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On the trail: Lawmaker pushes to keep N.H.’s presidential primary first

For the Monitor
Published: 1/3/2019 5:07:31 PM

State Rep. Renny Cushing wants to add some more fire power to the endless fight by Granite Staters to safeguard New Hampshire’s cherished status as the home of the first primary in the race for the White House.

The longtime Democratic lawmaker from Hampton introduced a bill to create a permanent first-in-the-nation presidential primary commission.

“What we’d like to do is institutionalize the celebration and education about the first-in-the-nation primary,” Cushing told the Monitor on Thursday. “We constantly need to reinforce what’s great about New Hampshire’s brand and why New Hampshire does such a wonderful job with the first-in-the-nation primary.”

The commission would include the governor, state Senate president, state House speaker, five other lawmakers, the secretary of state, a member of the Executive Council, the chairman of the ballot law commission, the state Democratic and GOP chairs, and five members of the public chosen by the governor.

The panel would produce an annual report for the governor, Senate president and House speaker. And it would organize events to help promote the primary and educate the public about the primary’s history and importance.

Longstanding state laws mandate that the primary remain first in the nominating calendar and give the secretary of state the power to re-schedule to primary to keep the contest first.

Still, some lawmakers think more protection is needed.

“I think more is needed to protect it and to celebrate it,” Cushing said.

Cushing predicted that there would be bipartisan support for the commission.

“Anything that we can do to protect New Hampshire’s presidential primary is a good thing,” said GOP state Sen. Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, the top Republican in the chamber. “I don’t have a problem with a commission looking at it.”

Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord agreed.

“We need to do everything we can to protect the first-in-the-nation primary and I believe that Rep. Cushing’s bill is a step in the right direction to do that,” Feltes said.

Longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said he wasn’t familiar enough with Cushing’s bill to comment.

Bad Dem blood

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee – a likely Democratic presidential contender –returns to the first-in-the-nation primary state later this month.

But longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley appears anything but thrilled about the visit.

The Monitor has learned that Inslee, a champion of environmental causes, will headline an event on January 21 in Concord for the League of Conservation Voters. Other stops are expected during the governor’s trip to the Granite State.

But in a rare move, Buckley publicly criticized a potential White House hopeful.

“I look forward to hearing from Gov. Inslee his reasons for abandoning New Hampshire in 2018 as chair of the DGA,” Buckley said Thursday evening in comments first reported by WMUR.

Inslee chaired the Democratic Governors Association during the 2018 election cycle. He visited New Hampshire just days after former state Sen. Molly Kelly won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in the state’s September 11 primary, teaming up with Kelly at multiple events.

Asked during that trip if the DGA would pour resources into Kelly’s race against incumbent GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, Inslee said it would, but left the timetable open.

“At some point as this campaign develops, we can help financially at the right moment and we’re looking at the whole country right now of races we can potentially win and this is just getting started,” he said.

But the DGA ended up not putting any money into the New Hampshire gubernatorial showdown, while the rival Republican Governor’s Association showered some $300,000 into the race in the closing days, in support of Sununu.

At the time, an internal Democratic poll suggested Sununu’s lead had dropped to a single point. The Republican governor ended up defeated Kelly by a 53 percent to 46 percent margin.

Veteran Granite State Democratic activist Judy Reardon also took to Twitter to criticize the Washington governor.

“Inslee visited NH to lay the groundwork for a presidential campaign, using the Kelly campaign as a cover,” Reardon said.

Inslee’s staff said New Hampshire’s top Democrats have it wrong.

“Governor Inslee is proud to have led the Democratic Governors Association to its most successful cycle in 36 years, flipping seven gubernatorial seats from red to blue,” a spokesman said. “He was proud to have worked closely with Molly Kelly and to personally campaign for her election.”

In a move towards running for president, Inslee last month formed a political action committee named the Vision PAC. And in a widely read article in the Atlantic earlier this week, he said “we’re laying the groundwork that would make this a feasible thing in the relatively short term.”

An announcement of a presidential exploratory committee could possibly take place before Inslee’s trip to New Hampshire in two weeks.

Kuster, Pappas sworn in to Congress

Gov. Chris Sununuwasn’t the only major New Hampshire politician to take the oath of office Thursday.

About 500 miles southwest of Concord, Rep. Annie Kuster was sworn in on Capitol Hill for her fourth term representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District. And fellow Democrat and freshman Chris Pappas was sworn in for his first term representing New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

“As Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, I’m excited to pursue a bold agenda focused on supporting hardworking families, growing our economy, serving our veterans and protecting our environment,” Kuster said in a statement.

Kuster, who often highlights her bipartisan efforts, vowed to reach “across the aisle to forge, compromise and deliver reforms that will improve access to health care, make further progress on the opioid epidemic and expand economic opportunity for all.”

The Hopkinton Democrat currently serves on the Veterans Affairs and Agriculture committees. But there’s a chance she could change committee assignments as the 116th Congress gets underway. Those assignments will be hammered out in the coming days.

“If I had a chance to be involved in health care policy, energy policy, environment, I’d certainly jump at the chance,” Kuster told the Monitor in November. “So we just have to wait and see how this all shakes out.”

Pappas, who succeeds retiring Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, has said he’d like to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps by serving on the House Armed Services Committee.

The former executive councilor from Manchester also has his eyes on the Transportation and Infrastructure committees.

“Transportation and infrastructure is one primary place where I think we need to leverage some more resources for New Hampshire,” he said.

Pappas also said that if Kuster moves on from the Veterans Affairs Committee, he would try and serve on that panel as well.

Coming soon

Declared presidential candidate John Delaney returns to New Hampshire on Jan. 18. The Maryland Democrat, who just finished up his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, will hold a meet-and-greet with the New Hampshire Young Democrats in Manchester. The next day, he will mingle with activists at meet-and-greets in Hanover and Amherst.

Delaney’s made more than a dozen swings through the Granite State since declaring his candidacy in July 2017, just six months into Donald Trump’s presidency.

Potential Democratic presidential contender Tom Steyer is slated to visit New Hampshire the day before Delaney returns.

The billionaire environmentalist and progressive activist, who’s also a leader of the push to impeach Trump, will hold a town hall in the state Jan. 17. Steyer, who made two visits to New Hampshire in 2018, is holding town halls in key states to highlight his newly unveiled political platform.

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