Capital Beat: Blame game begins as right-to-work fails

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 2/18/2017 10:48:41 PM

The Republican blame game began soon after a so-called right-to-work bill went down.

A few frustrated Republicans posted lists online of all 32 GOP representatives who opposed the union-targeting legislation.

Others pointed the finger at House Speaker Shawn Jasper, saying he did too little to push the policy that is part of the state party platform.

“Speaker Jasper has failed the Governor and he has failed our party. Worst of all, he has failed NH,” former GOP party chairwoman Jennifer Horn wrote on Facebook.

The accusations give some cover to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who made right-to-work a priority of his first term and suffered a blow when members of his own party helped to defeat it. 

But several GOP House members say faulting Jasper is unfair. They say the speaker had warned since November that even though Republicans won more than 220 House seats and the majority, the votes simply weren’t there for right-to-work.

“Folks didn’t listen carefully enough to what the speaker told them,” said Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican. “This was not a surprise to anybody who has been vote counting over the years. It had nothing to do with Jasper, Sununu or (Senate President Chuck) Morse.”

By several accounts, Sununu was told repeatedly the policy would likely fail in the House due to opposition from a handful Republicans who worried it would weaken unions. Some were concerned the right-to-work defeat would reflect badly on his first term. Still Sununu pressed on, leading to some head-scratching among members.

The Republican pushed right-to-work in his inaugural address. The policy prevents unions from charging nonmbers the cost of representing them, what’s known as a fair share fee. Sununu said it would make the state more attractive to business. He spoke about the bill with Vice President Mike Pence over the phone and lobbied Republican House opponents in his office, lawmakers said.

After the bill’s defeat Sununu said he was “deeply disappointed.” But representatives say he shouldn’t have been surprised.

“The governor was made aware, myself included, this was a loser,” said Republican Rep. Fred Doucette, a right-to-work opponent. “I respect the fact he believes it was that important an issue.”

It’s not clear whether the loss will tarnish Sununu’s term. The news will in part blow over this week or next when Sununu is expected to sign a so-called constitutional carry bill, a popular policy with Republicans that has been vetoed in recent years by Democratic governors.

Many are hopeful GOP divisions over right-to-work die down. Jasper dismisses the criticism as people looking for a scapegoat.

State party chairwoman Jeanie Forrester says her predecessor’s comments aren’t helping anybody move forward.

Still, Forrester plans to make good on a party campaign fund for those who backed right-to-work, a plan she announced before the vote.

“It’s a carrot,” she said.

Not an odd job

He’s been a rumored vice presidential pick and considered a choice to head veterans affairs. But now Republican Scott Brown is being floated for a new post – ambassador to New Zealand. The Boston Globe reports the Trump administration is considering sending the former Massachusetts U.S. Senator turned New Hampshire U.S. Senate candidate down under. The post would require U.S. Senate confirmation.

A peaceful transition

Sununu received a brief and friendly welcome from state lawmakers Tuesday when he handed off his budget proposal to House finance members for revision.

Representatives asked few questions about his $12 billion spending plan, and one Democrat even praised the Republican’s proposal to raise salaries for healthcare aids.

“You must have wowed this group,” said Finance Chairman Neal Kurk.

“Can we vote now,” Sununu joked. The budget debate is typically contentious. But with Republicans in control of the House, Senate and corner office, it is poised to be a smoother process. The House will work revisions and then pass off the budget to the state senate. 

One area to watch will be full-day kindergarten spending. Sununu pitched a $9 million fund that will cover full-day programs for some districts, but not all. At the meeting, Republican Rep. Lynne Ober questioned why some communities would get money over others.

“It sounds like you are proposing raising it to $14 million and fully funding every town,” Sununu responded. 

“I think I am proposing every child should be treated equally,” Ober said. Sununu’s proposal would target aid to lower-income districts. But by funding a few, he may get nowhere. Democrats have pushed in recent years to pay for full-day kindergarten statewide, but the effort has met resistance from some Republican opponents.

Down to D.C.

Sununu will be in Washington D.C. at the end of this week, where he will appear on a Politico panel detailing his “expectations for the new Trump administration,” according to a Politico release. Sununu’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Republican will likely be in the capital for the National Governors Association winter meeting. It starts the Feb. 24 and lasts until Feb. 27.

What to watch

On Tuesday, the House health committee will hear HB 478 that aims to ban discrimination of transgender people when it comes to housing, employment and public spaces.

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