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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: House veterans will play key roles on budget-writing panel

The House Finance Committee is getting down to business, now that it has Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposed two-year state budget in hand. The powerful panel has until March 28 to finish work on a revised budget plan, and the full House faces an April 4 deadline to act on it.

Democrats are in the driver’s seat for now, armed with a majority in the House – though that’ll change when the Republican-held Senate gets its hands on the budget. There are 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans on the Finance Committee, and any or all of them could have a hand in the final product.

But there are a few names likely to show up more often than not: the veteran legislators who occupy key posts on the committee.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner is in charge. The Concord Democrat is serving her 17th term in the House, and was the majority leader before the Democrats lost their majority in 2010. After they regained it last year, Speaker Terie Norelli picked her to chair the Finance Committee, with Penacook Democrat Steve Shurtleff taking the majority leader’s job.

Many details of the budget will be worked out in the Finance Committee’s three subcommittees, called divisions.

∎ Division I has a broad mandate, dealing with general government, justice, resource protection and development. It’s chaired by Rep. Peter Leishman, a Peterborough Democrat who was first elected in 1996 as a Republican. He came back to the House in 2006 as a Democrat, lost his seat in 2010 and won a special election the next year.

∎ Division II deals with money for the Departments of Safety, Transportation, Education and Fish and Game. It’s chaired by Stoddard Rep. Dan Eaton, who was the Democratic floor leader before losing his seat in 2010, only to win it back in 2012. His 2010 loss also short-circuited an ethics probe into his role in a State Liquor Commission investigation.

∎ Division III is the scene of much action – it’s the subcommittee dealing with health and social services, including the largest state agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. It’s chaired by Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a fifth-term Nashua Democrat who’s also vice chairwoman of the full committee.

The GOP may be in the minority, but keep an eye on Rep. Neal Kurk. The Weare Republican has been in the Legislature since 1987 and chaired the Finance Committee for eight years. He’s genteel, protective of personal privacy (his entry in the Blue Book is noticeably spare) and combines a firm grasp of policy with deeply held fiscal conservatism.

Also worth watching is Rep. Ken Weyler, the Kingston Republican who led the Finance Committee for the past two years and helped craft the 2011 budget.

The revenue side of the budget is in the hands of the Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat. She’s in her ninth term and chaired the committee before the Democrats lost their majority in 2010.

The Republicans have several heavy hitters on the tax-writing panel, including Hooksett Rep. David Hess, the deputy minority leader, and Bedford Rep. Laurie Sanborn, the House GOP policy leader. The ranking member is Plaistow Rep. Norman Major, who chaired the committee for the past two years.

Work will continue this week in both committees. Finance divisions are meeting every day save Wednesday for presentations and work sessions, and the Ways and Means Committee will hold a revenue-estimating work session Tuesday morning.

Run, Hillary, Run

Chris Spirou thinks Hillary Clinton should run for president again.

Spirou, a former state Democratic Party chairman who ran for governor in 1984, last week filed paperwork to create the first state-level political action committee for the 2016 presidential race, “In 2016, Run Hillary Run.”

Spirou supported Clinton during her 2008 run for the White House, and hopes to draft her to run again. Clinton, a former first lady and U.S. senator from New York, left her post as secretary of state this year and hasn’t said yet if she plans to run for president at the end of President Obama’s second term.

“The time has come to elect the first female president of the United States. It is only fitting that it be Hillary Clinton,” Spirou said in a statement.

Hassan’s first bill

It took seven weeks, but Hassan finally got the chance to sign a bill into a law.

The lucky legislation: Senate Bill 39, a bill changing the funding source for some Pease Development Authority bonds. It passed the Senate on Jan. 31 and the House passed it last Wednesday, with Hassan signing it the next day.

Republican Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton was the prime sponsor and appeared with other sponsors and Hassan at a signing ceremony – the first for the new governor.

But it was actually the second bill to become law this year. Legislation to fix the Newfound Area School District tax cap was rushed through the Legislature and signed by John Lynch on Jan. 2, the Democrat’s last day in office.

Stand ready

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease Air National Guard Base got some good news last week.

New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators – Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte – both sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now, Shaheen has been named chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support; and Ayotte was already the subcommittee’s ranking member from the minority.

The readiness subcommittee oversees, among other things, the base realignment and closure process. And the Portsmouth yard was targeted for closure in 2005, though it was saved that time around.

“As chair and ranking member, Sen. Shaheen and I will continue to work to ensure that our military men and women have the resources they need to fulfill their missions, and to protect Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease – which are irreplaceable national security assets,” Ayotte said in a statement.

GOP speakers

Speakers are signing up for local Republican dinners.

The Merrimack County and Concord Republican committees will host their Lincoln Day Dinner on March 15, with magazine magnate and two-time president candidate Steve Forbes on the dais.

And on March 23, the Hillsborough County GOP’s Lincoln-Reagan Gala will feature John O’Sullivan, an editor at large of National Review and former aide to British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Lowcountry sparring

Manchester’s Mike Biundo, former national campaign manager for Rick Santorum, is showing up in South Carolina these days.

The GOP political operative is a consultant to Andy Patrick, a Republican running in a special U.S. House election in the Palmetto State’s 1st District. One of Patrick’s opponents: Mark Sanford, the former governor who in 2009 disappeared for a time, allegedly to hike the Appalachian Trail but in fact to visit his Argentine mistress.

“Andy Patrick is a Christian man and believes in repentance,” Biundo said in a statement released last week. “But he also believes past is prologue. Gov. Sanford displayed a sad dereliction of duty in abandoning the people of the entire state of South Carolina, and his personal tour of redemption now is a disservice to the people of the Lowcountry who are looking for the next leader to represent them in Congress.”

Big session day

The Senate is taking school-vacation week off, but the House has a full plate Wednesday, with 46 pieces of legislation on its regular calendar.

Among the bills coming to a vote: the legalization of industrial hemp, a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, a 15-cent increase in the state gas tax and three bills raising the speed limit on state highways. (Only one, a bill to raise the speed limit on Interstate 93 north of Penacook from 65 mph to 70 mph, came out of the Transportation Committee with an ought-to-pass recommendation.)

Also this week: the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee will vote Tuesday on five bills targeting projects like Northern Pass, and the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will vote Thursday on a bill to repeal the state’s 2011 stand your ground law.

Quick takes

∎ Manchester Democrat Patrick Arnold announced a first round of endorsements in his run this fall for mayor, including former U.S. ambassador to Belize George Bruno and nine state representatives.

∎ The National Republican Congressional Committee launched its first TV ad of the 2014 election, an attack on 1st District U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

∎ The Granite State Christian Schools Association gave Distinguished Service Awards this month to former state senator Jim Forsythe and former state representative Greg Hill, both Republicans.

∎ Happy birthday to Hassan – the governor turns 55 on Wednesday.

Pierce the unloved

Franklin Pierce can’t catch a break these days.

The 14th president, and only chief executive from New Hampshire, has a portrait hanging in Representatives Hall and a statue outside the State House. But the Hillsboro native, who served a single term in the years before the Civil War, is generally considered one of the worst presidents in American history.

Reps. Dick Patten of Concord and Linda Lauer of Bath, both Democrats, are sponsoring a bill to establish an annual “Franklin Pierce Day” on Nov. 23, Pierce’s birthday. But the House Executive Departments and Administration Committee voted 15-0 to recommend killing the bill.

As Epsom Republican Carol McGuire wrote in the committee’s report, Pierce was “a very controversial figure in his time and the controversy is still alive today.” She noted Pierce “was reviled in New Hampshire” during his precedency for enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act and supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

“The committee was unwilling to perpetually honor such a person,” McGuire concluded.

The House will take up that recommendation Wednesday.

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

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