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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Kuster’s tax trouble may not be big problem by 2014

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster didn’t have a very good week.

The revelation that the first-term Democrat was late paying her property taxes for the past three years made her a punching bag for Republicans. And as of Friday, her office had not explained why it happened beyond issuing a terse statement apologizing “for any inconvenience.”

But will this hound her until 2014, when she’s up for re-election? Probably not – that is, assuming she pays on time from now on, and she does a better job explaining why she fell behind in the first place.

“Long term, if they can in fact get on top of the story in the next week, two years from now it’s not going to be a huge issue,” said Dean Spiliotes, political analyst and civic scholar at Southern New Hampshire University.

WMUR reported last Monday night that Kuster and her husband have been paying the taxes on their Hopkinton home late since 2010. A day later, she paid the balance owed, as well as back taxes on a second property in Jackson.

She issued a statement: “Our property taxes are paid in full with interest to the town of Hopkinton. Payment for our rental property in Jackson is en route. I regret the delay and apologize for any inconvenience. All future tax payments will be delivered promptly.”

That was the first and, as of

Friday, last comment she’s made on the subject. Her office hasn’t returned messages asking if she plans any additional statements.

There are legitimate reasons someone would pay their taxes a few months late, Spiliotes said. But Kuster hasn’t expressed any of them, and that keeps the issue alive.

“You get on top of the story, you provide a plausible explanation and you move on as quickly as possible.
. . . You want to get out in front of it, and it doesn’t seem like they’ve done an effective job of getting on top of the story,” he said.

But in any case, she’s got time on her side. The tax news broke more than a year and a half before her name will appear on a ballot again.

“This has been a bad week for her. But if you had to pick a week for this to happen, this was the week,” said Wayne Lesperance, political science professor at New England College.

Republicans, he said, “will try to make this a story that defines her.” But “one instance does not a narrative make,” he said, and “at the end of the day, the next election is quite a ways off. There’s quite a long time for voters to forget about this.”

When it comes to 2014, Kuster has other advantages.

She’s an incumbent, so she’ll presumably be able to raise money. She didn’t have much trouble on that front in her last race, raising more than $3.1 million, though her campaign committee ended 2012 with just $6,800 in the bank.

And her 2nd District trends more Democratic than the 1st District; President Obama won 54.2 percent of the vote in Kuster’s territory versus 50.2 percent in U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s district, according to a breakdown of 2012 results on the Daily Kos, a liberal blog.

But Kuster is a first-term member in a House district that’s switched parties in each of the past two elections. The 2nd District was bound to be a tempting target for Republicans even before her tax troubles came to light.

Lambert for Congress?

And wouldn’t you know it, a potential opponent did emerge last week: Gary Lambert of Nashua, a patent attorney who served a single term in the state Senate and didn’t run for re-election last year.

He issued a statement, through the state Republican Party, calling for Kuster to release her tax returns “in order to prove to the Second District that she has nothing to hide.”

And he confirmed that he’s “seriously thinking” about running for Congress in the 2nd District in 2014, though he said he hasn’t started putting together a campaign organization and doesn’t have a timeline for making a decision.

“Public service and service is something that comes naturally to me,” Lambert said, and running for political office is “something I would do again if the opportunity presented itself.”

And just in case you’re wondering, he said, “I’ve paid all my taxes, and they’re paid on time.”

Also considering a run against Kuster: Mont Vernon Rep. Bill O’Brien, the former Republican speaker of the House. “I think I can clear the field,” he told National Journal on Friday, adding that he will decide whether to run in the coming months.

Shaheen’s money machine

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen also is looking ahead to 2014, when the Democrat will have to defend her seat. And to do that, she’ll need money.

Her campaign announced last week that Andy Darkins was hired as national finance director. EMILY’s List, which raises money for pro-choice female Democrats, endorsed Shaheen last monty.

Her fundraising began to pick up in the last quarter of 2012. The Friends of Jeanne Shaheen raised nearly $196,000 in the last three months of the year, bringing the committee’s cash on hand to about $431,000 at year’s end.

But she still has a ways to go. Her Republican colleague, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, has nearly $692,000 in the bank for her campaign committee, and she’s not up for re-election until 2016.

Sanborn’s not running

At least one Republican doesn’t seem to be running for higher office in 2014: state Sen. Andy Sanborn.

Sanborn, a Bedford resident and Concord sports-bar owner serving his second term in the Senate, hit hard at Gov. Maggie Hassan in a speech three weeks ago to the state GOP’s annual meeting.

But that doesn’t mean he plans to challenge the Democrat at the end of her first term. “I have no plans to run for governor,” Sanborn said last week on WKXL’s “New Hampshire Now” program.

(Full disclosure: I’m a guest on the show most Tuesdays.)

Cornerstone and the Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America are thinking about lifting their longtime ban on gay members. Cornerstone Action doesn’t much like that idea.

The Manchester-based social conservative group was one of 41 organizations that signed on to a Family Research Council advertisement in USA Today last week calling the potential policy shift a “grave mistake” that could put young scouts at risk.

“Every Scout takes an oath to keep himself ‘morally straight.’ The Boy Scouts have every right to include sexual conduct in how they define that term. . . . To compromise moral principles under political and financial pressure would teach boys cowardice, not courage,” the ad reads.

It adds that “the current policy is part of the BSA’s efforts to protect Scouts from sexual abuse. . . . How will parents be able to entrust their children to the Boy Scouts if they trade the well-being of the boys for corporate dollars?”

Cornerstone’s executive director, Ashley Pratte, didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Drink up

New Hampshire’s beer tax of 30 cents per gallon hasn’t been raised since 1983. Increasing it a dime would raise an estimated $4.3 million a year for the state’s alcohol abuse treatment and prevention fund.

But the bill to do just that was doomed from the moment Hassan said she’d veto it, and maybe earlier. When it came to the House floor last week, only 35 representatives voted for it. All were Democrats, and five were from Merrimack County: David Karrick of Warner, Barbara French of Henniker and Mary Stuart Gile, Chip Rice and Rick Watrous of Concord.

Voting against it: 308 representatives. Which is, uh, more.

For the kids

The New Hampshire Child Advocacy Network announced its legislative priorities last week.

Among the items on the list: Medicaid expansion, the Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program and Financial Assistance for Needy Families program aid for two-parent families.

“Only through unified efforts can advocates, policy makers and community leaders make lasting positive change in the lives of New Hampshire’s children,” said John DeJoie, the network’s coordinator, in a release.

Fixing the debt

Some big names will be at St. Anselm College tomorrow for a forum on the national debt.

“Solving the Debt Crisis: What Must Be Done Now to Save New Hampshire and the United States from Bankruptcy,” is sponsored by two groups, Fix the Debt and the Concord Coalition. It’ll go from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

Among those on the speakers’ list: David Cote, chief executive officer of Honeywell; Bob Bixby, the Concord Coalition’s executive director; Manchester Sen. Lou D’Allesandro and Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.

The week ahead

The big news of the week will come Thursday morning, when Hassan presents her proposed biennial state budget to a joint legislative session.

But there’s plenty else going on at the State House this week.

The Joint Health Care Reform Oversight Committee will meet Tuesday. The House will meet Wednesday to consider, among other things, a right-to-work bill. The Senate will meet Thursday. And some 129 hearings are scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday. If it seems like legislators are busy, there’s a reason – both chambers must act on all non-budget bills by March 28.

News of record

∎ Jim Merrill, former adviser to Mitt Romney and Ovide Lamontagne, is leaving Devine Millimet to become New Hampshire director for Maine-based law firm Bernstein Shur’s strategic-consulting arm.

∎ Brian Bresnahan of Groveton is Kuster’s new North Country constituent services representative.

Sprucing up the dome

The State House’s golden dome is the symbol of New Hampshire state government. It’s a Concord landmark. It even appears on the front page of this newspaper daily.

State officials want to spruce it up – at an estimated cost of $1.25 million.

Bids are due Feb. 21 for the project, which would involve repairing and repainting the white base and cupola, as well as repairing and re-gilding the dome, ball and eagle on top.

The Legislature appropriated $700,000 in the capital budget two years ago for the project.

That’s enough to cover the woodwork, but not the work on the dome – the bid papers say “a funding request has been submitted to the Legislature” for that part of the work and “a decision is expected in July 2013.”

It would be the most extensive work on the dome in two decades, said Michael Connor of the Department of Administrative Services.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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