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Hassan’s pick for DRED commissioner post faces tough questions on Northern Pass

Last modified: 3/1/2013 12:21:31 PM
Jeffrey Rose, Gov. Maggie Hassan’s pick to lead the state Department of Resources and Economic Development, has the backing of business leaders, state senators from both parties and the much-admired George Bald, the previous commissioner.

But Rose faced tough questions last night about Northern Pass and favorable comments he’s made about the project as public affairs director for BAE Systems of Nashua. He also struggled a bit to answer questions from Councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat, about whether he’d back Hassan’s calls for raising the minimum wage, legalizing casinos and rejecting right-to-work legislation. Rose is Hassan’s first major nomination.

Northern Pass is significant because, if confirmed, Rose could sit on the state committee that will decide Northern Pass’s fate in New Hamsphire, if it first gets federal approval. He would also have authority over public lands that some people fear the project is considering for its transmission lines.

Rose, of Goffstown, told the Executive Council last night that he has no position on the proposed hydro-power line from Canada and would keep an open mind if confirmed DRED commissioner.

But three of the four executive councilors at the confirmation hearing at the State House pressed Rose hard about The Telegraph stories quoting him supporting the project. Van Ostern and Councilor Debora Pignatelli, a Nashua Democrat, said they had received a lot of comments from Northern Pass foes questioning Rose’s qualifications based on those quotes.

The Telegraph recently reported that Rose had promoted the project at a breakfast meeting of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce. In 2011, The Telegraph quoted Rose as saying Northern Pass’s claims that it would lower energy costs made it an attractive project to BAE.

“It sounds like you had a position about it,” Pignatelli said, after reading one of Rose’s quotes to him.

Rose said the stories did not quote him accurately and omitted his remarks that neither he nor BAE had taken a position on Northern Pass. Pignatelli asked Rose how much he knew about Northern Pass, and when he said not that much, she asked him to study it further and get back to her.

The council isn’t scheduled to vote on Rose’s nomination until its next meeting, March 6, at the earliest.

Van Ostern asked Rose about the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Working Forest in the North Country, which Rose helped conserve in 2003 while working for then-U.S. Sen. John E. Sununu. Van Ostern noted that former state senator John Gallus, a Berlin Republican, wrote in an August column for the Berlin Daily Sun that the conserved area should be available to Northern Pass. The tract of land, especially in Stewartstown, would allow Northern Pass to bypass other conservations blocks put in place by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Northern Pass officials have declined to say whether they are considering it. However, Van Ostern wanted to know whether Rose agreed with Gallus.

“I do know that that is a very special tract of land,” Rose said. He went on to say he didn’t know enough about the details of the conservation easement to say whether the land was available to projects like Northern Pass, but he felt the spirit of the easement was to protect the land.

Van Ostern asked Rose to look into it further and to get back to him with an answer.

Executive Councilor Ray Burton, a Bath Republican, was less diplomatic in his questions to Rose about Northern Pass.

“I have never seen a project or proposal that has brought people from all walks of life, every part of the political spectrum . . . to oppose the Northern Pass,” Burton said via telephone from home, where he is recovering from cancer treatments. “I thought over time, (Northern Pass officials) would smarten up and get out of here, but they have not.”

Burton wanted to know what Rose would do if Northern Pass officials asked him to support the project. Rose said he’d keep an open mind. Burton also asked Rose to give the project more thought.

Support of Hassan?

Van Ostern tried to gauge how enthusiastically Rose would endorse Hassan’s positions, especially if he disagreed with them personally. He asked Rose about Hassan’s support for a higher minimum wage, a casino in New Hampshire and her opposition to right-to-work bills.

Rose told Ostern there was already a federal minimum wage in place. When pressed further, Rose said decisions about the minimum wage and right-to-work would be decided by the Legislature and the governor. He said he thought casinos would bring revenue into the state.

Last night’s nearly four-hour hearing also included enthusiastic support for Rose.

Bald, who retired as DRED commissioner last year, told councilors that Rose was right to say he’d keep an open mind on Northern Pass. If he took a position – either for or against it – it would jeopardize his ability to do his job well, Bald said.

Bald also tried to allay Pignatelli’s concerns that Rose had experience in economic development but not with overseeing state parks and forests land. Bald said almost no one would come to the job with all that experience, and he added that Rose is a hard worker with unquestionable integrity.

Other supporters included the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, and Sen. Peggy Gilmour, a Hollis Democrat. All said they have worked closely with Rose; Bradley, who employed Rose when he was a congreesman, called him a “perfect fit” for the job.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)


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