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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Shaheen, Ayotte gain clout on Capitol Hill

For a small state, New Hampshire is packing quite a punch in the U.S. Senate.

With the start of the 113th Congress last week, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte picked up some high-profile committee assignments. Shaheen gained a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, giving up a seat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee but keeping her seats on the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. Ayotte left the small-business committee but picked up seats on the Special Committee on Aging and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in addition to her seats on the Budget and Armed Services committees. She also sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Not too shabby for two senators who are still in their first terms.

“They definitely are plum assignments,” said Joel Maiola, ex-chief of staff to former governor and U.S. senator Judd Gregg. “There’s no question that Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Ayotte are rising through the ranks of the Senate at a very high rate by landing positions that come with a little seniority, but usually come after your peers understand the strengths that you bring to the debate and to discussion of the issues.”

Ayotte also got the position of “counsel” to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, giving her a seat at the table in the Republican Senate leadership. Gregg had the same title before he retired in 2010.

“I think that McConnell’s decision to add Ayotte to his leadership team is very telling,” wrote Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, in an email.

“She obviously has earned his respect and he believes that she has something to offer. More telling, though, is that it is a sign that she is being groomed for the leadership.”

Shaheen’s assignment on Appropriations, which directs federal spending, is also telling, said Maiola, who now helps run the new Government and Public Strategies Group at McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton.

“There’s probably one or two top committees available to serve in the U.S. Senate, and Appropriations is one of them,” he said. “So that is a huge assignment, and one that you really don’t get to without having a lot of respect from your peers. So it’s a honor for a senator and especially for one from a small state like New Hampshire to do that. That was something that Sen. Gregg did, and to have Sen. Shaheen do that as well is a huge benefit to the state.”

And, Maiola said, the success of Shaheen and Ayotte isn’t the result of them coming from a large, powerful state.

“I think we happen to have two well-thought-of senators from their respective parties,” he said. “It certainly benefits New Hampshire, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because of New Hampshire.”

The state’s two Democratic congresswomen were sworn in last week, and don’t have quite as much pull yet as their senatorial colleagues.

Rep. Ann Kuster has been assigned to the House Agriculture Committee. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter has been named to the House Natural Resources Committee, where she’ll regain the two terms’ seniority she accumulated before losing her seat in 2010, only to win it back two years later.

O’Brien’s enemies list

Rep. Bill O’Brien might have lost the speaker’s gavel, but he came out swinging last week during the House debate on banning deadly weapons from its chamber.

The Mont Vernon Republican, now seated toward the back of the chamber, rose at the end of Wednesday’s 2½ hour debate to blast his Democratic successor, Speaker Terie Norelli of Portsmouth.

“After your promises . . . to concentrate on the budget, jobs and the economy, the first bit of significant legislation you bring forward is this radical gun-control legislation,” O’Brien said.

(Of course, O’Brien got plenty of criticism himself for lifting the ban on weapons in the House on the first day of the legislative session two years ago.)

The ban, backed by the new Democratic majority, was reinstated by a 196-153 vote.

It broke down largely on party lines, with four Democrats voting against the ban and six Republicans voting for it.

O’Brien quickly called out those six Republicans on his Facebook page for, he wrote, voting to make the House floor and gallery “into gun-free, killing zones.” He added, “You might ask them why they are opposed to the Second Amendment and to common sense.”

The list: Reps. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Karel Crawford of Center Harbor, Carolyn Gargasz of Hollis, Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester, David Kidder of New London and Priscilla Lockwood of Canterbury.

For her part, Lockwood said she’s not anti-Second Amendment.

“I voted that way because it’s returning it to where it had been before, and there were never any problems before,” she said.

‘The wrong fight’

O’Brien and other Republicans may have been spoiling for a fight on guns, but the new leaders of the House Republican caucus didn’t seem quite as enthusiastic.

Minority Leader Gene Chandler of Bartlett didn’t speak during Wednesday’s floor fight. Nor did Hooksett Rep. David Hess, the deputy GOP leader.

And Hudson Rep. Shawn Jasper, the Republican whip, sent an email Friday to House Republicans to complain about the hours spent debating the gun ban.

“We need to recognize that we do ourselves no favors when we spend that much time on one small item and I say small not in reference to the importance of the item, but in reference to the simplicity of the rule,” Jasper wrote.

“We all understood the effect of what we were doing. Everything that could be said about the issues, was said at least three times. To what end?”

Fremont Republican Rep. Dan Itse defended the extended debate, responding, “Remember, the time on Wednesday was not competing with any other activity; it was not at the expense of any other legislation. The speaker wanted it wrapped up by lunch; . . . it wasn’t. The speaker wanted nothing to inspire our base; . . . they are.”

Jasper wrote back that if members want to perform, they should sell tickets.

“The issue was inside baseball, very few people care about the rules we impose on ourselves, they do care about what we do to . . . them. This was the wrong fight,” he wrote. “Winning needs to start with respect and your email shows none to your colleagues. I mean no disrespect to you by being so blunt, but I don’t feel like dancing.”

Muskets on the floor

The inauguration of Gov. Maggie Hassan on Thursday was a ceremony of pomp and patriotism.

One color guard was even dressed in Revolutionary War-era garb and carried muskets, in a nod to New Hampshire’s history.

Of course, the House had banned deadly weapons from Representatives Hall just the day before. But the Democratic floor leader, Rep. Gary Richardson of Hopkinton, said those muskets didn’t have firing pins.

“They’re ceremonial weapons,” he said. “I don’t believe that they’re ready to fire when they’re on the House floor.”

Good to know.

Wish you were here

A big crowd of well-wishers turned out for Hassan’s inauguration, but at least one face was missing: Karen Hicks, a former Shaheen aide who was Howard Dean’s state director in 2004 before working for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Hicks has been ill and couldn’t make it, so Debby Butler planted herself outside the governor’s office with a hand-lettered sign reading, “Thinking of You,” and took pictures of people holding it up. She got shots with Hassan, outgoing governor John Lynch, Concord Mayor Jim Bouley and “everybody that knows her,” Butler said, and planned to send Hicks a collage of the photos.

Hicks is “a beloved and brilliant political activist,” who was missed at the ceremony, Butler said.

Second-floor chic

The governor’s office on the second floor of the State House got a fresh coat of paint before Hassan moved in last week.

But nothing too fancy: According to incoming Chief of Staff Pam Walsh, the walls were painted the same institutional shade of beige as before.

“It hadn’t been painted in 10 years,” Walsh said – apparently, there wasn’t enough time to repaint when Lynch moved in eight years ago after defeating one-termer Craig Benson.

Lynch, Bradley make a date

During Lynch’s last days as governor, careful readers noticed a Monitor photograph of Lynch and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley looking intently at something on Bradley’s iPhone.

We disappointed some readers by not revealing what was on that screen. So we rang up Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, on Friday to find out.

Bradley was showing Lynch pictures of a Dec. 26 hike that he, his daughter and two others took up Mount Washington. This will surprise no one who knows Bradley – a hiker well on his way to hiking all of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000-footers in each month of the year.

Bradley and Lynch were also making a date to do “Seek the Peak” this summer, an annual climb up Mount Washington to raise money for the observatory. No word if Lynch, a hockey fan, countered by inviting Bradley onto the ice.

Thirsty legislators

Can beer bridge the partisan divide?

A new “Beer Coalition” of state legislators will hold its first meeting Wednesday at Tandy’s Top Shelf in Concord.

It’s being organized by two Republican representatives, Adam Schroadter of Newmarket and Mark Warden of Goffstown, but is open to members of both parties.

Schroadter said he was involved with legislation in the last session that loosened state rules on breweries, and wanted to organize lawmakers to coordinate efforts to help local breweries, vineyards and craft distillers.

“In New Hampshire, we create the beer trails and the wine trails, you create a tourist draw and also a more thriving local economy. . . . We’re on the verge of developing a really cool beer culture here, or gastro-culture, you might say,” he said.

Never buck tradition

State House followers know a few things about Vaillancourt, the Manchester Republican representative: He dislikes speed limits, the death penalty and O’Brien – with a passion.

But we bet you didn’t know this: Vaillancourt is equally passionate about fudge, his fudge.

On his blog last week, in between posts about the new governor and guns in the State House, Vaillancourt revealed that his Never Fail Fudge recipe failed this holiday season for the first time since July 4, 1976.

“The bicentennial; I was living in Plymouth,” he wrote, explaining his amazing recall.

Perhaps it was Vaillancourt’s timing.

It’s been his tradition to make chocolate fudge before Christmas, but he refused this year to protest the dismissal of a House receptionist by Norelli, the new speaker. For years, Vaillancourt has distributed his fudge to House secretaries and cleaning staff. And the now-ex receptionist, Betty Lichty, was a recipient and a fan.

“I simply thought of her when I went to make it in mid-December, and decided not to,” Vaillancourt told us Friday.

But tradition is powerful, and Vaillancourt ended up making his fudge after Christmas. “Bad idea,” he wrote.

The fudge failed “big time,” leaving Vaillancourt to wonder whether he’d used too much evaporated milk or had tempted fate by bucking tradition.

“It must have been the will of the power of the universe at play,” he wrote. “The farce rather than the force was with me. Have I lost our inalienable right, I daresay my god-given ability to make Never Fail Fudge?”

The truth was far less dramatic.

Vaillancourt determined his chocolate chips were too old. He shared his No Fail Fudge recipe on his blog, but you can also find it on the on the back of the Marshmallow Fluff jar.

Quaker Radio

The Quakers are going on the air.

Starting tomorrow, the American Friends Service Committee will begin airing a weekly show on WNHN, a low-power Concord radio station that broadcasts at 94.7 FM.

“State House Watch” will air Mondays from 5 to 6 p.m. and will be hosted by committee staffers Arnie Alpert and Maggie Fogarty. Their first guest will be former seven-term state senator Burt Cohen.

“Over the next six months, we’ll be talking about issues such as the state budget, proposals to expand access to Medicaid, raising the minimum wage, protecting voting rights, even what the state can do to fight bedbug infestations,” Fogarty said in a news release.

Advised and consented

Jim Demers was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last week for a seat on the board of directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the federal government’s foreign development-finance agency.

The Concord lobbyist and Democratic activist was state co-chairman of then.-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and last month cast one of New Hampshire’s four electoral votes for the president’s re-election.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf. Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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