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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Hassan takes lead role in Democratic call for Franken to resign

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 06. 2017 6:53PM
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), shown during a September press conference, were among the first Democratic senators to call for Sen. Al Franken's resignation (REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo)

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Newfields, took a prominent role in the attempt by some within the Senate Democratic caucus to be done with Sen. Al Franken, D-MN, who is accused of sexually harassing women.

Hassan was one of six Democratic women to break out within a 10-minute period Wednesday morning and issue rapid-fire statements calling for his resignation.

“It is clear that Al Franken has engaged in a pattern of egregious and unacceptable behavior toward women, and he should resign,” Hassan said in her statement. “We are experiencing a sea change in our culture that is long overdue, and we must continue working to empower all women and do everything we can to prevent sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault.”

Within 90 minutes, there were 22 Democratic senators publicly making the call that Franken must go.

Franken said he would have an announcement on his future Thursday. Capitol Hill insiders say he’s likely leaving the Senate, though he said no final decision had been made.

There was initially some push-back from liberals on social media angered at the piling on — even while President Trump endorses Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of sexually harassing multiple women, including a number in their teens.

Filmmaker Barbara Malmet tweeted, “Senators Gillabrand, Hirono, McCaskill, Murray, Harris, and Hassan, you are calling on Al Franken to resign the Senate when a pedophile from Alabama might join you and a man sits in the White House accused by 16 women of sexual harassment?”

In case anybody doubted it, there were also those close to defeated Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-Nashua. who sniped at Hassan:

“Glad @SenatorHassan called on @alfranken to resign,” tweeted Lauren Zelt. “Wish she would have taken as strong a stance about news of sexual misconduct on campus at Phillips Exeter when her husband served as principal & accusations first broke about the teacher whose endorsement she touted in 2011.”

Hassan’s announcement also came moments after the state GOP issued yet another call for her to demand Franken’s resignation, something the party had urged since the scandal first broke.

New Hampshire’s other senator, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, could not and did not take a position on Franken’s future because she potentially sits in judgment as a member and the only female on the Senate Ethics Committee. Members are barred under the rules from making any comment on pending matters and all six members, including the Republicans, have been silent on the Franken controversy.

So what brought about this move to push Franken out the door? Well, Time Magazine’s naming on Wednesday of the “silence breakers” — those starting the #MeToo movement — as the Person of The Year certainly didn’t help Franken’s case.

Then earlier Wednesday, Politico reported a former Democratic congressional aide said Franken tried to forcibly kiss her after a taping of his radio show in 2006, three years before he became a U.S. senator.

Franken, who has been accused by six other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them, denied the accusation.

One also doesn’t know whether any Democratic senators got tipped off that Franken might be stepping aside of his own volition today.

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Another prominent Democrat is weighing his own 2018 run for governor.

Two-term State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, has heard a lot of encouragement to leave his safe Senate seat and try to take out popular, first-term, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

In case nobody noticed, the Democratic Party has its own divisions right now, although the chasm is not quite as wide as in the Republican Party.

Anyone watching the Bernie Sanders’ supporters fuming outside Hillary Clinton’s book-selling party in Concord Tuesday knows there are still some fresh wounds from that presidential campaign.

Feltes is one of only a handful of Democrats who has close friends in both camps.

This quick-study senator and new dad has risen up the ranks in the minority and is regarded as a go-to legislator on the floor when it comes to trying to hammer out a legal language compromise with the Senate’s Republican majority.

Also don’t forget Feltes only got to the state Senate by challenging the party establishment.

When Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, retired, the Democratic power brokers had already decided this seat belonged to longtime Concord School Board member and past chairman Kass Ardinger whose husband, Bill, remains such a respected, non-partisan lawyer-lobbyist.

Feltes crashed the big shots party and won the Democratic primary.

There remains an unknown here. Who was the best-known Democrat who also bucked those party elders and got behind Feltes in his first Senate run? It was then-Executive Councilor and 2016 Democratic nominee for governor Colin Van Ostern of Concord. In return, Feltes helped Van Ostern’s later gubernatorial campaign.

Would Feltes jump into this race only to have Van Ostern join in at some later point?

It could happen, but this might hurt both of their chances.

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State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, the conservative Republican maverick who is never at a loss for words, came close to totally losing his voice this week. On Monday, Baldasaro had surgery in the Veterans Administration hospital in Jamaica Plain, Mass., to remove a polyp from his throat that was blocking his airway and his voice.

“Yes, my throat is swollen, the voice is muffled but hopefully will be back soon,” Baldasaro texted the Granite Status Wednesday afternoon. “It took a new doctor to identify my throat issue after I’d been complaining for years at the (Manchester) VA and they gave me Mucinex.”

Don’t you just know that before long, Baldasaro will be back at the State House to assume his customary role as the right-wing lion that roared.

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New House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, has an old and historical decision to make.

Who is to become chairman of the House Public Works and Highways Committee?

Anybody who knows this 18-term Republican is well aware that panel has always been Chandler’s policy playground.

He’s owned it for more than 30 years.

No matter which party was in power, Chandler has always been the man when it comes to finding a way in the New Hampshire House to craft a public works or capital budget in the odd-numbered year and a 10-year highway plan in the even-numbered year.

Now that he’s got the gavel, could he possibly do both?

“I know you have the 10-year highway plan coming up,” Chandler said. “No, I haven’t made the decision yet. It would be difficult for me to continue I think, but I don’t know. We’ll see.”

The new-age politicos who believe deal-making is the only way anything gets done still can’t quite get their heads around a guy like Chandler, who promised nothing and endured a two-ballot scare before getting back the gavel.

“I don’t know any other way to be,” Chandler said, recalling his first successful run for House Speaker nearly two decades ago when his inseparable second lieutenant was the late Alton Republican Rep. Michael Whalley.

“When I ran the first time, Mike Whalley was such a good help getting me elected. He would drive me all over the state of New Hampshire,” Chandler said. “I’d always be asked. So what is Mike getting? In all those hours of sitting in the car, we never talked about it. That was true up until the day of the vote.”

Whalley did become Chandler’s majority leader and was widely seen as destined to one day become speaker himself until Whalley’s tragic death at 54 in 2008 from a brain tumor.

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Exeter Republican Councilor Russell Prescott has championed the first system-wide proposal to increase tolls in 10 years.

But Prescott insisted the council hold a public hearing in Portsmouth City Hall, the heart of his district.

This highway improvement plan would generate $36 million a year, more than enough to erect the sound barriers in Portsmouth that residential neighborhoods have been clamoring years for.

So why was Prescott a no-show for his own show Monday night?

He had a good and unfortunate excuse — sudden stomach pain that ended up requiring a visit to Exeter Hospital earlier that day.

Prescott was unable to make Wednesday’s council meeting.

But Prescott later reported Wednesday that it was just a stomach bug and, “I am thankful for that.”

Do not presume this week’s delay of the toll vote means the entire plan is a goner.

It will likely return in some form within weeks.

Another candidate for House Speaker will also be very involved in this toll hike plan should it get through the council.

He’s State Rep. Steve Smith, R-Charlestown, who endorsed Chandler after the first ballot in the GOP caucus.

Smith chairs the House Transportation Committee and that’s the panel first to tackle the proposal of the Department of Transportation to offer a volume discount to New Hampshire-only drivers who go through multiple toll plazas each day.

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Retiring Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., ratcheted up her call to get rid of President Trump.

Shea-Porter announced she voted “present” on a vote that tabled a lopsided vote to impeach Trump.

Shea-Porter then revealed she was joining six other Democratic colleagues as a co-sponsor of “stronger and more comprehensive” impeachment articles against Trump.

Donald Trump lacks integrity and has not been willing or able to assume the moral leadership and seriousness of purpose the United States needs from its President,” Shea-Porter said.

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It’s hard to impress New Hampshire political activists who get all too used to the royal treatment with future Presidents coming into their living rooms to beg for their support.

But former House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, now a policy adviser to Gov. Chris Sununu, was moved by the treatment he got going to the office of Vice President Mike Pence. As an aide, Bettencourt was fully prepared to play the part of wallpaper.

“I knew my place, respected it and had no pretenses. However, as I went to excuse myself as he greeted Governor Sununu, Vice President Pence immediately welcomed me into his office and told me to have a seat on his couch. He shook my hand, slapped me on the shoulder and said he was happy to meet me. He did all of this for a lowly staffer,” Bettencourt recalled.

“He then encouraged me to take pictures of him meeting with the governor or anything that interested me in his office and when I was done, he told me he wanted a picture with ME before we left. I’ve been in politics a long time; I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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