U.S. DISTRICT COURT Judge Joseph Laplante holds in his hands the fate of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party’s presence on the 2020 ballot.
After two days and nearly six hours of arguments, Laplante took under advisement the third party’s lawsuit, which seeks to have its candidates automatically placed on the general election ballot because the COVID-19 pandemic denied them the ability to qualify.
Under state law, a third party hopeful for statewide office has until Aug. 5 to submit signed petitions from 1,500 voters in each of the state’s two congressional districts.
Party treasurer and former Libertarian nominee for governor Jilletta Jarvis said the goal is to secure 5,000 petitions, because city and town clerks reject those from people who aren’t registered voters or who don’t provide the required information.
As of this week, organizers had given Jarvis 2,543 petitions for state candidates and 2,056 for presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen.
In each case, the number turned in from the 2nd Congressional District fell under 800.
To weed out the bad ones, Jarvis said, they all need to be turned in by next Friday so every individual city and town clerk can review them before they go to Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
The party’s lawyer, Jon Meyer, conceded that though they are paying workers $3 per signed petition, they won’t have enough by the deadline.
”It’s clear those numbers are not going to be reached,” Meyer told the court.
Nominees for U.S. Senate Justin O’Donnell of Nashua and governor Darryl Perry of Manchester testified in the case.
State Solicitor General Dan Will pressed O’Donnell on why he would pay himself to collect names to get him on the ballot.
”I could not afford to do this as a volunteer,” O’Donnell said. “I am willing to do this very begrudgingly. I believe I am putting people at risk.”
Libertarians cited the April decision of a federal judge in Illinois, who automatically placed statewide candidates for federal office from the Libertarian party on the ballot because they had qualified in 2016 and 2018.
The judge also reduced the petition threshold for other third-party candidates to 10% of the normal requirement.
New Hampshire Libertarians consistently have made it onto the ballot over the last two decades — except for 2014 — but state Solicitor General Dan Will noted this state’s petition requirement is on the “low end” nationwide.
“When it comes to standing alone, the petition requirements are not a barrier to access,” Laplante said.
Meyer appeared to realize it’s unlikely Laplante won’t automatically give Libertarians a free pass onto the ballot, so he focused almost entirely on lowering the petition hurdle.
“What we are saying is this party put in enough effort that it would have collected 3,000 signatures and many more absent the restrictions of the pandemic,” Meyer said.
Will said federal courts have ruled states can’t be held liable for the public’s decisions not to engage in certain behavior because of an emergency.
Will noted the party has been able to collect petitions since June, when Gov. Chris Sununu replaced the stay-at-home order with his “safer at home” advisory.
”I don’t mean to suggest everything is back to normal, but what I do mean to suggest that coming out of stay at home…we are in a largely, opened up economy that is much closer to normal than certainly it was in March,” Will said.
Laplante vowed to rule “as quickly as I can.” Deadlines are fast approaching, and any decision would be subject to appeal.
A lot like Christmas
Thanks to the pandemic and House GOP opposition, Senate Democrats had to create multiple “omnibus” bills to get all their pet priorities on Sununu’s desk.
Sununu and House GOP leaders have noted these moves meant the omnibus bills, commonly referred to as “Christmas trees” for all their ornaments, didn’t have even remote public hearings before House committees.
The favorite of political observers is HB 1234, which many say should be HB 1-41 since it contains 41 different provisions. Practically none has anything to do with the rest, but all fall under the general heading of “state and local government administration.”
What will make this one ticklish for the governor is that some of the proposals were requested by his own state agency heads.
The only one Sununu already is on record as opposing is the creation of the Lakes Region Development Authority.
More than half a dozen governors have tried without much success to entice developers to snap up the former Laconia State School property overlooking Lake Winnisquam.
That’s why, when the state faced prison overcrowding in early 1990s, the site housed a minimum-security prison for a time.
The governor erupted at a capital budget public hearing last month when advocates talked about seeking up to $12 million in state-backed bonds to make water and sewer improvements to the property before marketing it for private development.
Sununu said he didn’t equate the long-languishing parcel to “another Pease,” referring to the former Air Force base that required large taxpayer expenditures to help attract significant private investment on the Seacoast.
The bill at issue doesn’t propose anything close to $12 million. It does allow up to $2 million in state-backed bonds to support matching federal grants or public and private contributions.
The chief author and longtime advocate for this proposition is Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse of Salem.Court kicks off jury trial pilotSuperior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau will host a walk-through of the Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene Tuesday morning as it prepares to host its first jury trial since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The court system created a Return to Operation Committee to come up with modifications to the building to protect jurors, court staff, parties and the public from transmitting the virus.
GOP sets Senate sights
The New Hampshire Senate GOP Victory 2020 fundraising email offers a road map for taking back control of the 24-member body.
State Sen. and former Congressman Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, created the PAC to support the “most competitive” race.
With Democrats enjoying a 14-10 majority, the GOP needs to hold all its own seats and flip three others.
The three Senate challengers identified were former state Sens. Gary Daniels of Milford and Kevin Avard of Nashua and newcomer Jason Syversen of Dunbarton.
In 2018, Democrat Shannon Chandley of Amherst unseated Daniels, and Melanie Levesque of Brookline ousted Avard.
Syversen, a wealthy, self-funded venture capitalist, is challenging Manchester Democratic Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh.
It’s notable the GOP highlighted one seat it must keep, the one held by Sen. Dick French, R-Franklin, who is seeking his third term.
French is opposed by Phil Spagnuolo of Laconia, a substance abuse recovery activitist who in 2018 won a special election in the city for a House seat. He later lost his bid for a full term.
This Senate seat has always been competitive, and though French is popular and hard-working, he has never been a big fundraiser.
Labor union faves
The State Employees Association, the largest labor union in the state, has weighed in on some races it views as important for Democrats.
The endorsements aren’t any surprise, but the timing is important.
Local 1984 of the Service Employees International Union got behind two rematch candidates — Bill Bolton of Plymouth, who is trying again to take out Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, and Jenn Alford-Teaster of Bradford, who hopes to knock off Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard.
Guida and Ward both survived the 2018 Democratic wave, solidly winning reelection. The two races will be heavy lifts for the SEA .
The SEA also endorsed Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, who will face the winner of the GOP primary between ex-state Reps. Ross Terrio of Manchester and George Lambert of Litchfield.
Cavanaugh will have Congressman Chris Pappas, D-N.H., and singer/songwriter Nicole Knox Murphy star at his virtual campaign kickoff on Zoom Monday night.
Claims of sexism
Democratic Party spokeswoman Holly Shulman said Sununu has a knack for failing to mention the achievements of women, most recently their work in New Hampshire to mark Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of slavery.
“All too often, self-absorbed men have attempted to erase the work and major contributions of women — and especially women of color — and that’s exactly what Chris Sununu has done time and time again,” Shulman said. “That Chris Sununu is attempting to claim credit for the impressive work of our amazing women lawmakers and that he can’t even bring himself to thank a single woman who actually led these efforts is reprehensible.”
Republican State Committee Executive Director Elliot Gault said the governor’s adversaries have run out of legitimate ways to dent Sununu’s continuing popularity in polls.
“This is ridiculous. The NH Dems staff must not have anything going on over there. For months, they’ve tried to attack Gov. Sununu and have failed. This is their latest line of attack? C’mon,” Gault said.
“Regarding Juneteenth: Governor Sununu was the first governor in state history to proclaim Juneteenth Day in New Hampshire, a full year before the law was even on the books.”