GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU refused to directly condemn former President Donald Trump for his reference to “massive election fraud” in New Hampshire during the 2020 election.

Kevin Landrigan Dome

Trump’s Save America PAC sent out a statement celebrating the state law Sununu signed that will commence the first forensic audit of a state election result — the state representative race in Windham.

The audit is intended to explain the 300-vote discrepancy between ballots counted by automated machines and then in a hand recount three weeks later.

“Congratulations to the great Patriots of Windham, New Hampshire for their incredible fight to seek out the truth on the massive Election Fraud which took place in New Hampshire and the 2020 Presidential Election.” Trump wrote.

He concluded with, “People are watching in droves as these Patriots work tirelessly to reveal the real facts of the most tainted and corrupt Election in American history. Congratulations Windham—look forward to seeing the results.”

Sununu said he didn’t share Trump’s take on the matter.

“A discrepancy of 300 votes out of 800,000 cast does not define massive voter fraud by any means,” Sununu said.

Asked how he might “consider” Trump’s comments, Sununu said, “I don’t really consider them, to be honest. We are focused on Windham and the state of New Hampshire. We do things right.”

Four House sessions ahead

House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, confirmed last Friday that the House will meet four times at the New Hampshire Sportsplex in Bedford to finish up much of its business for the 2021 session.

The House will first meet June 3 and June 4 to act on all Senate bills.

Because of the lack of meetings in May, Packard said he moved the deadline for the House to finish Senate bill work back a day.

The House will return to the sports complex on June 10 to form committees that will hash out differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill.

The House then will meet June 24 to act on any compromises that come back from those committees, which should include a two-year state budget proposal.

This will still leave the House and Senate needing to return, perhaps after Labor Day, to take up any Sununu vetoes.

House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing of Hampton said after meeting with Packard last week, he is reassured the House will not be meeting in the Representatives Hall chamber for all of 2021.

Nominee defends order

Solicitor General Daniel Will of Loudon deftly handled questions about COVID-19 and the Constitution during the public hearing last week on his nomination to become a Superior Court justice.

Will was the lead lawyer in the so-called Binford case, which upheld Sununu’s authority to issue executive orders because of the pandemic.

Critics interpreted the decision of Superior Court Judge John Kissinger as giving a green light for the state to suspend constitutional protections in response to a public health emergency.

Executive Councilors Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, and Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, pressed Will on the point.

In response, Will said a pandemic does not trump the Constitution.

“The Constitution projects rights that belong to the people, and those rights can’t be taken away unless the people give them back such as in a constitutional amendment,” Will said. “Those rights can’t be suspended.”

Will said those rights are “not absolute,” and the state argued Sununu’s orders met the “strict scrutiny” standard for them to be judged as constitutional.

“What we argued was nothing about suspending the Constitution,” Will said.

Another Vets Home review

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and state Health and Human Services Department each did their own investigations of the practices at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, where 37 died and 190 were infected with COVID-19.

It turns out there was a third look.

The Sunday News obtained a Feb. 26 letter from the Board of Managers Chairman Paul J. Lloyd to all employees.

In it, Lloyd said the board had “started a review of the past few months.”

“We will review policies, procedures and staffing levels. We want to address any concerns that the CODEL (congressional delegation) had with the supply, so we will review supplies as well,” Lloyd wrote.

Court chief to stay on

To no one’s surprise, Sununu last week nominated Tina Nadeau of Lee to serve another five-year term as chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court.

When the Democrat-led Executive Council rejected Gordon MacDonald as chief justice of the Supreme Court in 2019, some urged Sununu to consider elevating Nadeau to the high court.

The voters made that decision for Sununu.

By giving him a GOP majority on the council, Sununu could and did prevail in a second try at naming MacDonald.

BIA names spokesman

The Business & Industry Association has hired a seasoned journalist as its new director of communications and policy.

Richard Fabrizio of Newmarket worked for the Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Media Group for 24 years as a reporter and editor.

He replaces Kevin Flynn, a former WMUR-TV reporter who left the BIA a while back to devote more time to his career as a writer of crime stories.

Next Thursday, Sununu will speak at the BIA’s annual economic summit webinar along with his budget director Matt Mailloux, Boston Federal Reserve Bank Economist Jeffrey Thompson and Cambridge Trust Chief Investment Officer David Lynch.

Cutting own hair a crime

During the early months of the pandemic, hair salons were shuttered or had so many restrictions, many cut their own hair or had a spouse or friend do it.

Legislators learned that was all technically against the law.

State Rep. Mark Alliegro, R-Campton, said the last rewrite of the state’s cosmetology law had inadvertently removed home hair styling as exempt from state licensing.

“It’s a crime for you to help your grandmother get a little of the gray out or cut your daughter’s fingernails,” Alliegro said.

Anyone cutting hair without pay was guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

State officials said no one has been citing self-stylists, but there’s bipartisan support for a fast-moving bill (HB 606) to fix the problem.

No benefit change

Last week, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte canceled the federal $300-per-week boost in unemployment benefits and offered to pay bonuses for those who return to work.

The extended benefits are set to run through Sept. 6.

Sununu said New Hampshire has no plans to follow suit.

“There is no doubt the very heavy unemployment benefits created a challenge to get people back to work. They also provided a needed resource for a lot of individuals,” Sununu said. “We aren’t looking to discontinue that.”

Starting May 23, all collecting benefits here will need to prove that they are looking for work. The job search requirement was suspended in April 2020.

Sununu picks on track

The GOP-led Council last week endorsed all of Sununu’s nominees.

This restored a perfect streak broken last month when Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway of Salem withdrew as Sununu’s pick for a Superior Court judgeship.

Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, opposed Sununu’s choice of Daniel Goldner of Manchester to a seat on the Public Utilities Commission.

“It is disheartening to see someone for this position that has no relevant knowledge or experience,” Warmington said. “He was unable to answer any questions and summed up...that he would come to this role with more questions than answers.”

Councilor Kenney said Goldner is a mechanical engineer and financial expert who will bring needed skills to the PUC.

“One of the things I have stressed in state service is it’s not what you know but what you are capable of learning,” Kenney said.

“He is going to catch up; I have no doubt he has the capacity.”

Right to Work appeal

Two New Hampshire state workers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to order a three-year refunding of “fair share” fees taken out of their paychecks.

We broke this story two years ago when Patrick Doughty and Randy Severance first filed a federal class action suit backed by the National Right to Work Defense Foundation.

So far, lower courts have rejected this claim to get the money back, because a 2018 Supreme Court decision decided it was unconstitutional for public employee unions to compel workers to either pay dues or these fees to cover bargaining costs.

Why would this be coming up now?

Well, the Right to Work group has made it a priority to make New Hampshire the next state in the nation to outlaw these fees for private-sector unions.

The House in June will take up the 11-9 recommendation of its labor committee to endorse this Senate-passed bill (SB 61) with a minor amendment spelling out its enforcement.

The State Employees Association, through General Counsel Gary Snyder, said the union stopped collecting these fees after the court’s ruling and was confident the SEA would continue to prevail as this lawsuit goes forward.

Kevin Landrigan is the State House bureau chief for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at klandrigan@unionleader.com.

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