leaders for pushing their agenda to the “socialist” left.
But Gregg said Senate Republicans should block this declaration and defend the separation of powers.
“One can understand that Republicans in the Senate do not wish to end up divided from the Republican President. “This is not a good political place to be. But Republican senators should be committed to doing the politically difficult thing,” Gregg wrote.
“A Republican Senate should be made up of individuals who are strong enough in their own right to stand for the institution’s unique role,” he wrote.
“Political gain will not result from the Republican Senate asserting the right of the entire Senate to be a separate and equal branch of government rather than an adjunct to this or any other president.
“But even if walking down that path may involve some political discomfort, it is the right and necessary route to take,” he concluded.
Bill O’Brien explores Senate bid
To the delight of GOP conservatives, former House Speaker Bill O’Brien of Mont Vernon has confirmed he will seriously explore a campaign against U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2020.
O’Brien left elective office voluntarily in 2016 to pursue business interests.
But he said at the time that this was not a ride off into the sunset, never to return to elective politics.
Those close to O’Brien insist this exploratory campaign will be careful and only become a campaign if O’Brien is convinced he can raise enough money (read multimillions) for this race to be competitive.
O’Brien has already gotten some encouragement.
Both U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich have said they would endorse O’Brien and help him get the financial stake he would need to make this race a reality.
Whether O’Brien ends up running or not, the move is a helpful one for it signals the state GOP is determined not to allow Shaheen to have a sleepy reelection campaign.
The only other Republican who hasn’t ruled out a 2020 Senate campaign is Jay Lucas, a 1998 GOP nominee for governor and New London businessman.
For the next several months, Lucas will be singularly focused on the economic development and education initiative he launched in his hometown of Newport.
Pappas seeks Wounded Warrior fellow
Rep. Pappas has joined the Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program in the U.S. House and is taking applications to hire an advocate for veterans who will work in his Manchester office.
The program is limited to veterans and requirements include that the person has a service-connected disability and has been honorably discharged from active duty within the last five years.
“Our veterans should never have to jump through hoops to access the care they’ve earned, and I am glad we will have another fellow to help our veterans navigate complex federal agencies,” Pappas said. “If you, or someone you know, is interested in this rewarding position, I encourage you to contact our office and learn more.”
Those interested should contact Pappas’ office at 285-4300.
Conservative AFP praises Hassan in digital ad buy
It’s not every week the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity spends money to thank Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., for her service.
That’s just what they did this week with digital ads praising Hassan for being one of eight original sponsors of legislation to give Congress a vote on certain tariffs before they can take effect.
AFP has endorsed the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act.
“Imposing barriers to economic growth and taxing American consumers and businesses in the form of tariffs threaten to undo the economic growth we’ve experienced the past two years. New Hampshire job creators, consumers, and workers have been harmed by counter-productive tariffs that Congress has had no say in,” said Greg Moore, AFP’s state director.
“Congress should have a vote on tariffs proposed by a president before they take effect. We thank Senator Hassan and urge her to continue working to remove trade barriers and protect Granite Staters from these unnecessary taxes.”
2020 Democratic candidate parade continues
New Hampshire’s 2016 presidential primary winner Bernie Sanders finally begins his first-in-the-nation primary campaign here this Sunday with a mid-day rally at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.
Before that, Sanders will make campaign stops Saturday in Iowa, which will hold the first caucus next year.
Before this big return, two other Democrats with presidential thoughts will come back Friday.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., and declared 2020 candidate, will headline the Politics and Eggs forum at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on Friday morning.
Also on Friday, two-term U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., will continue his 2020 exploratory campaign with three stops. Bennet will start the trip meeting with City Year members in Manchester, tour and host a town hall with employees at Graphicast in Jaffrey and conclude the trip with a house party at the home of Gerri and Ron King in Concord.
New PAC hitting Feltes with familiar GOP names
As my colleague David Solomon reported, a new political advocacy organization, A Better New Hampshire, financed radio ads airing Wednesday that attacked Dan Feltes, Senate Majority Leader and potential 2020 Democratic candidate for governor, over his support for altering the work requirement under Medicaid expansion.
The group formed on Feb. 4, and in its filing, the principals said they would not be making independent expenditures directly on behalf of candidates for the 2020 election.
Both named individuals with the group are with the Manchester public relations firm of Spectrum Marketing. The chairman of the group is Chuck McGee, a former state party executive director, and the treasurer is Kerry Marsh, who has chaired the Merrimack County Republicans and played a major part in the state campaign of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.
In 2005, McGee received a seven-month federal prison sentence for his role in the scandal of jamming Democratic campaign phones on Election Day in 2002.
Since then McGee has worked without controversy in the background on behalf of conservative candidates and causes.
Shaheen pushes for continued opioid grants
Shaheen’s signature led a letter from the entire congressional delegation urging President Trump to extend big spending increases for New Hampshire to fight the opioid epidemic. Without further action, some of the grants will expire at the end of this October.
Shaheen and Co. urge Trump to put them into the annual budget he’ll present to Congress in the coming weeks.
The last bipartisan budget agreement included set-aside grants for New Hampshire and other states hardest hit by the epidemic. Those changes led to more than a seven-fold increase in annual grants to New Hampshire through the State Opioid Response Grant Program.
“Given the scale and scope of the opioid crisis, we need to work together to ensure that resources are available over the long term to meet the challenge,” Shaheen said.
BIA sounds warning on setting PFAS levels
The state’s largest business lobby warned the state Department of Environmental Services to do its homework before creating state maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The concept of setting PFAS standards at the state level enjoys strong support in the Democratically led Legislature and is a top priority of environmental activists for the 2019 session.
In testimony given earlier this week, however, Business and Industry Association President Jim Roche said a DES summary report does “fall far short” of identifying the full cost of setting these standards.
“Finally, the department needs to appropriately answer the most basic question: Will lowering MCLs have any measurable effect on health outcomes? To date, this question has not been properly addressed,” Roche said.