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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Republican, Democrat . . . none of the above?

Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Kelly Ayotte speaks to the Monitor during an editorial review board; Thursday, August 12, 2010.<br/><br/>(Alexander Cohn/Monitor Staff)

Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Kelly Ayotte speaks to the Monitor during an editorial review board; Thursday, August 12, 2010.

(Alexander Cohn/Monitor Staff)

Portraits of New Hampshire governors stretching back to the 1700s hang in the State House: Josiah Bartlett and Isaac Hill, Robert Bass and John Gilbert Winant, Sherman Adams and Mel Thomson.

But how would an artist capture the gubernatorial essence of, well, nobody?

Rep. Chuck Weed, a Keene Democrat, has filed a request to draft a bill for 2014 “adding the choice of ‘none of the above’ to state election ballots.”

The text of the bill isn’t available yet, and Weed couldn’t be reached last week. But if his bill became law, New Hampshire wouldn’t be the first state allowing voters to cast the ultimate protest vote.

Nevada has, since the mid-1970s, put “None of These Candidates” on the ballot for statewide offices and presidential races. In a few primaries, it’s actually come in first – though with little effect.

“There’s a very important caveat in our law, which is that ‘none of the above’ cannot win an election,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno. “So if ‘none of the above’ actually gets the most votes, the person who gets the most votes is the winner.”

Herzik said the option typically does well in races where candidates are unknown to most voters, or when voters are disgusted with both sides.

That may have been the case in 2012’s mud-slinging contest for the U.S. Senate between Republican Dean Heller and Democrat Shelley Berkley. Heller defeated Berkley by 11,576 votes – with 45,277 votes cast for “none of these candidates.”

Not everyone’s a fan.

Earlier in 2012, a lawsuit backed by the Republican National Committee sought to strike down the option, arguing that “the state of Nevada has decided to disenfranchise people who select ‘none of these candidates’ by literally ignoring their votes.”

A federal appeals court found the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue, and the lawsuit was thrown out.

All in all, though, the effect on elections in Nevada has been minimal, Herzik said.

“When people criticize ‘none of the above,’ they’re saying it has no teeth,” he said. “The argument on the other side is, it allows people to register a protest but still allows them to exercise their right to vote, and I think that’s what happened in the 2012 Senate race.”

Back in New Hampshire, Weed’s bill wouldn’t be the first attempt to offer “none of the above” to voters. In March 1987, then-state Sen. Bobby Stephen tried to add the option to ballots ahead of the 1988 presidential primary.

“’None of the above’ should help to improve the voter turnout and also the public apathy. I think we are depriving people of an option,” Stephen, a Manchester Democrat, argued on the Senate floor. “People would not use the excuse that they did not go to the polls because they didn’t care for ‘none of the above.’ ”

But Concord Republican Sen. Susan McLane objected; “It seems to me it’s encouraging apathy,” she said.

And Sen. Mark Hounsell, a Hill Republican, argued Stephen’s proposal could diminish

the value of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

“I think that the implication of ‘none of the above’ is to state to the people those who have declared a candidacy aren’t worthy. . . . To have ‘none of the above’ in there is almost a statement, to me anyways, to say we don’t want to elect the president,” Hounsell said.

Stephen’s amendment was rejected by the Senate, 14-10.

Dinner’s on them

There’s no such a thing as a free lunch. But for state senators and some representatives, dinner is another story altogether.

The Business and Industry Association has invited the entire Senate, and majority and minority leaders from several key House committees, to its annual dinner and awards ceremony Oct. 23 in Manchester. Tickets cost $125, but the invited lawmakers get in free.

Rep. Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat and chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, asked the Legislative Ethics Committee if it would be kosher to accept the invitation. After all, state law bars lawmakers from accepting any gift worth $25 or more.

In a 6-0 opinion issued last week, the committee told Almy she could take the BIA up on its offer, thanks to an exemption under the gifts law for attending events “for which the primary significance is ceremonial or celebratory.”

Chairman Martin Gross wrote in the opinion that “there is little doubt” the BIA invited lawmakers as part of its lobbying efforts at the State House.

“But the ‘celebratory’ exception does not necessarily exclude such events. It merely requires that the ‘primary significance’ of such events to be ‘celebratory.’ . . . On the facts presented in Rep. Almy’s request and BIA’s response, this criterion appears to be met,” Gross wrote.

A new contender?

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter could get another Republican challenger.

Jeff Chidester, a conservative radio host, ran Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s ill-fated campaign for president in New Hampshire in 2011.

Now he’s looking at a run for Congress in the 1st District, telling the New Hampshire Union Leader last week that he is “truly humbled” others have asked him to run, but he “would feel no rush to make a final decision for several months.”

Regardless of his decision, the 1st District will likely see a contested Republican primary in 2014.

Former congressman Frank Guinta announced last month he would seek to reclaim the seat he lost last year. And Dan Innis, the outgoing dean of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire, has indicated he could announce his decision about the race soon.

Speakers galore

P.J. O’Rourke and U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn are coming to town.

Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, will speak Nov. 8 at the state Republican Party’s 160th anniversary celebration in Manchester.

“Sen. Coburn is a strong Republican leader who has stood up for taxpayers by fighting to eliminate wasteful government spending. . . . We are pleased that he has agreed to travel to New Hampshire to help us raise the resources we need to elect more responsible Republicans in 2014,” said Chairwoman Jennifer Horn in a news release.

O’Rourke, the political satirist, will headline the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy’s annual dinner Nov. 21 in Concord. He also spoke at the conservative think tank’s inaugural dinner in 2011.

The center that night will also present its 2013 Libertas Award to Senate President Chuck Morse.

LSR champion

Rep. J.R. Hoell has a lot of ideas.

More than 600 legislative service requests have already been filed for 2014, according to the Legislature’s website, with senators getting another few weeks to file bills.

Hoell, a Dunbarton Republican, appears to top the leader board in terms of volume, with 21 LSRs filed on subjects ranging from the election of judges to “establishing an affirmative defense for the use of a laser pointing device for self-defense or defense of others.”

Right behind him is Rep. Dan Itse – the Fremont Republican filed 19 LSRs. Republican Rep. George Lambert of Litchfield and Democratic Rep. Tim O’Flaherty of Manchester each filed 17, and Weare Republican Rep. Neal Kurk filed 15.

News of record

∎ Happy birthday to former governor Craig Benson (Tuesday), former U.S. senator Gordon Humphrey (Wednesday), Morse (Friday) and state Sens. David Pierce (Oct. 15) and Russell Prescott (Oct. 19).

∎ U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen will be in Manchester Nov. 4 for a Business and Industry Association lunch being billed as “Senator Shaheen’s Washington Briefing for Business Leaders.” Tickets are $35 for BIA members and $49 for non-members.

∎ The Medicaid expansion study commission may, at last, wrap up its work this week. It’s scheduled to meet Tuesday; its report is due Oct. 15.

∎ The State House flu clinic is scheduled for Wednesday. Appointments can be made at 271-2757.

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

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