PROMINENT NEW HAMPSHIRE Democrats continue to use national media outlets that the White House follows closely to deliver the not-at-all-subtle message that President Joe Biden’s mission to take away the state’s first-in-the-nation primary will have consequences.
Last Friday, it was Politico’s Playbook, where Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley chose to tell his tale out of school, under the heading, “How Democrats Betrayed New Hampshire.”
According to Buckley, the Biden White House and leaders in the Democratic National Committee did not just fail to give Granite State insiders a heads-up on their bold new 2024 primary calendar. In fact, Biden deceived U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen when she asked whether the state was in the clear, Buckley said.
When the DNC delayed the unveiling of this calendar until after the midterm elections, the conventional wisdom was that Iowa was out as the first caucus and New Hampshire would have plenty of company, even if it it kept its first primary.
But Buckley insisted top New Hampshire Democrats were kept in the dark until the White House gave Shaheen the bad news on Dec. 1 that the President was backing a calendar that put South Carolina first, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire three days later.
“It had never been broached by anybody of influence within the party,” Buckley said.
Three days before the bombshell, Buckley claimed that Shaheen spoke with Biden and “there was never even the slightest hint” the state’s primary was in trouble.
Also in the piece, Buckley said that ironically, New Hampshire’s case for staying first would only improve if Biden does not seek a second term, a scenario that at present seems very unlikely.
By Buckley’s thinking, a wide-open fight for the Democratic nomination would mean contenders would flock here in hopes of jumpstarting their dream of replacing Biden.
Ager may have sewed it up
As we said from the outset, Republican National Committeeman Chris Ager of Amherst is the odds-on favorite to become the next chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee.
Late last week, he may have just sewed it up, as the last endorsements shared with the Sunday News put him with 145 public endorsements and 245 commitments.
The new batch includes six state reps including House Deputy Majority Leader Jim Kofalt and Committee Chair Terry Roy of Deerfield.
There are 505 eligible to vote at the NH Republican Party’s Annual Meeting next Saturday at Salem High School.
Based on past practice, the likely turnout will be in the range of 360 to 380.
If the total vote is that low and Ager’s count is accurate, he’s looking at a 60-40 win — or better — over Hampton Falls businessman and two-time state Senate nominee Lou Gargiulo.
Why Sununu for Gargiulo?
It’s no shock but still big news that Gov. Chris Sununu declined last week to back Ager and went with Gargiulo as his choice to run the party.
As we’ve long noted, Sununu never had a close relationship with Ager and it got no better in 2020, when Ager routed the Sununu-backed Steve Duprey to become the Republican National Committeeman.
Sununu said Gargiulo’s experience would suit the GOP well as it faces special elections in the House and a serious challenge from Democrats for State House control in 2024.
He denied knowing much at all about Gargiulo’s post-election rant. During a recount of his Senate loss, Gargiulo directed his allies to challenge every single absentee ballot.
“I have always weighed in. We will see what happens,” Sununu said.
The reality is Gargiulo’s kinship with the Sununu family goes way back. He was an early financial backer of former Gov. John H. Sununu, as well as the governor’s brother, John E. Sununu, in his U.S. Senate and House campaigns.
In the 2022 primary, Sununu swung and missed, endorsing Chuck Morse and George Hansel for U.S. Senate and U.S. House, respectively, only to watch as GOP voters went with Don Bolduc and Bob Burns.
Conventional wisdom would advise Sununu to steer clear of intramural squabbles within the GOP as it clearly faces a reboot of sorts in 2023.
This, however, has never been Chris Sununu’s style.
We also saw with the Duprey-Ager race that Sununu’s decision to stand behind a loyalist did little to harm his brand.
Hassan returns crypto cash
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., tied for sixth-most individual donations in 2022 of any member of Congress from Sam Bankman-Fried, the cryptocurrency magnate charged with bilking customers and investors out of millions of dollars that he funneled into his hedge fund.
Bankman-Fried’s $37 million in contributions last year was the third most by any individual to Democrats, behind only George Soros ($179 million) and Michael Bloomberg ($40.6 million).
He gave Hassan’s campaign $25,800 and another $5,000 to her affiliate Granite Values Super PAC.
Laura Epstein, a Hassan spokesperson, said the senator has plans to donate this amount to victims of the scheme.
“Contributions made towards Senator Hassan’s 2022 campaign have already been spent. As additional funds are raised, the campaign will set aside the amount of those contributions to be returned to victims,” Epstein said in a statement.
“Senator Hassan believes that Sam Bankman-Fried should be held accountable for his actions to the fullest extent of the law.”
Before this latest scandal hit, Hassan worked in the Senate seeking to get the federal government to crack down harder on cryptocurrency fraud.
Among state committees, the New Hampshire Democratic Party had the eighth-most contributions ($20,000) from Bankman-Fried’s affiliate Alameda Research hedge fund.
Last month, three top Democratic organizations announced plans to return $1.1 million in donations from him.
Democratic Party Chairman Buckley will monitor the prosecution before making any decision on returning their checks, a spokesperson said.
“We are awaiting for further developments and instructions from the proper authorities relating to the possible return of the funds,” Monica Venzke said in a statement.
Wheeler seeks cash lanes
The Executive Council voted, 3-2, to approve a $1.5 million contract for the final design to convert the Bedford tolls on the F.E. Everett Turnpike to all-electronic tolling.
Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, and Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, opposed the Department of Transportation’s decision not to make room at the toll station for a cash lane.
This means customers without an E-ZPass transponder will be sent a notice that they went through the E-lanes without paying and must pay online or face a $25 fine.
“We are taking choice away from our consumers, and it’s a discouraging message to out-of-state tourists,” Wheeler said.
Transportation Commissioner Bill Cass said the state’s options are limited by space at the toll site.
Since 2016, there have been 10 collisions and several fatal accidents where motorists struck the concrete barriers in Bedford, Cass said.
This is why the state decided to go all-electronic there, as well as on the Spaulding Turnpike on the Seacoast, he said.
Rape kit backlog eyed
Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, pressed the Department of Safety on its $1.5 million effort to deal with a backlog of untested rape kits from sexual assault cases.
Safety Commissioner Bob Quinn said 70 samples waiting to be tested at DNA Labs International in Deerfield Beach, Florida, could be two years old.
With approval of this contract, the state would send down another 140 samples, he said.
Over the next year, the state’s own Forensic Lab will install its own cutting-edge equipment to test these kits, Quinn said.
Sununu noted this is a “national problem” facing all states.
“No excuses, we have to do better, but we are on the right track,” Quinn vowed.
Special election in Nashua
Voters in one of the deepest blue districts in the House of Representatives will go to the polls for a March 28 primary to replace Democratic Rep. Stacie Laughton, who resigned after being jailed on stalking charges.
The filing period for this Nashua Ward 4 seat opens Monday and closes Friday.
The general election is May 16. If only one Republican and one Democrat sign up to run, the general election will be March 28.
Along with being deeply Democratic, this district has one of the state’s highest Hispanic populations at 31%, according to the 2020 Census.
Two-term state Rep. Manny Espitia, D-Nashua, chose not to seek reelection for one of the three seats in this ward last fall.
It will be interesting to see whether another Hispanic activist steps up to run.
The other question is whether more than one Nashua Republican will sign up.
There’s plenty of partisan motivation for this to happen, as it would mean House Democrats likely would be unable to add to their ranks until mid-May.
The other special election to fill a swing seat in Rochester Ward 4 is Feb. 21.
Warmington, the only Democrat on the Executive Council, voted against annual pay raises for Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut of Wilton and Deputy Insurance Commissioner D.J. Bettencourt of Salem.
Edelblut’s salary goes to $131,400. Bettencourt will be paid $120,600.
An annual bump for Banking Commissioner Emelia Galdieri, to $121,500 a year, cleared without any dissent.
Sununu re-nominated for another term one of the state’s highest-paid employees, Deputy Medical Examiner Mitchell Weinberg of Concord. Weinberg earns $250,000 a year. Once confirmed, his new term will go out to January 2028.
Sununu also forwarded Interim Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Weaver’s request to give Associate Commissioner Ann Landry of New London another four-year term. She makes $134,400 annually.
Pat Griffin of Moultonborough, a veteran GOP media consultant, is Sununu’s pick for a seat on the University System Board of Trustees to replace Joseph Morone, of New Castle, who resigned.
Sununu also wants to promote Michael Todd of Concord as the next director of professional standards in the Department of Corrections. Todd started in state government as communications director with the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and moved from there to serve the past three years as deputy director of the Division of Motor Vehicles.
If confirmed, he’ll make nearly $111,000 a year in the new role.
The Executive Council will hold a public hearing on Sununu’s choice of Amy Manchester of Hudson to a circuit court judgeship. The pick is likely to fill the vacancy that opens up when Manchester Circuit Court Judge William Lyons turns the mandatory retirement age of 70 on May 4.
Since April 2021, Manchester has worked as a prosecutor in the Manchester City Solicitor’s office. She previously worked in the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office, in the state’s criminal defense bar and as a public defender in Colorado.
Quote of the week
“I think the flexible route is a good choice. Ask me in three years, whoever is in office. I wasn’t being presumptive. I have a fixed term and have no idea where I will be.”
Administrative Services Commissioner Charles Arlinghaus was defending his recommendation that the state buy its fuel on the spot market rather than at fixed price for the next three years.
Some viewed Arlinghaus’ quip as a reference to Sununu’s unknown political future, but he said it referred to the fact his own four-year term is up July 1, 2024.