State House Dome: Big money again pouring into NH House special election

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Apr. 25—PREPARE FOR ANOTHER competitive special election in the House of Representatives this June.

In its early stages, this race already has attracted the attention of some big national money.

On Tuesday, Republican primary voters in Bow and Dunbarton picked businessman and youth sports coach Chris Lins over former state Rep. John F. Martin by a decisive margin, 211-74, to represent the GOP in the June 8 runoff.

Bow Democrat Muriel Hall, a 32-year teacher at Bow Memorial School, ran unopposed.

The winner will replace Democrat Samantha Fox, who won one of three House seats in November but resigned in January after unexpectedly needing to move from the district.

Democratic party leaders were chirping last week that Hall received more votes while running unopposed, 350, than the 285 who cast ballots in the competitive GOP primary.

Hall also received nearly twice as many votes, 304, in the district's dominant town of Bow as Lins did.

As you can read on his website, Lins has a compelling story.

The Ohio native moved with his family to New Hampshire while he was in the fourth grade. After graduating from Concord High School in 1984, he went on to be a very popular coach of fifth- and sixth-grade lacrosse teams.

Today he works as a vice president and general manager of the North America headquarters of Powerbox USA Inc., a worldwide power conversion company.

Lins dusted off Martin, who represented this district from 2014 to 2016. In November, Martin was the top GOP vote-getter but lost to Fox in the general election by 233 votes.

How did Lins do it?

His campaign finance report showed he raised a typical amount, $3,300.

But Lins had a lot more going for him.

Make Liberty Win, a multi-million dollar political powerhouse at the national level, had spent a staggering $29,542 in independent expenditures on Lins' behalf through the end of March.

That works out to $140 for every vote Lins received Tuesday.

The itemized spending from the group (much more detailed than most provide) showed it spent $9,600 for "lodging for staff," $16,300 for "staff" support, $1,000 for "gas cards," $1,000 for "staff meals," $500 for a "phone bank" and $800 for "literature."

According to OpenSecrets.org with the Center for Responsive Politics, this is how Make Liberty Wins operates, backing GOP conservative and libertarian candidates across the country.

As you can read from the list on its website, in 2020 the group got behind many GOP candidates who won or held onto seats in New Hampshire, including state Sen. Kevin Avard of Nashua and Reps. Jess Edwards of Auburn, John Burt of Goffstown and House Majority Leader Jason Osborne of Auburn.

As he has done before for other causes, Majority Leader Osborne has put his money where his advocacy is, giving the group $50,000 in 2020.

Osborne is CEO of Credit Adjustments Inc., a successful company that significantly expanded from its beginnings in health care and student loan collections.

The group also backed many who led efforts to weaken the power of Gov. Chris Sununu and his successors when it comes to future states of emergency.

These include Reps. Melissa Blasek of Merrimack, Keith Ammon of New Boston, Terry Roy of Deerfield, Alicia and Tony Lekas and Andrew Proult, all of Hudson.

State revenue surprise

The state's previously satisfactory revenue outlook is about to get a whole lot better.

April is the biggest month of the state budget year.

With 10 days left in the month, New Hampshire was swimming in surplus.

Through April 20, the state took in $328.3 million from main taxes and fees, which doesn't include receipts from liquor and the state lottery.

How big is that?

The state budget forecast for all of April was $266.8 million.

So $68.6 million more than plan — or already 23% — has come in.

To no observer's surprise, the state's business taxes powered this boom of a month.

Thus far in April, the taxes on business profits and enterprise taxes took in $224 million, 44% more than expected for the entire month.

State tax experts weigh in

Revenue Commissioner Lindsey Stepp and her team briefed the Senate Finance Committee last week on their expectations for future revenue growth.

Stepp stressed her agency's business tax prediction was not complete because April numbers could adjust it.

Earlier this month, the agency expected those taxes to go up "2 to 6%" in 2022 and "3 to 5%" in 2023.

On the flip side, the move by Massachusetts to make illegal the sale of menthol cigarettes in the Bay State caused a gold rush here, with the tobacco tax already up 19% from a typical pre-COVID year.

Avoiding the tax cut trap

While Sununu and Republican legislative leaders prepare to complete another round of state tax cuts later this spring, advocates met last week to discuss whether the last Biden Administration COVID-19 relief plan could cut states like ours off at the knees.

Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, took part in a Zoom call to huddle over a provision on the relief plan that implied states and local communities could not cut taxes if they were taking COVID-relief grants.

Experts with the National Taxpayers Union, National Taxpayers Foundation and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council also took part.

"While there is still guidance to come out of Treasury federally, the provision shouldn't have any major impact on New Hampshire's ability to lower taxes in the budget," Moore said.

"It can be done by segregating the funds entirely or potentially just ensuring the all the dollars for the tax reduction come from existing revenues — which is clearly not a problem, given our current situation."

NH's COVID-19 TV team

Last week, a 30-second commercial debuted that featured Sununu and company urging everyone over 16 across the country to come to New Hampshire for the COVID-19 vaccine.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette also had speaking roles in the public service announcement.

The first ad is called (of course), "Your Shot."

Done in by the rules?

Did Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway lose a bid for a judgeship by adhering to judicial ethics rules?

Anyone nominated for a judgeship gets a lot of advice from friends and professional peers in prepping for that Executive Council public hearing.

All of them are told, "Do not take a public position on a pending case."

It's against the legal and judicial conduct rules to do so.

Conway declined to answer when Councilor Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, asked her the extent of protection under the Second Amendment and whether the state constitution trumps a state of emergency.

"Either she didn't understand the questions or she was ducking them. Whichever it was, that's not good," Wheeler said.

There aren't pending cases directly on point, though there have been lawsuits regarding the constitutionality of Sununu's state of emergency.

The ultimate irony: The man defending Sununu in those suits is Solicitor General Dan Will of Loudon, one of Sununu's latest two picks for a superior court judgeship.

Warmington warns gov

As the only Democrat on the council, Concord Democrat Cinde Warmington picks her fights, but if there's a concern, she brings it to the table.

She did that when Sununu nominated Steven Bullek of Madbury to a seat on the Waste Management Council.

Warmington said the seat was supposed to be filled by someone from the recycling community. The top choice from that sector was Reagan Bissonnette, executive director of the Northeast Resource Recovery Association.

"There has been some concern this process has become political," said Warmington, who voted for Bullek.

Sununu fired back that what happened was standard practice.

"We always ask for multiple recommendations. The nomination is of the governor, not of the board's nomination to this council," Sununu said.

Gardner gets called out

Secretary of State Bill Gardner made national news with his U.S. Senate testimony last week in opposition to the election campaign finance and ethics reform bill (H.R. 1) passed by the U.S. House.

A day later, some on the left accused Gardner of holding a biased session about the bill with local election officials.

"When local election officials asked how they would make these changes to catch up with the rest of modern society, the Secretary of State's office abdicated its responsibility to provide guidance to our municipalities and instead turned an official briefing into a political affair, encouraging election officials to lobby our U.S. senators against these much needed reforms. This is not leadership," said Doug Marino, director of 603 Forward Advocacy and Engagement.

A spokesman for Gardner said the meeting was the sort of outreach the secretary of state has done with local officials for decades.

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

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