As we saw with the vote Wednesday to restore a ban on carrying guns in the State House, Second Amendment advocates are going to be playing defense in the next two years with Gov. Chris Sununu the only obvious obstacle to advancing gun control legislation in 2019-20.
But a private meeting Gov. Sununu hosted among some of the state’s leading gun advocates revealed some divisions remain in the ranks.
Former Senate Majority Robert Clegg of Hudson, president of Pro Gun NH, proposed the session along with Susan Olsen, who heads up the Women’s Defense League.
Other groups at the meeting included Gun Owners of New Hampshire, Londonderry Fish and Game and conservative independent activist Kimberly Morin, along with D.J. Bettencourt, Sununu’s Policy Director and ex-House Majority Leader.
Sununu’s office pointed out that this was not all the leading representative groups.
Outgoing Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, and Alan Rice, both leaders in the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, were also invited. But when Wheeler walked into the room where he’s sat as a member of the Executive Council, Clegg stood up in protest.
Clegg has a long-running feud with the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, contending they never accounted for how they spent a $3,000 donation he made a few years ago, and other personal disputes between the pair.
“I am not sitting if that guy is here,” Clegg said of Rice after the meeting.
According to Clegg, the governor said he could leave if he didn’t want to remain, so he did.
“The governor said it’s time for people to change the leadership in the 2-A community. I don’t have to be president of Pro Gun NH, but I’m not going anywhere,” Clegg said.
In solidarity, Olsen followed Clegg and they both left, as did Morin.
Rice, the NHFC president, said Clegg did make a generous donation, but the 501-C4 non-profit and is not required to disclose its donors.
“He has no right to look in our checkbook,” Rice said.
“We are as transparent as the law requires. The fact he disagrees with it. If he feels that strongly about it, propose changes and try to change the law.
“If he had given to our PAC we would have disclosed that donation, as we do all of those contributions, but he didn’t. He gave to the non-profit.”
Bettencourt had hoped that bringing the warring factions together could have been a unifying moment but that wasn’t happening.
Rice said this won’t change how his group operates.
“We aren’t changing what we do because Bob Clegg doesn’t talk with us, disagrees with us or doesn’t like us,” Rice said.
“What Bob Clegg does is not going to change the way we respond to bills pro or con in the Legislature.”
The NHFC was very critical of the 6-4 vote to restore the gun ban.
“By banning guns in Representatives Hall, state representatives, many of whom are female and carry guns for self-defense against larger, stronger assailants will be disarmed and easy prey when they walk from remote parking garages to the State House,” Rice said. “The party that claims to support women is leaving women defenseless.
“It is sad that these people are naive enough to really believe that a rule and sign will stop a criminal intent on murder. Armed self-defense works, taking away rights has failed wherever it has been attempted.”
Both Clegg and Rice agree on one thing. They maintained the ban on carrying in the State House can only apply to lawmakers and their staff. If it’s applied to members of the public who are carrying concealed weapons and one of them is searched, a lawsuit is likely to result, they said.
Wallner gets the nod
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, had a very ticklish task as the new House leader.
Who was to be the next chairwoman of the House Finance Committee?
Chairwoman was the operative word because the two female contenders happened to be past chairs who each owned the role at various times when Democrats last controlled the House of Representatives.
The two candidates were Durham Democratic State Rep. Marjorie Smith, who had been chair twice, and Concord Democratic Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, who had served once.
Shurtleff played it privately but smartly.
Wallner and Shurleff have had a long-term relationship since both are Capital City Democrats.
Smith wanted to return to take over the reins of writing the next two-year House budget but Shurtleff shrewdly went to Smith right after he had convincingly won his nomination for speaker in the Democratic caucus over Hampton Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing.
“Mary Jane has seniority and has worked very, very closely with Steve so it makes sense that she should be chair of Finance,” Smith said during a telephone interview.
“Steve did extend the courtesy to me that i would not be chair of Finance; he was kind enough to tell me.”
Shurtleff then offered a pretty good consolation prize for Smith: chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee.
“I chaired it the last time the Democrats were in the majority and it was the first committee i was assigned to when I first came to the House in 1997,” Smith said.
“I think it will work out fine.’’
Wallner is bringing about another reform.
She will have a slightly smaller committee as Finance will drop from a high of 25 members in recent years to 22 for 2019-20.
A change for Eaton
There’s another long-time face who won’t be returning to the House budget panel. That’s 15-term State Rep. Dan Eaton, D-Stoddard, who has been a fixture on Finance for more than two decades.
Eaton was widely considered an expert when it came to state spending on law enforcement, fish and game and education.
Eaton has instead been assigned to House Committee on Public Works and Highways.
The past House budget writer, Eaton has a lot of experience shepherding the two-year Capital Budget when it gets to Finance. Now he is on the committee where that spending bill will start, but not as its chairman.
Last August, New Hampshire Public Radio reported Eaton was reprimanded after a State House employee claimed he had been engaged in a “long pattern of behavior” that created a “hostile work environment.”
Former House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff investigated the matter.
There’s no evidence Shurtleff made the change due to that controversy but Shurtleff has vowed to make sure the Legislature’s human resources office delivers more accountability when it comes to sexual harassment.
Seating by party back in fashion
Shurtleff has made another policy change but this one came at the request of the minority.
The last Democratic House speaker, former Portsmouth Rep. Terie Norelli, decided in her second and final term with the gavel to mix both Democratic and Republican members throughout the vast seating array in Representatives Hall.
At the time, Norelli said it was important for all legislators to get acquainted with one another and fraternize without regard to their party label.
Now that the Republicans are back in the minority, new House Republican Leader Dick Hinch, of Merrimack, had a request.
Hinch wanted to have the Republicans all sit in one section so that they could remain unified in responding to the agenda of the Democratic leadership.
Shurtleff has agreed, so for the next two years we’ll be going back to seating by party in the 400-person House.
MacDonald rallies the troops
Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald isn’t seeking a full, two-year term as chairman in January but is determined to try and improve party finances on his way out the door.
“Losing the House, Senate, and Executive Council is hard to grasp. But the good news is that we will come back twice as strong in 2020,” MacDonald said in a fund-raising email Wednesday.
“New Hampshire Republicans don’t go down without a fight! A new party chairman will be elected in January and I am committed to making sure they are able to succeed on day one.”
MacDonald was asking party activists to activate their 2019 digital membership by donating at least $35.
“Our state is flourishing under Governor Sununu. It was just announced that we have hit 2.5 percent unemployment. This is the lowest the rate has been since 1988,” MacDonald said.
“It is obvious Republican policies are working for us. That’s why we need a strong and effective state GOP.”
Tulley up for challenge
The Nashua Republican City Committee has new leadership but it should look familiar to local party regulars.
Retired auto dealer Jack Tulley has agreed to step up and was recently chosen as chairman.
Former State Rep. Pete Silva is the committee’s vice chairman.
Why does this matter?
Well, the Gate City GOP’s standing can only improve since the Democrats blanked them last November and took all 27 seats in the NH House, along with defeating Nashua’s Kevin Avard as the only GOP senator from the area.
Tulley won’t get outworked. And many past and present officeholders will tell you he has a proven track record as a fund-raiser. That’s just what the Nashua GOP committee needs right now to get back on its feet.
Okay it’s not man bites dog but it’s pretty close.
There was Greg Moore, the fiscally-conservative state director of Americans for Prosperity, tossing bouquets to New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.
The compliments were for the pair’s backing of the criminal justice reform bill that passed the U.S. Senate Wednesday, with 12 GOP senators voting in opposition.
“Senators Shaheen and Hassan helped deliver a great gift for Americans this Christmas season by helping pass the First Step Act. This bipartisan legislation is a welcome change from the cycle of partisan politics and is based on common-sense, evidence-tested measures that will improve public safety and give people a second chance to become contributing members of their communities,” Moore said.
“Not only does shifting towards a smart-on-crime, soft-on-taxpayers approach save money and reduce recidivism, but it reaffirms the principle that our criminal justice system is redemptive and treats every American equally under the law. We urge the House to swiftly vote on the First Step Act and send it to the White House for the President’s signature.”
Manning moving up
There’s another Manchester political operative moving on up.
He’s Donald Manning, the newly named chief of staff under Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester.
Manning has worked for the Legislature on and off since 1985 when he began as an aide in the House minority office when then Minority Leader Mary Chambers had very few members in their ranks.
On Tuesday, Manning became the first person in New Hampshire history to become chief of staff for both legislative bodies.
Soucy would know something about the job description.
She served as Senate chief of staff when ex-Concord Democratic Sen. Sylvia Larsen was Senate president.
Norelli had named Manning as the House chief of staff in 2006.
After Republicans took back the House, Manning took some time away from government only to return in 2017 to be the Senate’s minority policy director.
Manning and his wife, well-known personal injury lawyer Maureen Raiche Manning, have three adult sons.
Soucy made these other key staff appointments:
Alan Raff, deputy chief of staff, was a former aide on Shaheen’s staff, worked for the Massachusetts Senate prior to graduating from law school. He has since been a lawyer and communications coordinator for labor unions.
Greg Silverman, legal counsel, had been a legislative aide a decade ago to then-Senate Deputy Majority Leader Kathy Sgambati. Silverman has also been a member of the Executive Branch Ethics Committee.
Nick Taylor, policy director, had been caucus director for the political committees of the House and Senate and oversaw victories of both legislative chambers. He also worked as a deputy political director for the state party and lives in Manchester.
Sara Persechino, communications director and a New Hampshire native, was a consultant to several non-profits on health care, anti-domestic and sexual violence and climate change. She lives in Contoocook with her husband and two daughters and serves on the Hopkinton Select Board.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Kathy Sullivan reminds us it’s really not an illusion. There almost always is a New Hampshire angle.
This week’s exhibit was the on-again, off-again sentencing of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who must now wait until March to learn if he’s going to do any jail time.
His lawyer, Rob Kelner, had to disavow the past claim that Flynn had been “tricked” into lying to the FBI.
The New Hampshire connection was Kelner represented the National Republican Senatorial Committee and related GOP groups when Sullivan’s New Hampshire Democratic Party sued the state GOP over the phone-jamming scandal during the 2002 campaign.
‘’This lawsuit is election-year politics,” Kelner said in June 2006. ‘’It was filed in 2004 right before the election. And now it’s picking up steam in a year where we have congressional elections.”
Four people were convicted and sent to jail in connection with the phone-jamming incident.
The state GOP paid $125,000 over a five-year period to Sullivan’s NH Dem. Party to settle that lawsuit.
Patenaude receives praise
Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley sparred with his GOP counterparts over the departure of Pamela Patenaude of Moultonborough, who announced she was stepping down as deputy director of U.S. Housing and Urban Development.
Buckley said Patenaude bears some responsibility for what he called the poor U.S. response to the weather disaster in Puerto Rico.
“The governor is on his knees begging for his destroyed island before an uncaring, incompetent administration. Immense pressure is on him to do whatever it takes to get help,” Buckley tweeted.
“(Btw I had dinner with him at his home three weeks ago, so I am very familiar with this issue.)”
On Monday, the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, thanked Patenaude for her efforts to help restore the island.
“The entire nation loses one of its finest, most transparent and passionate public servants,” Rossello posted on Twitter. “I want to thank you for your friendship, tireless work, commitment and guidance. You will always have family here.”
Joe Sweeney,who manages the @NHGOP twitter account, couldn’t resist a shot back at Buckley.
“Further evidence that @ChairmanBuckley is a fool,” @NHGOP posted. “The Gov of Puerto Rico, @ricardorossello, a Democrat couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise of Sec. Patenaude. New Hampshire can be proud of her service and should be disgusted by Ray Buckley’s nasty smears. #nhpolitics.”