'Under state seal, lawmaker launches anti-gay mail campaign'
It may have recently found its way to your mailbox: "Important News About New Hampshire's Marriage Law," under the House of Representatives letterhead and state seal.
"Very soon, the New Hampshire Legislature will vote on legislation I filed last year to restore traditional marriage in our state," writes Rep. David Bates, a Windham Republican. "If you believe that our marriage law should define marriage the way we've always known it - the union of a man and woman, then please contact your representatives to support House Bill 437."
The letter then urges you to contact your local rep. Two examples sent to us provided the home number and address of Republicans Laurie Sanborn of Henniker and Tim Copeland of Stratham.
Despite all the national lobbyist money floating around on the gay marriage repeal effort, Bates, the prime sponsor and driving force behind the bill, is committed to waging his own campaign. Those letters are going across the state, targeting any district where the representative is on the fence or has views unknown. And they're paid for entirely out of his pocket, he said.
"I'm serious about the issue," he said Wednesday outside the State House. Bates, who is listed on the letter in his capacity as chairman as of the House Election Law Committee, declined to say how much the statewide mailings are costing him, but "it's not an insignificant amount."
This wouldn't be the first time Bates his pumped thousands of dollars of his own money into an anti-gay marriage campaign. In 2010, he headed up the "Let NH Vote" movement that put petitioned
warrant articles on town meeting ballots across the state to rally support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage. Bates ended up abandoning a constitutional amendment he proposed last year, but a vote on his bill, which has 11 co-sponsors, is expected in the coming weeks.
Gay marriage supporters are crying foul over the use of the state seal for political purposes, but Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan sees nothing wrong with it. State representatives have authority to use the seal, he said.
"This is showing up in people's mailboxes trying to make it appear that it's official state business," said Tyler Deaton, a lobbyist with Standing Up For New Hampshire Families, which advocates keeping the marriage law. "That's not news. This is lobbying. You can't blur the lines that way."
The letter asks residents to sign a petition at nhmarriage.org, though "this does not negate the need for you to contact legislators directly." The return address is the same P.O. box as NH Family PAC, a political action group started by Bates. The nhmarriage.org website also seeks donations to the PAC by asking, "Homosexuals gave to support their 'values' - Will you?"
"It's most definitely unethical. It's most definitely a breach of the public trust," Deaton said.
Bates said the P.O. box is one he personally rents, and the PAC is currently dormant with no money flowing in or out of it. The PAC is now chaired by Windham resident Ted Maravelias, who also heads the New Hampshire chapter of the far-right America First Party.
Scanlan said PAC connections to the use of the state seal present a "gray area" under current law. Bates said "there's nothing on that letter that would lead anyone to believe it's being sent out by a PAC."
"It's a personal letter from me to people who are concerned about gay marriage," he said. "As chairman of Election Law, I am not violating any election law statute."
House Speaker William O'Brien, who's been a stickler about keeping lawmakers' mileage costs down, took quite a trip in December. He spent about a week in Taiwan with other New England legislative leaders.
O'Brien was reimbursed $7,100 for the trip by the Republic of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to financial filings posted online Friday by the secretary of state's office.
(Editor's note: The original version of this column included incorrect information about who paid.)
O'Brien is not the first legislator to make the journey. Former House speaker Terie Norelli and former senator Joe Foster, both Democrats, have also gone.
O'Brien and the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives served as co-leaders of the trip, which also included elected officials from Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island. "Following the tradition of Speaker Doug Scamman, Sen. Kathy Sgambati, Rep. Marjorie Smith, former deputy speaker Linda Foster and others, I was pleased to be invited to Taiwan with the New England delegation to learn how New Hampshire can better its international trade to bring jobs to Granite Staters," O'Brien said by email.
The trip's visits included a tour of a national park, the opera and several meetings with government officials in Taiwan.
Hold that thought
As we've noted, Rep. Ben Baroody, a Manchester Democrat, thinks the 400-member House of Representatives is 300 members too big - and too expensive. It's not just the mileage that adds up - think about the money saved from filing fewer bills, he's argued.
We hadn't given it much thought, but what would taxpayers save if some of the wackier bills were whacked before they reached the House calendar? Most of them are headed nowhere, anyway: Naming a state gun? Dead. Veggie diets for inmates? Not happening. Terri Schiavo Day? Tabled. Nor will New Hampshire be abolishing the courts or officially congratulating Hungary on adopting its first national constitution.
Ditto on congratulating Charlie St. Clair of Laconia for pulling off Motorcycle Week each year. (He'd probably still appreciate a card.)
These lawmaker ideas are turned into bills by state employees, who research and write the proposed legislation. Unfortunately, Rich Lambert at the state Office of Legislative Services said he couldn't ballpark the cost of writing a bill.
"Some bills can be drafted in minutes or hours, while others can take weeks," Lambert emailed. "Likewise, the research office is asked to research topics which vary widely in their complexity."
Rep. Jerry Bergevin, the Manchester Republican behind Terri Schiavo Day, a state gun and other failed bills, said he's been given "some numbers" on the cost but he declined to share them with us. Plus,
Bergevin said, he's concerned about his constituents, not the cost of a bill.
So we don't have a dollar figure, but we do know this isn't a new complaint.
In 1975, Rep. Richardson Benton, a Republican from Chester, complained in the Nashua Telegraph about too many lawmakers writing too many silly bills.
"Everybody agrees it's not a great idea to sponsor bills that have no merit," he said. "But they go on putting them in."
In 1975, it cost taxpayers about $280 each time a lawmaker requested a bill, Benton said.
He sponsored five that year, four of which passed. One of the successful ones ceased the practice of printing the names of "prisoners, paupers and the feebleminded" in the annual county reports. Printing that information embarrassed the families, Benton said, and increased the cost of printing the county reports.
In the article, Benton shared his philosophy on introducing bills.
"I'm a firm believer that you must not sponsor a bill simply because somebody comes up in the general store and complains about something," he said.
Martin takes over
The House Democrats have hired Gene Martin to run this year's Committee to Elect House Democrats.
Martin has his work cut out for him, with Republicans holding about a 3-to-1 majority in Reps Hall. To make a dent in November, he'll pull on prior experience as the state Democratic Party's political director and the point person for the Dems' string of special elections victories in 2011.
"New Hampshire voters are deeply troubled by what their seeing taking place in Concord," state Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said in announcing Martin's hire. "We're seeing a lot of enthusiasm and energy on the ground to replace Bill O'Brien's reckless agenda in 2012."
Kenda exploring a run
New Hampshire businessman Steve Kenda is testing the waters for a Republican gubernatorial run with help from veteran GOP consultant Chris Wood.
For two decades, Kenda ran KENDA Systems, a software consultant agency headquartered in Salem, according to a release. He grew the company "from a one-man shop to a multimillion-dollar firm, with 160 internal employees, over 850 external consultants, and 18 offices across the U.S. and Europe."
Kenda and Wood have formed a Friends of Steve Kenda exploratory committee. Kenda graduated from M.I.T. in 1979 with a degree in chemical engineering. He lives in North Hampton with his wife Sarah and their newborn son.
"There is so much we could be doing to attract business and investment to this state - and not one reason why New Hampshire shouldn't be leading the nation in growth, employment, and quality of life," Kenda said in a statement. "I'm honored by Chris's support, and excited about the possibility of bringing a real job-creation perspective to the governor's office."
Wood said he has been waiting for "an experienced conservative leader with real business smarts" to enter the race.
Two for one
Republican candidates for two of the state's top political posts will be speaking at the same event this week in Laconia.
Kevin Smith, GOP candidate for governor, and Juliana Bergeron, who is running for Republican National Committeewoman, are the guest speakers at the Belknap County Republican Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m.Wednesday at the Shang Hai Restaurant, 331 S. Main St.
Smith, who previously headed conservative advocacy group Cornerstone Action, is seeking the Republican nomination against Ovide Lamontagne, who was previously the GOP nominee in 1996. Bergenon, former chairwoman of the Cheshire County GOP, is running against Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker of Greenland for RNC Committeewoman at the state GOP's annual meeting on April 14.
Hurst for vice chair
Cliff Hurst has put his name in for vice chairman of the state Republican Party.
As you might remember, the reason the GOP has to elect a new VC goes back to the Jack Kimball fiasco last year. When Kimball was ousted, longtime Vice Chairman Wayne MacDonald took over. Pam Manney filled his No. 2 post, but there's no indication she's running again.
MacDonald is chairman through the end of the year, but the vice chairmanship is up for grabs in April.
Hurst, former chairman of the Manchester Republicans and the lone candidate so far, said he has the backing of Executive Councilor Ray Wierczorek and former gubernatorial candidate John Stephen.
"Over the past few weeks, I've received encouragement to run from Republicans across the state," Hurst said in a statement. "I will use my experience to grow our party and bring all Republicans together to work and fight for the Republican values we share."
Sen. Andy Sanborn is moving to Bedford after being squeezed out of his current district in the redistricting plan passed recently.
Sanborn, the Republican from Henniker, voted in favor of the GOP majority's 10-year plan to redraw the state's 24 Senate districts, all but assuring that he and his wife Laurie, a state rep, would have to move in order to retain his Senate seat. The new map, set to take effect before the fall elections, moves Henniker into the district represented by Concord Democrat Sylvia Larsen.
At the end of the week, Sanborn released a statement telling his District 7 constituents that "recently Laurie and I have made the decision to move closer to her family" once the legislative session is over. It just so happens that Bedford Republican Sen. Ray White has decided not to run for re-election. What a coincidence!
Some had speculated Sanborn would move to a town within the confines of his redrawn district, which runs from Webster to Laconia. Instead, his decision leaves that seat open for a new face come November.
He may have to pack up and head south, but Sanborn is getting some help in return: Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley is co-chairing his Bedford campaign. Laurie will also run for a house seat from the couple's new home.
(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or at email@example.com.)