Lots of institutional memory leaving NH House

·10 min read

May 27—THE STATE SENATE won't be the only place at the State House with many new faces in seats after this fall's elections.

Last week, a lot of institutional memory exited the door of Representatives Hall.

With eight departing incumbents, the shuffle in the Senate has already drained the House talent pool. Looking to step up in class with Senate runs in 2022 will be state Reps. Daryl Abbas, R-Salem; Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton; Debra Altschiller, D-Stratham; Howard Pearl, R-Loudon; Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown; and Michael Yabukovich, R-Hooksett.

We start with an important disclaimer.

It's not uncommon for a departing longtime lawmaker to get a spouse or significant other, in a weak moment, to let him or her sign up just one more time.

Here are a few of the notables who appear not to be running again:

—House Speaker Pro Tem Kimberly Rice, R-Hudson. The rough and unfair treatment she got in response to pulling the brake on a parental rights bill figures in this four-termer's decision to hang it up. She's the go-to legislator on children and family law issues and an honest broker who has many friends in both political parties.

Rice is leaving with a signature win, the hospital visitation policy (HB 1439) that guarantees patients may have at least one visitor even during emergency situations.

—Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston. The 18-term former head of House Criminal Justice and Public Safety is an 82-year-old widower who has found love again, and she lives in the North Country.

Welch was one of the big reasons the GOP House has never passed right-to-work, leading a band of Republican holdouts who blocked many a version.

—Rep. John Graham, R-Bedford. The 10-term incumbent and chairman of House Public Works and Highways recently admitted the partisan rancor has gotten to him. The 73-year-old moderate Republican also is a new dad.

—Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown. The six-term conservative's retirement is a huge loss for the Second Amendment caucus in the Legislature.

Once Burt leaves, who's going to run Hot Dog Day, an annual fundraiser he started that has raised tens of thousands for animal rescue programs?

Talk about a big loss.

—Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry. The eight-term lawmaker and Marine veteran has won many health battles and looks forward to life after elective politics, though this big Trump confidante will stay involved.

"I think I've made a difference. It's been a great ride," Baldasaro said.

Some gaping holes will be left on key policy committees.

Take House Ways and Means, where three veteran GOP members have said they won't run again.

Meanwhile, 13-term representative and Ways and Means Chairman Norm Major, R-Plaistow, hasn't confirmed whether he'll give it another go. At 88, Major has survived several health challenges.

Packard wants to run

He hasn't made a formal announcement, but House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, has told close colleagues he's going for a 17th term and a second as speaker.

A more open question is the Senate presidency. Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said he has not decided whether to go for the gavel.

Some close to him think this mountain climber would be happier staying the go-to-guy for big legislative deals that need brokering.

If Bradley takes a pass, it would set up a wild GOP scramble, assuming Republicans stay in charge.

Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Carson of Londonderry, Finance Chair Gary Daniels of Milford and Transportation Chair Regina Birdsell of Hampstead all would be serious contenders.

If lightning strikes and Democrats seize power, Democratic Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester would be back at the top again.

The dozen and one

The battle over parental rights now goes to the polls, with both sides spoiling for a fight.

First, let's look at how this one got away from the House GOP, who failed by just three votes to get the final bill out of the Legislature.

These are the 13 House Republicans who broke ranks with leadership and opposed it:

Reps. Joe Alexander of Goffstown, James Allard of Pittsfield, Mike Bordes of Laconia, Joseph Depalma IV of Littleton, Debra DeSimone of Atkinson, Ned Gordon of Bristol, Kim Rice of Hudson, John Graham of Bedford, Joe Guthrie of Hampstead, Bonnie Ham of North Woodstock, Claire Rouillard of Goffstown, John Sytek of Salem and Dan Wolf of Newbury.

Liberals believe this could galvanize progressive energy, as the overturning of Roe v. Wade will, to get more voters to the polls to rescue the rights of transgender and gay youth.

Conservatives believe this will move voters to their camp. Andrew Manuse with Rebuild N.H. couldn't hide his disgust with watching a dozen plus one sink this compromise.

"The people who voted to defend groomers, who are intentionally corrupting the innocent minds of our children, have betrayed every family in the state and defied their oath of office to defend the Constitution, under God," Manuse said.

Another budget boon

You've read this before: We're approaching the end of another month, and revenue keeps flooding into state coffers.

May is a minor month in the scheme of things but entering last weekend already was $25 million over forecast.

Here's another sign of a booming summer tourism season ahead:

The state's tax on restaurant meals and hotel room rents was up $13 million, a staggering 82% above forecast.

GOP smells conspiracy

Don't think for a moment the congressional redistricting plan the Supreme Court will create early this week will last for another decade.

State Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, said he intends in the next session to file his map to create an I-93 Corridor congressional district, which Gov. Chris Sununu summarily dismissed.

More than a few GOP partisans suspect the governor had a hand in a well-timed letter to legislators from prominent Republicans urging that they reject the plan lawmakers narrowly passed last Thursday (SB 200).

Former Congressman Frank Guinta of Manchester was the first co-signer, along with former Senate President Tom Eaton of Keene, former GOP Executive Director Andy Leach of Manchester, ex-state Sen. Gary Lambert of Nashua and veteran GOP activists Chris Wood of Concord and Liz Christofersen of Hollis.

"Granite Staters deserve fair and competitive congressional districts in which members of Congress can and should be held accountable to those who elect them. This current proposal does not accomplish that goal," they wrote.

We first reported about the letter on social media Thursday morning. Inexplicably, neither Democrats critics in the House or Senate brought it up during debate.

Although the letter was written to all legislators, the timing meant that very few of them had a chance to read it before the vote.

Only 10 House Republicans opposed the redistricting plan, led by Burt, who protested his hometown of Goffstown being put in the 2nd District.

Last gasp for gun control

House Democrats knew it was a losing effort, but they tried last Thursday to suspend the rules to revive a gun control bill (HB 1668) the House already had killed.

The late Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord, authored the bill to require a criminal background check before all gun sales, including private transactions.

The House voted along party lines against the try to reintroduce it.

"Just two days after the country's second deadliest school shooting in American history, House Republicans had the audacity to accuse us of 'not letting a good tragedy go to waste' while voting in lockstep against taking any action to prevent these unspeakable tragedies," Altschiller said.

Another try on bail reform

Both House and Senate leaders are regrouping after a bail reform campaign failed for the third consecutive year.

A new wrinkle could emerge next spring, when lawmakers work on the next budget.

Behind the scenes, there is growing support among judicial administrators for replacing all bail commissioners with court magistrates.

Some advocates believe this would be cheaper and do more to reduce the number of high-profile offenders who get let back out on the street after being arrested.

Dems target Morse friends

Senate President and U.S. Senate GOP hopeful Chuck Morse of Salem should take it as a compliment.

Morse announced his county leadership team on May 19 and days later, after a lot of opposition research, Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley demanded that Morse dump three of them over past controversies.

Buckley took aim at Carroll County Co-Chair and ex-House Speaker Gene Chandler of Bartlett, Cheshire County Co-Chair Jerry Sickles of Keene and Strafford County Chairman and Rep. Fenton Groen of Rochester.

During the mid-1990s, while he served as Westmoreland County GOP chairman in Pennsylvania, Sickels was charged with spousal abuse and got a one-year separation order.

Chandler pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for failing to report $64,000 in gifts he received at his annual Corn Roast fundraiser.

While in the House and Senate, Groen made some controversial comments, including that homosexuality would "significantly increase the risk of disease."

"Morse should immediately remove these individuals from his campaign team and issue an apology to the people of New Hampshire for accepting these endorsements," Buckley said.

Maya Harvey, Morse's communications director, dismissed Buckley's demand.

"Redemption is a value and the Granite Staters who support Senator Morse support his values and plan to bring the 603 Way to D.C. — not the other way around," she said.

Touching all bases

The New Hampshire House Democratic Victory Committee event at Delta Dental Stadium on May 20 raised more than $75,000 for 2022 election efforts. Rep. Chris Pappas, Mayor Joyce Craig and Democratic candidate for governor Tom Sherman were there to rally the troops.

The event coincided with the 40th birthday of Chairman and Rep. Matt Wilhelm of Manchester.

Two days later, Wilhelm hit two home runs, including a grand slam, to help Team Blue win 16-13 in the 2022 Legislative Softball Classic at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack.

Tree spiker strikes back

Former Rep. Chris Balch, D-Windham, struck back after an online news service called him an eco-terrorist.

Balch was charged with two counts of criminal trespass and two counts of timber trespass for driving large metal spikes through trees in the Russell-Abbott State Forest and another tract owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Balch reportedly left signs on the trees to alert loggers to any potential danger, but officials said they blew off.

In his commentary, Balch said any such move would be "direct action" and not anything remotely close to a terrorist act.

Balch bristled at this statement from Forest Society executive Jack Savage: "'It seems somewhat hypocritical to me to sit in your wooden house, print a sign on paper that comes from wood, and then go into a forest and drive spikes into trees and say it's done for the trees."

Balch said it's forest society leaders who are the hypocrites.

"I would add that what really is hypocritical is using forests to generate profits while proclaiming to the public that you are 'protecting them' and improving conditions for wildlife."

Kevin Landrigan is the State House bureau chief for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at klandrigan@unionleader.com.