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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: How a DEA whistleblower can impact legislation on the Hill

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
October 19. 2017 12:52AM


President Donald Trump’s choice for drug czar reveals the vagaries of congressional parliamentary rules and how no one other than sponsors for legislation become accountable once a measure is fast-tracked.

Republican Congressman Tom Marino co-sponsored the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act that weakened the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to crack down on the shipments of drug companies to the drug distributors that then identify unscrupulous pharmacies and doctor’s offices that will accept large amounts of opioids.

A DEA whistleblower accused these drug distributors of fueling the opioid epidemic by turning a blind eye to pain pills being diverted for illicit use to individuals who didn’t need the quantity of pain pills they got and often got hooked on them.

The whistleblower said the DEA in the past had opposed past attempts to weaken the law, but under new leadership it dropped that opposition and in fact endorsed the change.

The bill then got approved in both the U.S. House and the Senate without recorded votes after congressional leaders in each branch agreed to have the matter taken up under unanimous consent.

Any senator or House member can block a bill being passed this way, without a roll-call vote, but that’s rarely done.

New Hampshire’s delegation when this bill passed in the spring of 2016 was Republican Frank Guinta and Democrat Annie Kuster in the U.S. House and Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in the U.S. Senate.

“I was not a co-sponsor of this bill and there was no roll call vote on the bill — it passed by unanimous consent of the entire Senate,” said former Sen. Ayotte in a statement.

“Now that the impact of this bill on the DEA has come to light, I hope the Congress moves quickly to fix it and give DEA the full investigative and enforcement authority they need to address the opioid crisis.

Also, there is no scheduled time for when these unanimous consent matters are taken up unlike in the New Hampshire Legislature where non-controversial bills are adopted on a voice vote as part of a consent calendar at the beginning of each House and Senate session.

“There’s no way of knowing whether the congresswoman was in the chamber or not when it came up,” said one New Hampshire congressional staffer.

The state’s congressional staff also pointed out that this legislation was so technical and arcane that lawmakers were relying upon what agency officials were telling them about its impact.

During a floor speech Tuesday, the Senate sponsor, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, said there was no need to hold a vote on the measure because only the DEA could judge it and the agency was fully on board.

“Let me be clear: The DEA could have stopped this bill from going forward at any time,” Hatch said.

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Nashua business owner and state Rep. Steve Negron has made official that he’s a GOP candidate for the Second Congressional District.

Negron confirmed that he’s got $120,000 in his campaign coffers, having loaned himself $95,000 and gotten the rest of it from grassroots donors.

“As I explored this race for Congress, I consistently heard about the need for tax relief, job creation, bureaucratic accountability, and the reform of a broken culture on Capitol Hill. The time is now to bring the voice of New Hampshire to Washington and make sure we deliver results for all Granite Staters,” Negron said.

“I am thrilled to announce my campaign in New Hampshire’s Second District, and I am motivated to work hard every day to return this seat to New Hampshire families. They deserve so much better than the representation they have right now.”

Negron is also a military veteran and has hired longtime GOP campaign operative Roger Wilkins to manage his campaign.

“We are extremely excited to enter the race for Congress in NH-02 after taking in over $120,000 right out of the gate,” Wilkins said. “Steve has the right message to change Washington. He also has proven that he has the necessary resources to back his growing grassroots campaign to ensure we defeat Congresswoman Ann Kuster next year.”

2016 candidate and ex-House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, has already announced he’s running again along with Manchester VA whistleblower Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton. Amherst businessman and head of Granite State Taxpayers’ David McConville is also seriously exploring a campaign.

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A veteran spokesman for Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, recently left to get involved in one of the hotter U.S. Senate races.

Meira Bernstein came on to become a campaign spokesman for Hassan at a critical time in early 2016 helping her to narrowly beat Kelly Ayotte last November.

Now Bernstein has been plucked from Hassan’s team to go out and work first as communications director for the Missouri Democratic Party. Before too long, Bernstein appears destined to join the campaign staff directly of Sen. Claire McCaskill, who faces a very tough bid for a third-term in 2018.

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Alton Democrat Terence O’Rourke moved from the potential to the actual candidate for the First Congressional District seat filing his exploratory committee at the end of last week.

While O’Rourke is new to running for major office it didn’t take him long to tangle with his GOP adversaries.

Here’s his shot back on his Twitter feed, @TerenceMORourke to GOP rival candidate and state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, whose handle is @SenatorSanborn.

“How did you survive before Fox News was around to tell you what to think? All of your Tweets are platitudes with no substance. #nh01,” O’Rourke tweeted.

Sanborn declined to comment.

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The voters in Dover’s Ward 1 will fill yet another vacancy in the House next Tuesday to replace Democrat Issac Epstein, who resigned his seat last spring.

The race features Democrat Casey Conley of Florence Street against Republican Guy Eaton of Mount Vernon Street and Libertarian Barry Shields of Bery Brook Court.

Conley is a former reporter/editor for Foster’s Daily Democrat while Eaton ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the House against Democratic Rep. Peter Schmidt in 2014 and 2016 for the Strafford County seat that includes Dover Wards 1 and 2.

There was no primary because each party had only one candidate file for the seat.

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Meanwhile another vacancy emerged this week with the resignation of Republican state Rep. Michael Maloney from his Belknap County seat.

Maloney stepped down effective last Friday and prior to that had represented Belknap County District 5, which is made up of the towns of Alton and Gilmanton.

House officials said Maloney did not spell out his reasons for stepping down but had told colleagues he was moving to Maine.

Maloney was first elected to the Legislature in 2016 and was the leading vote-getter in District 5 with 3,287 votes. Peter Varney of Alton was also elected from District 5 with 3,073 votes in the same election.

This leaves the 18-member Belknap County delegation two members short. The other open spot is a result of the death of Rep. Donald Flanders (R-Laconia). A special election will be held to fill that vacancy.

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Now that Marino has withdrawn as drug czar, who’s likely to get the job?

There are some fans in New Hampshire who believe if Trump wants another former GOP member of the House then former Rep. Frank Guinta of Manchester should be given a look.

Ex-state Senate candidate Ray Tweedie authored an op-ed piece advocating the move.

Tweedie pointed out that Guinta had started and co-chaired the bipartisan congressional task force on the opioid crisis with Congressman Annie Kuster, D-N.H.

“There was no partisan gamesmanship: Frank and Annie worked together and in their respective caucuses to get the needed votes. You see, these drugs know no socio or economic boundaries. They are truly equal opportunity killers. And what this country needs is real leadership from someone who understands the problem from Washington right down to the streets, schools, and neighborhoods of New Hampshire where we unfortunately rank among the top in the nation for deaths,” Tweedie wrote.

“Frank Guinta is that person.”

What might hold back Guinta’s candidacy? The post of drug czar requires Senate confirmation and that hearing no doubt could turn into a partisan inquisition into Guinta’s troubles with the Federal Elections Commission and loans made by his parents to his first, successful run for Congress in 2010.

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Strafford County Democratic icon Leo Lessard passed away Wednesday.

The Dover Democrat was one of the youngest legislators to become a member of leadership when he became Senate Democratic Leader in the early 1980s.

Lessard served in the House and the Senate and later in his political life became a lifer in county government serving many terms as Strafford County register of deeds and then up until his death as Strafford County commissioner.

Lessard will probably be remembered most politically as someone who was rarely partisan and a tireless advocate for the Seacoast.

Email news and tips to granitestatus@unionleader.


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