Surprising stand by Lamontagne
He's opposed to prison privatization
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne is a fan of privatization - but not when it comes to New Hampshire's prisons.
After the Republican Executive Council voted last week to continue Democratic Gov. John Lynch's push to explore prison privatization, Lamontagne spoke in opposition to the idea during a debate Thursday. He argued prisoners "may be incarcerated because they're found to be criminals, but these are human beings who by force of government action, enforcement of criminal laws, are now being incarcerated for some period of time."
"I think it's important that we make sure that, as a state, we have the proper, humane treatment given to these incarcerated individuals, our prisoners," Lamontagne said. "And unless you can show me a substantial savings, a maintenance of quality in a privately-run prison, I would not support privatization of prisons."
Beth D'Ovidio, spokeswoman for the State Employees' Association, was surprised that Lamontagne's position aligns with the public-sector union, which has started the website nhprisonwatch.com to oppose privatization.
"We're certainly surprised because of the comments he has made about his support for privatization," D'Ovidio said. Highlighting the Department of Transportation, Lamontagne said at an event last month that "there are a number of areas of state government where we should be looking to the private sector, not government, in performing those functions."
"I'm going to privatize those things that should be privatized. Nonessential government services should be privatized," Lamontagne said. "That's going to jumpstart the economy."
But Lamontagne said Friday that "whenever the state uses the force and power of state government to incarcerate individuals, it's a difference in kind than other types of governmental services."
"I'm informed by my pro-life position to say we have to care for human lives to the extent we possibly can," Lamontagne said.
Lamontagne said the state employees union "clearly only has one interest, and that is the preservation of the economic status of its members."
"I don't believe, while we may end up at the same position, that we do so for the same reason," he said.
Lynch said in his 2011 budget address that "the cost of our corrections system is not sustainable," specifically noting that "the age of the Concord state prison makes it inefficient to run." The state issued a request for proposals, and four companies have submitted bids to build and potentially operate prisons here.
"The governor thinks we need to look at different options, including various forms of public/private partnerships to ensure we can meet the future needs of our corrections system," Lynch's spokesman, Colin Manning, wrote in an April email.
Democratic candidates Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley have said they oppose privately-run prisons.
"There is evidence from privatization efforts in other states that it results in lower standards and does not serve public safety interests," Hassan's spokesman said in a statement.
Lamontagne's Republican challenger, Kevin Smith, said he would wait to decide whether to support the effort until the study approved by the Executive Council last week determines the quality of service and cost-effectiveness of a private prison system.
"But I'm certainly open to it, and I definitely want to look at that study when it comes out to see if it's the right direction to go in," Smith said.
In the Republican-controlled Legislature, a bill to continue a legislative committee tasked with developing a privatization plan died in the Senate this year after passing the House. Andy Sanborn, a state senator from Henniker during the 2011-2012 session, was a co-sponsor of the bill.
Sanborn said privatizing the state prison system could save "50 cents on the dollar." He was "honestly surprised" by Lamontagne's position, adding "I don't agree that other states or privatization companies treat inmates any differently than the state of New Hampshire does."
"I firmly believe it's something that we have to look at," Sanborn said.
Ayotte gets veep vetting
On Friday, Politico's Playbook, an early-morning must-read for politics junkies, included five names on Mitt Romney's "real list" for vice president - sensational rumors about Bush-era secretary of state Condoleezza Rice aside. On it: New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
The list had Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty at the top of the list, while Ayotte, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and South Dakota Sen. John Thune rounded out the choices.
Ayotte has a chance to show she can handle the spotlight today, when she will appear on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, airing at noon on WMUR. She likely will get a couple of chances to clash with Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama chief of staff-turned-Chicago mayor, who is also sitting in.
Last week, OpenSecrets.org, which investigates the use of money in politics, trained its focus on Romney's veep candidates, including Ayotte. OpenSecrets reporter Dan Glaun noted that "most first-time federal candidates have to do without much support from political action committees, which typically favor incumbents."
"Ayotte faced no such challenge in her open-seat contest, however; she raised more than $1 million from (political action committees) during her 2010 campaign, making up nearly one quarter of her total funds," Glaun wrote. "Those sorts of ties with inside-the-beltway donors could make her an attractive draw at future fundraisers, a trait Romney may value. By the same token, however, choosing Ayotte would do little to energize a Tea Party base already skeptical of Romney's establishment credentials and familiarity with money and power."
After Republican leadership PACs, which gave her nearly $250,000, the insurance industry was Ayotte's second-biggest source of PAC money at $126,000, according to the OpenSecrets analysis.
The top industries donating to Ayotte's 2010 Senate campaign were securities and investment firms, whose employees poured in $550,000 in individual contributions, Glaun wrote. At Elliott Management, a New York City hedge fund firm run by Republican donor Paul Singer, employees gave Ayotte a total of $95,000.
"Her list of top givers is littered with financial firms: tens of thousands of dollars each from SAC Capital Advisors, Blackstone Group, Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America," according to the analysis. She also took $19,600 from Koch Industries, the company owned by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, whose bankrolling of conservative causes reportedly helped get the Tea Party movement off the ground.
Ayotte's personal finances pale when compared to Romney's, Glaun noted. Her husband's landscaping company, valued between $250,001 and $500,000, is her largest listed asset. She also lists a condominium worth between $100,001 and $250,000.
"The senator's wealth ranges somewhere between $422,000 and $1.3 million, according 2011 personal financial disclosure filings," Glaun wrote. "By comparison, Romney's net worth is estimated to be up to $250 million."
Scoring the Legislature
Speaking of the Koch brothers, the state chapter of the national conservative group they founded, Americans for Prosperity, released its second annual legislative scorecard last week.
Sen. Jim Forsythe, a young Strafford Republican who is not running for re-election, was the only member of the Senate to earn an A+ rating. Republican Sens. Sanborn, Chuck Morse of Salem, Tom De Blois of Manchester, Fenton Groen of Rochester and Ray White of Bedford received A's, while Republican Sens. Bob Odell of Lempster and Nancy Stiles of Hampton got D's.
As you might expect, all five Democratic senators, including Sylvia Larsen of Concord, got F's.
On the House side, 26 Republicans received A+ ratings, including House Speaker Bill O'Brien. However, since the speaker only typically votes to break a tie, O'Brien had voted on just one of the 11 bills used to calculate a legislator's grade. Former House Republican leader D.J. Bettencourt was one of 206 House members to earn an A.
The votes used by the organization to determine a lawmaker's grade included legislation that reduced the state's involvement in a regional carbon cap-and-trade program, extended a research and development tax credit for businesses, sought to implement a right-to-work law, as well as a constitutional amendment banning the adoption of a state income tax.
The group said the scorecard "measures how legislators in Concord voted on bills relating to economic freedom and prosperity." To check it out, visit: americansforprosperity.org/new-hampshire/afp-foundation-nh-2012-legislative-score-card/
"This scorecard is part of our ongoing effort to educate citizens about pro-prosperity issues," Corey Lewandowski, AFP's state director, said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing those efforts this fall and beyond."
The science guy
Bill Nye the Science Guy, host of the 1990s children's TV show, is hitting New Hampshire tomorrow to campaign for President Obama.
Nye will campaign in Concord, Manchester and Rye, "discussing the president's commitment to K-12 education as well as his emphasis on science education," according to a release. Tomorrow, he will participate in what a campaign official called a "non-partisan" tour of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.
He will be joined by U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat and ranking member of the House Committee for Education and the Workforce, who will likely be of less interest to kids.
Nye's visit will kick off the second week of the Obama campaign's "Out-Educate" initiative, which is described by the campaign as "two weeks focused on talking with voters about President Obama's belief that education is a key investment in our future and contrasting that with Mitt Romney's failed record as Massachusetts governor and his plans to cut key investments in workforce training, K-12 education and leave college costs to the free market."
"A quality education is a fundamental part of President Obama's plan to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the world," Holly Shulman, New Hampshire communications director for the Obama campaign, said in a statement.
The Obama team also released its Merrimack County steering committee last week, featuring prominent local Democrats. Included on the list from Concord are a bunch of Democratic state representatives, City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton and former mayor Martin Gross.
In addition, former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester was named last month to Obama's statewide steering committee. Loyal readers will remember Shea-Porter wasn't on the 114-member statewide list released back in March, prompting a state GOP spokesman to ask "Mr. President . . . Would a list of 115 supporters have been too long?"
Looks like we got our answer. At the time, Shea-Porter was still potentially facing primary challengers in Joanne Dowdell of Portsmouth and Andrew Hosmer of Laconia. Now that Shea-Porter's running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 1st District, she becomes No. 115.