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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Despite 2012 near-sweep, Democrats stymied this year by GOP-held Senate

Elections have consequences. But they’re not always what you might think they are on election night.

New Hampshire Democrats made dramatic gains in state government last November: six seats in the Senate, 119 or so seats in the House, three seats on the
Executive Council and continued control of the governor’s office.

This year’s legislative session has been shaped by that blue wave, but also by the fact it wasn’t a tsunami.

By a slim margin – two wins had to go to recounts before being confirmed – Republicans held on to a 13-11 majority in the Senate. Senate President Peter Bragdon of Milford subsequently promised to be “the firewall for the next two years,” to protect what the GOP had achieved during the two years it had supermajority control of the Legislature.

As the first year of the legislative session winds down, it’s clear he’s largely kept that promise.

That’s not to say there haven’t been instances of bipartisan and bicameral cooperation this year. Pro-business legislation, including the expansion of the research and development tax credit, has passed the Legislature. A Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative bill from the House passed the Senate with support from 11 Democrats plus three Republicans. An insurance-regulation bill related to Obamacare was salvaged in a committee of conference. A last-minute compromise was reached on voter ID.

But the Senate Republicans have stuck together and blocked many of the House Democrats’ priorities: repeal of the 2011 “stand your ground” law, restoring a state minimum wage, reversing changes made last year to voter registration forms, repealing the education tax credit enacted in 2012, and increasing the gas tax to fund transportation-infrastructure improvements.

Look no further than last week’s budget negotiations. Gov. Maggie Hassan was a strong supporter of expanding Medicaid through the

state budget, and the House was in her corner. But they were stymied by Bragdon and the dozen Republican senators behind him.

A broader compromise was reached on the budget itself. And the issue of Medicaid expansion is far from dead, with a study commission on tap and a special session possible this fall. But the Senate got its wish to address it outside the budget process.

The outcome would have been very different had Democrats won 13 seats in the Senate last fall instead of 11. Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord said as much in a fundraising email last week, writing, “Senate Democrats have accomplished so much already this year, but on important votes, we have too often come up on the losing side of a 13-11 vote.”

The state Senate, then, will be a top target for the Democrats in 2014, even as they play defense on the governor’s office, a U.S. Senate seat, two seats in the U.S. House and their majorities in the state House and on the Executive Council.

For Republicans, the goal between now and next fall will be to find a path back to a governing majority; that will mean reversing the gains made by Democrats last year.

Given three of the last four elections have seen political waves sweep the Granite State, anything’s possible.

Wednesday’s the day

The House and Senate will both meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday to vote on the final state budget, the capital budget, the medical marijuana bill, the voter ID reform bill and all the other pieces of legislation that emerged last week from committees of conference.

If necessary, they can meet again Thursday – that’s the deadline for both chambers to act on all bills that went to conference committees.

Legislative Thunderdome

Forty-two bills entered the committee of conference process this year. Thirty-four emerged alive and will get final up-or-down votes Wednesday.

The other eight didn’t make it.

One common cause of death was a “poison pill,” an amendment attached to an unrelated bill by one chamber that proved unacceptable to the other.

The Senate stuck an amendment eliminating one of the Merrimack toll ramps on a bill dealing with the sale of the old Laconia State School, and it died. Three other bills also died with non-germane Senate amendments attached.

Other bills that died dealt with residency restrictions for sex offenders, absentee voting, charitable gaming, and the regulation of security guards and private investigators.

Hot dogs for all

It’s not just legislative sausage being made this week.

Rep. John Burt, a Goffstown Republican, is holding his second annual Hot Dog Day in front of the State House on Wednesday at lunchtime. It’s free and open to lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists, with any donations above the cost of the event going to help the Concord-Merrimack County SPCA.

Last year, Burt handed out more than 850 hot dogs.

Farm bill switch

New Hampshire’s Democratic congresswomen, U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster, helped defeat a major farm subsidy bill when it came to the floor Thursday.

In Kuster’s case, she had voted for the farm bill before she voted against it.

Back in May, Kuster voted to send the bill to the floor, along with the majority of the House Agriculture Committee. At the time, she said it “contains many important reforms,” though she described herself as “gravely disappointed” that it cut food stamps.

Last week, Kuster said she couldn’t vote for the bill a second time because of its “significant flaws,” including the cuts to food stamps.

“I was willing to advance this bill out of committee to give the House a chance to improve it, and am gravely disappointed that this has not happened,” Kuster said. “There is no question that Congress needs to pass a farm bill, but we need to do it the right way.”

Shea-Porter struck a similar note, saying, “I will support a bill that helps farmers and ranchers continue growing healthy and affordable food, but reckless cuts to nutrition programs are unacceptable.”

Gun-control blowback

New Hampshire Republicans are pushing back hard against Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the gun-control group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that has run television ads critical of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte for her vote in April against expanded background checks.

The group came to Concord last week to read the names of victims of gun violence and delivered a petition to Ayotte’s Manchester office with a list of “Americans . . . murdered with guns.” (A rally in Concord turned ugly when counter-protestors showed up, with one man arrested.)

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon this spring, was on both lists. The Mayors group apologized, but Ayotte’s office noted other criminals were included in the petition, too.

“Bloomberg’s group has spent $2 million on false attacks against Sen. Ayotte. We knew that Bloomberg’s group was nasty. Now we know it’s not credible,” wrote Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson in a “Memo to Reporters.”

Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the state GOP, then called on Dover Mayor Dean Trefethen, the sole New Hampshire member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, to resign from the organization.

“It is insulting that this out-of-state organization believes Granite Staters are not smart enough to see through their blatant lies and dishonest tactics,” Horn wrote in an email Friday.

Trefethen replied to Horn that her email was “full of the usual standard political attack language, which does nothing to further the discussion.”

So long, Stella

Stella Tremblay has left the building.

The Auburn Republican and two-term state representative made national headlines this year when she repeatedly and publicly questioned whether the U.S. government was behind the Boston Marathon bombing. She had previously filed bills seeking to prohibit weather-control experiments by the state government and to recognize the “original 13th Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.

Her three-page letter of resignation from the House last week was similarly odd.

It cites “Divine Providence” in her move out of her district. It describes the now-defunct House Redress of Grievances Committee as “a ‘dear abby’ court, all talk without remedy.”

It thanks “Mary Beth Walzer” (presumably, Rep. Mary Beth Walz of Bow) for “changing my view of democrats” by being “fair and equitable” as chairwoman of the House Children and Family Law Committee.

There’s a new demand for a “full investigation” into what really happened at the Boston Marathon: “Thank God for internet bloggers and reporters that continue to investigate and update reports: something that does not happen with the major news outlets.”

Plus some stuff about the Constitution, the United Nations, direct election of U.S. senators and New Hampshire’s process for approving administrative rules – you know, the usual.

Meet the AG

New Attorney General Joe Foster is making the rounds.

Foster, a former Senate majority leader from Nashua, took over the top job at the Department of Justice last month.

He’ll speak Thursday morning about his new gig at a “briefing with business leaders” organized by the Business and Industry Association. The event includes breakfast and is being held at the Grappone Conference Center from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m.

Tickets are $30 for BIA members and $45 for nonmembers.

Quote of the Week

“The problem is, nobody has a picture to put out an APB.”

That was Rep. Dan Eaton, a Stoddard Democrat, commenting on Rep. Neal Kurk’s absence during one day of budget negotiations last week. Kurk, a Weare Republican, is famously protective of his privacy – declining, for example, to provide a photo for the biennial Blue Book directory of elected officials.

Quick takes

∎ Happy birthday to Ayotte (Thursday) and House Minority Leader Gene Chandler (Friday).

∎ Mazel tov to Londonderry Rep. Al Baldasaro, who last weekend announced his engagement to girlfriend Judy Seppala.

∎ The July issue of Reader’s Digest features Blue Ear – the Marvel superhero avatar of Anthony Smith, grandson of Sen. Lou D’Allesandro – as No. 14 on its list of “50 Surprising Reasons We Love America.”

∎ With Tremblay’s resignation, the balance of power in the House stands at 218 Democrats and 179 Republicans, with three seats vacant.

∎ The 2013 Red Books – if you want to be formal, the New Hampshire Manual for the General Court – will be out Wednesday.

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

Something is missing here. Didnt the Senate vote for the gambling house the GOV wanted, needed, touted as money the state needs??? I cant believe one of the most hotly contested issues this year was left out. No...i guess I can.

Hi GWTW, Thanks for your comment! Since gambling has traditionally not been a partisan issue in New Hampshire (and neither vote this year on the casino bill, in the Senate or the House, broke along party lines), I felt it didn't fit in an analysis of how issues that *have* been divided along party lines (Medicaid expansion, voter ID, healthcare reform, etc.) turned out. -Ben

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