We’re only two weeks removed from Gov. Chris Sununu’s second inaugural address and already we have the makings of a 2020 race for governor.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise that two-term Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord would make an early entry into the category of “likely to run” next year.

“I am fairly likely to run for Governor in NH in 2020. It is a path that I have been on for some time and things are falling into place,” Volinsky wrote in an email to supporters.

After all this is the season for candidate announcements and pronouncements with as many as a dozen presidential hopefuls likely to make moves toward a 2020 presidential race by the end of next month.

Volinsky’s move also may be to signal to other leading Democrats who might have the same thought that in his view, “It’s my turn.”

Publicly Volinsky wasn’t making any comments Wednesday and appeared surprised that word had leaked out.

Back in 2016, Volinsky dropped his interest in running for governor that year and watched his friend, then-executive councilor Colin Van Ostern of Concord, leap into the race.

Volinsky then took virtually by acclamation nomination to Van Ostern’s 2nd District council seat, which he’s held ever since.

Then a year later leading Democrats were trying to encourage Volinsky to run in 2018, especially after Van Ostern took a pass and began his failed run for secretary of state.

Volinsky declared in the fall of 2017 that it “wasn’t the right time” to run in 2018.

Former state senator Molly Kelly of Keene ran a respectable race and vowed to stay involved, but has made few public statements since her defeat last November.

Meanwhile over the past year or more we’ve seen several signs that Volinsky’s passion for seeking the governor’s chair has not waned.

He took on the powerful State Liquor Commission with the sting he helped arrange with the president of the State Employees Association to try to prove the agency was deliberately skirting federal tax law and letting out-of-state customers make massive cash buys of alcohol.

Then throughout the 2018 campaign, Volinsky took advantage of the token opposition he faced to travel across the state promoting the need to alter the education finance law.

John Tobin and Volinsky sponsored the forums “Save Our Schools: Solve Education Funding Now.” The two were lead lawyers in the landmark suit that convinced the Supreme Court to rule in the early 1990s that the over-reliance on the local property tax to pay for public education was unconstitutional.

Count on this becoming one of the central themes of Volinsky’s campaign should the race come to pass.

The argument would be that despite the state’s healthy economy, there are pockets of property poverty (Berlin, Franklin, Claremont et al) where young people are being robbed of their full potential.

Much as Van Ostern does, Volinsky understands that the chances for unseating a sitting Republican governor improve in a presidential election year.

Over a period of 20 years (1996-2016), Democrats methodically ran off five straight wins for the corner office in presidential years, including the defeat of then-Republican Gov. Craig Benson in 2004.

Sununu is a lot safer incumbent than Benson, who in 2004 became only the first governor in 90 years to try for and lose a second two-year term in office.

Volinsky also knows that if Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, seeks a third term in 2020 — which is increasingly looking more and more likely — then he’ll have a strong vote-getter at the top of the ticket.

NH GOP Communications Director Joe Sweeney said Volinsky will learn it’s much more difficult to appeal to voters statewide than in his council district.

“Andru Volinsky’s career and policy positions over the years put him far out-of-touch with the New Hampshire electorate. While he would be markedly further left than any Democrat to run for governor to date, he may not be the furthest left to run in 2020,” Sweeney said in a statement.

“As New Hampshire Democrats march toward the fringe left, New Hampshire voters will continue to see the stark contrast in leadership displayed by Governor Chris Sununu and all Granite State Republicans.”

One of the first questions a candidate Volinsky would face was whether he would abandon or embrace his past support for an income tax.

He declined to answer the question directly in his 2018 council campaign.

Volinsky did say in response to a related question in a Ballotpedia questionnaire, “In short, we must have the courage to discuss fair taxation. It’s a matter of putting our money where our mouths are.”

Volinsky also made clear with this latest email that he’s never had to raise anything like the $1.5 million or more he would need to compete with Sununu next year, so early fund-raising was critical.

Sununu is not likely to encourage early speculation about a third campaign, especially as he tries to navigate life at the State House with Democrats in control.

But Sununu’s political team has already filed a political action committee for the 2020 cycle, so it could accept early cash for this inevitable campaign. (For more Granite Status, go to www.unionleader.com.)

More campaigns to come

Rye Democrat and 2018 Democratic candidate for Congress Mindi Messmer sounds like someone who has more campaigns in her future.

Messmer spoke at last weekend’s Women’s Marches in Concord and Portsmouth. She finished a respectable third place in the 11-person field that Manchester Democrat Chris Pappas won.

With little money and even less name recognition, Messmer defeated several candidates who were better known, along with ex-U.S. House Chief of Staff Naomi Andrews, who had the endorsement of Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

While this environmental scientist no longer serves in the New Hampshire House, she vowed to remain active on those issues in Concord.

In an email to supporters, Messmer urged women to keep running for office and not be discouraged by being stereotyped before voters get the chance to know them.

“Women downplay their accomplishments and abilities, and so we have to instill confidence in women of all ages that their voice is critical. When women run they are criticized for their hair, their clothes, whether they can be a mom and an elected official, how we speak — while men mostly don’t,” Messmer said.

“We must support them before during and after their run. When women who are not career politicians run for office they are sometimes more impacted by loss. But like lyrics to the song ‘Try Again,’ ‘If at first, you don’t succeed, dust yourself off, and try again.”

Bloomberg down on pot

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues his 2020 exploratory efforts with a return to New Hampshire next Tuesday.

Bloomberg will give a speech on climate change at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the campus of St. Anselm College.

His billionaire fortune isn’t the only feature that will set him apart from most of the Democrats who are presidential contenders.

During a speech at the University of Toronto Tuesday, Bloomberg said he doesn’t share the view of his potential primary peers that it’s time for the national legalization of recreational marijuana.

Bloomberg said governments should wait for more research to be done before pursuing the law Canada passed and took effect in 2018.

“To go and encourage people — to make it easier for people to engage in a behavior that has a significant possibility of damaging people’s health — is just nonsensical,” Bloomberg said. “This mad, passionate rush to let everybody do things without any research just isn’t something we would do in any other way.”

Pro-marijuana activists said Bloomberg’s views are consistent with his tenure as mayor, when arrests for marijuana skyrocketed during New York’s stop-and-frisk policy.

“The antiquated drug enforcement policies Michael Bloomberg implemented as mayor proved to be disastrous and racially discriminatory,” said Evan Nison, youngest board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

“Unfortunately, it’s no surprise he would want to continue the failed policy of cannabis prohibition. The positive I see in him making this comment is it helping assure he’ll be un-electable by my generation.”

Many credit that Bloomburg policy with cleaning up New York’s reputation and returning it to a tourist-friendly place.

Adam Schiff to visit

Another potential Democratic presidential candidate makes his first visit to New Hampshire on Feb. 4, a week from Monday.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., will be the featured speaker of the Politics and Eggs forum. This edition will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Bedford Village Inn.

Schiff’s visit will be his first since becoming chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Job training push

Former Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, didn’t waste any time attacking one of the principal issues of the new Democratic majority in the state Senate.

Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, is the prime sponsor of the measure (SB 2) to triple from $2 million to $6 million the money to come out of employer taxes that pay for unemployment benefits statewide. The bill doesn’t increase the tax but increases how much of the administrative part of the existing tax goes to the Job Training fund.

”Each week there are thousands of job openings in our state due to a gap in training opportunities. This legislation will help attract, train, retain, and retrain employees,” Cavanaugh said. “It will expand opportunities for the people of New Hampshire and give businesses what they are desperately seeking — qualified workers.”

But Morse said the Unemployment Trust Fund needs to have a healthy surplus to meet its obligations and the state already spends nearly $85 million on job training programs.

”We should be spending taxpayers’ money responsibly and effectively rather than throwing more money into a fund that doesn’t utilize the funding they already receive,” Morse added.

Who’s for Beto

Former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Tex., is still in the middle of his soul-searching, cross-country trip by car mulling his future but he’s already got plenty of New Hampshire fans for him to make a Democratic run for President in 2020.

Concord lawyer and activist Jay Surdukowski has been touting O’Rourke’s prowess for months even before a pretty decent showing against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex. last November.

Next Wednesday, Surdukowski will host the first meeting of a New Hampshire draft movement at his home at 6 Kent St. in Concord starting at 5:30 p.m.

Among those who are already on board with the idea include former Democratic Party Chairman Ned and Sally Helms, former Manchester Alderman Garth Corriveau, Upper Valley Democratic nominee for State Senate Jenn Alford-Teaster and several state representatives.

Dems focus on issues

Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester and Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, are making sure the 2019 session begins with a focus on the issues they care most about.

During the first full week of public hearings, several priority bills were heard and a number of them offered by their newest members.

Freshman Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, introduced the bill (SB 5) to make a $3 million state spending increase to leverage $42 million in additional federal grant money so as to increase reimbursement rates for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Another first-termer, Sen. Jon Morgan, D-Brentwood, authored the bill to spend $6 million more in state dollars over the next two years to hire 57 more caseworkers and 20 supervisors to deal with the case backlog facing the Division of Children and Youth Services (SB 6).

And Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, is authoring legislation dealing with the crisis of mental health and substance abuse patients who end up waiting for treatment in hospital emergency rooms. A physician, Sherman proposes in this bill (SB 11) to spend $9.5 million that would include $3 million for more transitional housing for these patients.

Feltes is the prime author of the top priority for 2019, the paid family and medical leave bill (SB 1), which has all 14 Senate Democrats on board as co-sponsors. This means it will pass with ease once it comes up for a vote later this session.

Committee assignments

U.S. Rep. Pappas has to be satisfied with the committee assignments he got after backing Nancy Pelosi for speaker.

Last week Pappas said he was assigned to seats on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure as well as the Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The transportation panel will be where any federal highway bill starts in the future and also the home for any initial debate on an omnibus infrastructure measure that President Trump has often spoken about.

His naming to Veteran Affairs means New Hampshire will continue to have representation on this panel so that Pappas can continue the oversight of the VA and ensure improvements continue for the Manchester VA Medical Center.

Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, had been on Veteran Affairs and was in line to get a subcommittee chairmanship dealing with congressional investigations of the VA.

But Kuster got promoted to a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Most new members of the U.S. House get no more than two committee assignments and sometimes they get only one if it’s a high-profile panel.

klandrigan@unionleader.com{p style=”margin-top: 7.5pt; margin-right: 0in; margin-bottom: 7.5pt; margin-left: 0in; line-height: 18.0pt; background: white;”}{span style=”font-size: 13.5pt; font-family: ‘Helvetica’,’sans-serif’; color: black; font-weight: normal; mso-bidi-font-weight: bold;”} {/span}{p style=”margin-top: 0in; margin-right: 0in; margin-bottom: .25in; margin-left: 0in; line-height: 13.8pt; background: white; vertical-align: baseline;”}{span style=”font-size: 9.0pt; font-family: ‘Helvetica’,’sans-serif’; color: #333333;”}In short, we must have the courage to discuss fair taxation. It’s a matter of putting our money where our mouths are.”{/span}