Governor shows off veto pen

Last modified: Sunday, March 20, 2011
Midway through his routine at last week's St. Patrick's Day roast at the Grappone Center in Concord, Gov. John Lynch held up a pen.

'I found this in the State House hall the other day,' Lynch told the gathering of lawmakers and other types familiar with those halls. 'In my hand, this pen will be your friend.'

But then the governor took it up a notch. With House Speaker William O'Brien to one side and Senate President Peter Bragdon to the other, Lynch said that some of the bills being debated in the Legislature this session are 'so far out there, they call for something greater than a veto.'

And so, he said, he had ordered a set of stamps, 'for when a regular veto just won't do.' The audience chuckled when pictures of the stamps flashed onscreen: 'I don't think so.' 'So not constitutional.' 'This bill is just nuts!'

Behind the scenes, and laughter aside, Lynch may be considering how many members of that audience would vote to override any particular veto. The governor has been notably vocal in the past week in disapproving of work done by House lawmakers.

First, Lynch said he was 'deeply disturbed' that the House Finance Committee seemed to be making budget decisions 'without regard for the consequences to the people.' He later told reporters that committee proposals could prevent the state from plowing the roads and lead to a reduction of state troopers. When the House passed a bill that would let 16-year-olds drop out of school, Lynch put out a statement saying people could be forgiven for wondering 'Just what is our House of Representatives thinking?'

Lynch isn't one to bandy about the word 'veto.' He has promised to veto a repeal of gay marriage, which the House postponed acting on, along with right-to-work legislation. But with some of the hundreds of bills pending, Lynch may just wait to see which appear likely to pass both chambers, and what they might look like when they hit his desk.

The decision to veto depends on the circumstances and the governor. Just how bad does he think a bill is? How many votes could he swing, and retain? How many more times can he pull it off?

'Ideally, you pick something, one or two things early on, that you can veto and make it stick,' said Dayton Duncan, who was chief of staff to Gov. Hugh Gallen, another Democrat who faced large Republican majorities. 'That enhances your negotiating situation for the remainder of that session and the


Gallen's big veto came in the spring of 1981, when he rejected the state budget after concluding 'a number of things in it were going to really cripple how the state dealt with the most vulnerable people,' Duncan said. The House speaker and Senate president were at end-of-session parties when Gallen called them to say the work wasn't over.

Gallen had large Republican majorities in each house, but Duncan said Lynch faces a different crowd. 'We at least felt the people we were dealing with, though we didn't necessarily agree with them, had sort of a basic understanding of the responsibilities of governing,' Duncan said.

He predicted Lynch will have to reject a number of bills and said the test will be in how many Republicans break with their party to sustain the veto. 'The representatives who come from the mold of the noncrazies, will they be cowed by these radicals into voting with them to override vetoes on things that in a normal, rational Republican-majority House and Senate would never have had a chance to even get much discussion?' he said.

Of course, it's easier for Republican leaders to persuade members who voted against a bill to 'stick with the party and stick it to the governor' than it is for a Democratic executive to persuade Republican members to help him out, Duncan noted.

Donna Sytek, a former House speaker, said Lynch will have to choose where to make a stand on bills he opposes. But she said the Senate would have 'a winnowing effect.'

'There's a lot of stuff coming out of the House that probably won't make it through the Senate,' said Sytek, a Republican.

Former governor John Sununu said deciding whether to veto is a simple matter, really.

'If you think it's a bad bill, you should veto it,' he said. 'If you think it's a good bill, you should sign it. You should stand by your principles.'

Sununu said Lynch will probably get 'a pretty tough budget' and should sign it because 'the state's in financial trouble.' The former governor said he himself didn't often have to make the veto call.

'Since I was able by my warmth and charm to get the legislation I wanted, I didn't have to veto too many bills,' Sununu said.

Lynch showed off his veto stamps during a comedy routine, but Sytek recalled that Sununu wasn't kidding about the idea.

'He had a very large veto stamp,' Sytek said. 'Other governors, they just have to look the right way at their friends in the Senate and stare them down.'

Sytek said that's how Jeanne Shaheen, who was governor during Sytek's time as speaker, avoided finding an income tax bill on her desk. Judy Reardon, who was legal counsel for Shaheen, a Democrat, said Shaheen had made it clear she would veto the bill, but the two chambers never reconciled on a version to send her.

Shaheen did veto a repeal of the death penalty, as well as a repeal of the estate and legacies tax, a measure that was then included in the next year's budget, Reardon said. But Reardon said the veto is a tool to be used rarely, when a bill is unconstitutional or harmful, not just when a governor would have done things differently.

'The reason you use it sparingly is because the membership of the House and Senate have been elected, too,' Reardon said. 'When they pass a bill, they believe they're doing the right thing, and you don't want to thwart the will of a legislative body unless you really think what they're doing is very wrong.'

Duprey boycott

The state teachers union is boycotting businesses owned by Concord developer Steve Duprey because of an opinion piece he wrote calling for the end of teacher tenure and collective bargaining for public employees.

The suggestions were among several that Duprey, a Republican national committeeman, offered the new Republican Legislature on the New Hampshire Union Leader editorial pages just before the new year. In January, the executive board of NEA-NH, the state chapter of the National Education Association, voted to boycott the Comfort Inn, the Courtyard Marriott, the Residence Inn by Marriott and the Grappone Conference Center, all in Concord.

Union President Rhonda Wesolowski said NEA-NH sometime held its annual meeting at the Grappone Center and lodged executive board members once a month at the Comfort Inn. Wesolowski said members were offended by the argument for doing away with collective bargaining rights for public employees, and she said teachers in New Hampshire don't have tenure. After three years, teachers do get access to a continuing contract, she said, and if they don't perform, they might not get automatic step raises.

'We weren't going out soliciting other people for a true boycott,' Wesolowski said. 'We just thought our members' money has to be spent better than someone who is totally against us.'

Duprey said he respects the right of any person to do business with whomever they choose.

He said his companies have a long history of sponsoring school programs and athletics, and that principals and teachers have never hesitated to seek his support because of his view of teacher tenure. Duprey said he has long held 'that we need to pay teachers significantly more in order to attract the best and brightest to this important work.'

'We enjoy having been of service to the NEA, and we're sorry they have decided to boycott us,' Duprey said. 'But they were not a substantial part of our business.'

Duprey said his companies donate more money annually to schools and related programs than the total amount of NEA business, and will continue to do so.

Blogger skullduggery

State Democrats are charging that a staffer in the House Republican Office may have posed as a Democrat on the BlueHampshire blog and posted mean comments during working hours.

The Democrats say the person posted comments on the site's live coverage of a meeting where a committee discussed whether Manchester Rep. Mike Brunelle's job as executive director of the state Democratic Party meant he was constitutionally ineligible to hold office.

Kathy Sullivan, former chairwoman of the state party, wrote to O'Brien, the House speaker, last week, describing how someone using the name 'BlueManGroup' posted comments critical of former and current Democratic lawmakers. According to the letter, the comments include: 'Blue Man Group is blogging from Mike Brunelle's house . . . OMG there he is . . . .Mikey is crawled into the fetal position under his bed...stand by.'

The operators of BlueHampshire found the e-mail address used to open the account belonged to a person with the same name as one of two employees of the House Republican office, Sullivan wrote. They also found the postings were generated from a computer server owned by the state, she wrote. Sullivan asked O'Brien to review the matter.

Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt called the charge 'just another pathetic attempt' by Democrats to distract people from their past economic policies.

'Instead of offering positive constructive ideas on the difficult budgetary decisions ahead, the Democrats would rather resort to an absurd inquisition over silly comments made by someone on an obscure blog,' Bettencourt said in a statement. 'If they are genuinely concerned, they should stop with vague innuendo against unnamed individuals and file a complaint.'

Bettencourt went on to say that 'this seems like an exercise in futility - accusing a partisan office of being partisan.'

He assured readers that Republicans would not - could not - be distracted. 'Despite the fact that the Democrats have tried every trick in the book to distract us and deceive the public, we will not be deterred from accomplishing our legislative agenda and delivering results for the people of New Hampshire,' he said.

Too soon?

When O'Brien took the podium from Lynch at the St. Patrick's Day roast, the speaker explained that lawmakers had recently held an event reading to schoolchildren. The books, O'Brien said, included Gun Safety and You by Rep. J.R. Hoell, How to Draw Up Your Birth Certificate by Rep. David Bates and Eugenics for Dummies by Martin Harty. Yes, the former state representative Martin Harty, a Barrington Republican who told a constituent worried about budget cuts that 'defective people' should be sent to Siberia to freeze.

Coming a single day after O'Brien accepted Harty's resignation, Democrats took umbrage. So did at least one advocate for people with disabilities.

'What exactly does Speaker O'Brien find funny about murdering disabled people?' said Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein. 'He owes all the people of New Hampshire hurt by his and Rep. Harty's comments an apology.'

Janet Hunt, executive director of People First of NH, an advocacy group for people who have disabilities, said eugenics isn't a joke.

'The whole idea of eugenics is something from our history that we don't ever want to have to think about again,' Hunt said. 'There's no humor in it.'

Kirstein said the incident suggested O'Brien didn't take Harty's comments seriously.

'He doesn't understand why this was offensive in the first place,' Kirstein said, 'Or why Rep. Harty resigned or the need for someone in a leadership position like he is to denounce it and say this doesn't represent the Republican caucus in the House.'

The Monitor was unable to reach O'Brien's spokeswoman on Friday.

Dropout debate

Not content to see his bill lowering the state dropout age sail through the House last week, freshman Rep. James Parison has challenged Lynch to a debate on the reversal of one of his key policy achievements.

Parison said he was provoked by Lynch's comments (see above) following the vote. The lawmaker, a New Ipswich Republican, insists that his bill is not about the value of education, or even whether high schools should provide alternative programs for at-risk students. Instead, Parison says, his bill is about the rights of parents, not the state, to have the final say in whether a 16-year-old student can become a 16-year-old dropout.

'If Gov. Lynch has to question what the House is thinking in terms of ensuring parental involvement, he either doesn't understand the issue or doesn't value the hard work, commitment and concern of the mothers and fathers of New Hampshire,' Parison said in a release issued by the House Republican office. 'Given our clear differences on the roles of parents in the lives of their children, I believe it is critical to have a public discussion about these distinctions.'

Parison offered to let Lynch pick the school. Lynch's office did not indicate Friday whether he plans to accept the offer. But the governor has been busy visiting high schools to highlight a decline in the state's dropout rate. Lynch recently announced the dropout rate declined from 1.7 to 0.97 over the last year.

Short takes

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte was named the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. The committee oversees Department of Defense training, logistics, maintenance, military construction, financial management and acquisition policy. Ayotte was also assigned to the Subcommittee on Seapower and the Subcommittee on Personnel.

• U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen met with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia. Her office announced that the two discussed the relationship between the United States and Georgia, along with Georgia's democratic and economic reform initiatives and its military commitment in Afghanistan. Shaheen is chairwoman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs and co-chairwoman of the Atlantic Council Task Force on Georgia.

• Former congressional candidate Jennifer Horn announced that her new group, We The People, will co-sponsor the third annual NH Tea Party at noon on April 15 in front of the State House.

• The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy has launched nhopengov.org, a free searchable online database that lists government spending down to the dollar. The site is funded by private donations and gets its information through right-to-know requests from official state sources, according to the center. Center President Charlie Arlinghaus said public scrutiny of spending will make government better and more accountable.

• A pair of New Hampshire political junkies have developed a smart-phone app to track potential presidential candidates this cycle. Chris Buck, who ran for a seat in the state House, and Peter Angerhofer, who ran for the state Senate, designed the NH Primary 2012 app as a source of comprehensive coverage of the primary race. The app relies on information from their blog, nhpoliticaltrough.com. The app is offered for free for Android phones and is awaiting approval for iPhones. The company is offering free downloads for iPhones and iPods on Twitter by contacting @nhtrough.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com. Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or at sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)