THIS IS a back-from-the-dead story.
At the beginning of last week, the controversial trailer bill (HB 2) to the two-year state budget was a dead man walking.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, was given the assignment to cheerlead for a voluntary paid family leave program Gov. Chris Sununu desperately wanted that didn’t have a dozen friends in his GOP caucus.
Some members of House Speaker Sherman Packard’s extended leadership team had asked if they could take a walk and not vote on the trailer bill in protest of that provision.
Three dozen members of the House Freedom Caucus were in near-open revolt over an emergency powers provision that fell way short of what they wanted.
How did Osborne and Co. pull it all together?
One member at a time.
Sununu’s involvement was critical. He showed a willingness to alter the emergency powers language in a retained bill the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee will take up this fall.
Andrew Manuse, chairman of RebuildNH and one of Sununu’s sharpest critics on the COVID-19 response, said this made all the difference.
“I am grateful for the House Freedom Caucus and for House Majority Leader Jason Osborne who stood strong and worked a last-minute budget agreement with the governor to advance the emergency powers reforms we have been asking for all year,” Manuse said.
Former State Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, even suggested Sununu was looking for a way to blame the conservative GOP for a budget he might eventually veto.
“While the reforms in HB 2 are not an antidote against future abuses of the emergency powers statutes, the last-minute concessions by elected officials made it possible for liberty-minded representatives to support the budget,” Hoell said
Rep. Melissa Blasek, R-Merrimack and executive director of RebuildNH, been a leading sponsor of some of the 18 emergency powers bills introduced in the 2021 session.
“With the governor and Senate’s endorsement of RebuildNH supported state of emergency language, we are sure to have a concise win with state of emergency reform soon,” Blasek said.
This still-up-and-coming House leadership team learned the hard way to perfect its vote-counting apparatus.
They cut their teeth on the right-to-work debacle (SB 61), a bill House GOP leaders early on were confident at getting passed, only to lose by 25 votes.
Osborne predicted before the vote that the House would pass the trailer bill, 195-180.
It passed, 198-181.
Osborne said the only votes that went against his expectations at the end (Right-to-Work went south earlier than that) were two to ban the placement of landfills within five miles of a state park (SB 103).
“I had underestimated the momentum behind that,” Osborne said.
Ultimately, the House GOP leader got what he wanted, as House negotiators ultimately bowed to the Senate demand and stripped the landfill buffer for all state parks from an unrelated bill.
The wayward nine
In the end, only nine House Republicans opposed the trailer bill.
Osborne and majority leaders behind him know that sometimes you get more support from a colleague down the road if you allow them — for good cause — to oppose the leadership line, as long as it doesn’t harm the greater good.
Several who voted no later told House leaders they were happy with the outcome, because there was a lot in the final product they too didn’t want to lose.
The group included Rep. Mike Sylvia, R-Belmont and a leader in the House Republican Alliance along with Rep. Dave Testerman, R-Franklin and husband of Sununu’s 2020 primary opponent, Karen Testerman.
Others were new Rep. Anne Copp, R-Derry, Gilford conservative lawyer and Rep. Norm Silber, Campton Rep. Mark Alliegro, Rep. Louise Andrus of Salisbury and Raymond Howard of Alton.
Finally, there were a few members with completely under-the-radar objections to the compromise.
Rep. Barbara Comtois, R-Center Barnstead, told associates she objected most to changes made in the state’s animal control database.
It takes a village.
Reason to celebrate
House Speaker Packard, Majority Leader Osborne and Reps. Len Turcotte, R-Barrington, and Fred Doucette, R-Salem, didn’t go far to celebrate their big win.
Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, lives almost next door to the N.H. Sportsplex, in Bedford.
Moore warned Packard of the potential downside to the compromise victory.
“We’ve eliminated the income tax on interest and dividends, which is paid by seniors, and lowered property taxes by $100 million, along with providing an education choice program that could be the envy of the nation,” Moore began.
“Where are we going to put all these people who want to move to New Hampshire now?”
Packard sighed and answered, “Hey, Greg, can you give me a day just to enjoy this one?”
Redistricting lies ahead
Now that the budget has been settled, the next issue to dominate the State House will be redistricting, with the House Special Committee on Redistricting meeting as early as next month.
They will begin setting the rules of the road for redrawing voter boundary maps for the New Hampshire House, state Senate, Executive Council, congressional districts and county commissioner seats.
Final 2020 census numbers are not expected to be available until September, but lawmakers on both sides are eager to begin the work that can be done without the statistical data.
Packard and House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton have installed a star-studded group for this effort, led by Election Laws Chairwoman Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, and House Deputy Speaker Steven Smith, R-Charlestown.
Also involved are former House Elections Chairman David Cote, D-Nashua; ex-House Finance Chair and redistricting veteran Marjorie Smith, D-Durham; ex-Nashua City Clerk and Democrat Paul Bergeron; Executive Departments and Administration Committee Chair Carol McGuire, R-Epsom; Manchester GOP activist and Rep. Ross Berry; ex-Supreme Court Chief Justice and Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham; and Rep. Israel Piedra, D-Manchester and a leading Democratic Party lawyer on voting rights issues.
Talk of U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., potentially running for governor in 2022 if his 1st District is altered too much isn’t idle chatter.
GOP activists have looked at maps that could move even Durham and a ward in Portsmouth into the 2nd District of Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., while dropping Salem, Atkinson and Windham into Pappas’ district.
“You can make the 2nd District plus 14 Democrat and the 1st District plus 14 Republican,” said one GOP operative who’s looked at preliminary maps. “This will get very interesting.”
Veto threat sways few
The governor’s threat to veto the bill moving the date of the state primary into August (HB 98) scared away few Republicans.
Sununu’s public line is he’ll consult with Secretary of State Bill Gardner and legislators before making a final decision.
More than a week ago, however, he said he was “leaning strongly towards” a veto.
Last April, the House voted 195-174 to hold the primary in June.
The opponents included 10 House Republicans.
Last week, the House endorsed the compromise, 192-183, even though it capitulated to Senate leaders in both parties that wanted an August date.
Only 20 House Republicans voted against that plan.
Members of any governor’s party tend to come along once he pulls out the “V” pen.
We saw that last week with the House voting, 175-182, to override Sununu’s only veto so far — a bill (HB 184) to ban jet skis near sensitive watersheds of Rye and New Castle.
The state Fish and Game Department and leaders in both towns embraced the bill, which passed on a voice vote in the House.
Only 18 House Republicans bucked Sununu and voted to override.
A week of personal loss
While Democrats were licking their wounds at the State House, there was tragedy at the home front as well.
The Lakes Region lost an icon for substance abuse recovery with the passing of ex-state Rep. Phil Spagnuolo, 53.
Coming back from heroin addiction, he became a role model in building a substance abuse recovery center along with being the guiding light for three sober houses.
Spagnuolo had won a special election in 2017 that was one of those “canary in a coal mine” races that foreshadowed Democrats taking over the entire Legislature and the Executive Council in 2018.
He lost a reelection bid but again fought the good fight in a respectful challenge of Sen. Harold French, R-Canterbury, in 2020.
“He was silly and kind and dedicated to all of us, in all of our stages of life and recovery,” tweeted Aly McKnight, co-editor of the Northeastern University Law Review. “Here’s a picture of him modeling a fanny pack- he was trying to make me laugh. I’m celebrating his life, today & always.”
Days earlier, Londonderry mourned the passing of ex-Rep. Anne Warner, 77.
She was the only Democrat to win a House seat in that town.
Packard called Warner, a lifelong environmental consultant, his “good friend” and said she will be missed.
GOP holdout on Biden bill
State Rep. Max Abramson, R-Seabrook, believes the House overreacted by killing a bill to keep state and local cops from enforcing future Biden-backed gun control laws.
After the Union Leader reported Thursday that many Second Amendment leaders said the proposal had turned into an “anti-gun bill,” House GOP leaders torpedoed it.
Abramson was one of only 19 (354-19) who still wanted to pass the bill (SB 154).
He charged that Alan Rice of Bedford, a leading spokesman for Gun Owners of America, had misinterpreted a provision meant to ensure local and state cops could assist the feds with other crimes.
“Those of us who actually read the provision realized that Rice was just putting out a scare campaign, forcing us to respond to constituents directly with the actual text from the bill,” Abramson said.
Among gun advocates who voted with Abramson were Rep. and ex-Supreme Court Chief Justice Lynn, House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Chairman Daryl Abbas, R-Salem, Rep. Terry Roy, R-Deerfield and Rep. Jeanine Notter, R-Merrimack.
There were many critics of the compromise other than Rice.
During an interview, Rice said he was certain that the bill in final negotiations had gone off course.
“This is pretty scary when you are taking about taking away personal freedom,” Rice said. “We consider this an anti-gun bill and they are willing to put a strong bill in next January and that was the right way to go.”Congrats to happy couplesMatthew Mailloux, Sununu’s budget director, gets a gold star for only missing a few days of tight negotiations over compromise bills. He married Bailey La Sage Mailloux, digital director for the GOP staff on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.
At session’s end, Packard offered a nice tribute to House Chief of Staff Aaron Goulette , whose wife, Senior Legislative Aide Megan Stone, was expecting their first child any day now.
And Friday, he came so welcome to the world, Theo Stone Goulette.
Lucas wins Dupuis Award
Former GOP nominee for governor Jay Lucas last week became the first recipient of the Community Service Award named for former HHS Commissioner Sylvio Dupuis of Manchester.
Lucas wrote a best-selling book about his Sunshine Initiative, which ignited a rebirth of Newport, his hometown. He is taking that template to Laconia, Rochester and Manchester’s West Side.
“We’ve got a model that works very well,” Lucas said.
Delta Dental executive Tom Raffio, Howard Brodsky and the ExcellentNorth Alliance played major roles in the choice.