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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Lobbying by NH senators for anti-opioid money pays off

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 08. 2018 8:08AM

When Republicans control all the levers of power in Washington, it’s hard for New Hampshire’s all-Democratic congressional delegation to drive debate on an issue.

But the two-year budget deal reached Wednesday was a classic example of when New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan were able to break out.

Hassan and Shaheen were in the Common Sense Caucus of more than a dozen bipartisan senators who urged leaders to find agreement on a long-term spending deal.

Shaheen and Hassan were part of a call for $6 billion more to fight the opioid epidemic, $3 billion each year.

Congressional leaders may have thought the pair were being greedy since for months they have championed the call to spend $25 billion more on the substance abuse crisis in America.

That’s just how things happen on Capitol Hill: You set a high bar of expectations for your cause. This allows those in power to then give you less than you asked for and still leave you satisfied.

“Over the past weeks and months, I have fought to secure a significant increase in federal funding to combat the opioid crisis as part of the bipartisan agreement that was just reached,” Hassan said. “This bipartisan agreement, which includes billions of dollars in additional resources, is an important next step in strengthening our response to this epidemic.

Shaheen was trying to keep the pressure on Congress.

“Much more needs to be done to provide substance use disorder treatment to those who desperately need it. We still need a federal response to this epidemic that matches the national public health emergency we are facing,” Shaheen said.

President Trump needs to begin helping, not hindering, efforts to reach bipartisan agreements in Congress, and follow through on his promise to help end this epidemic. Lives are at stake and we can’t afford to delay delivering resources any longer.”

More directly for New Hampshire, both senators have assurances from Senate leaders that follow-up legislation will change the grant formula to help states like New Hampshire that have gotten little relief from both the Obama and Trump administrations.

For the past two years, the money has been given out based on population but not on mortality rates. New Hampshire and West Virginia have been leading states in the nation in that tragic category.

In another important local area, a Shaheen spokesman said the budget deal likely means more money for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The plan ends caps on domestic and defense spending that have been in place for several years. The outline gives the Pentagon $165 billion beyond those caps for the next two years along with $120 billion in one-time “emergency” spending.

“No question this goes above the sequestration caps that are in place and provides a lot more room to get to a better budget for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,” Ryan Nickel said.

Like everything important in Washington, nothing happens overnight.

The Senate can and will endorse the budget deal later this week.

But there’s no agreement yet among House Democrats who were insisting the deal had to include relief for the so-called “Dreamers” — dependents of illegal immigrants.

Even if the House agrees, all these spending decisions must be adopted in separate bills that go through congressional committees.

“This is a good day but there’s a long way to go,” Nickel stressed.

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After months of playing nice with each other, the first shot has been fired in the 1st Congressional District Republican primary.

Eddie Edwards of Dover, the former local police and state liquor law enforcement chief, launched the offensive against state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford in a fundraising email he sent out earlier this week.

“Here in the Republican primary, my opponent has shown that he just doesn’t have what it takes to bring the fight to the Democrats,” Edwards said.

“The time is now to unify behind our campaign to ensure we have the strongest conservative to go up against Carol Shea-Porter’s protégé this November.”

Edwards was referring to the lackluster performance of Sanborn raising money in the fourth quarter of 2017.

We first reported last week that over the last three months of 2017, Sanborn raised less than $16,000 from only 14 donors.

Sanborn’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s worth noting that Edwards has hardly set the world on fire when it comes to raising money in his own right.

At year’s end, he had $127,000 in cash on hand.

Sanborn had more campaign cash than Edwards, $173,000, but he had $82,000 in debts most of it in personal loans to his campaign.

Both candidates are anxious to set themselves apart, which is why this is the first but will hardly be the last offensive move by them both.

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Sen. Sanborn came up with a good state legislative rallying cry for his congressional campaign.

He’s authored a bill to repeal the state’s 5 percent tax on interest and dividends.

“By phasing out the interest and dividends tax over five years, New Hampshire will truly become an income tax free state,” Sanborn said. “I believe we owe it to our residents to be responsible with their money and tax no more than we need to collect.”

Could he get this through the GOP-led state Senate? Quite possibly he could since seven other Republican senators have already signed onto it (SB 404).

Once fully repealed in 2024, it would cost the state treasury $100 million a year.

The GOP-led House of Representatives, however, is less likely go give Sanborn what he wants.

A House committee voted, 20-3, to recommend shipping it off to oblivion with a separate bill (HB 529) to repeal the tax over a four-year period.

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The fundraising of Democratic candidates in the crowded, 1st District race has also started playing out as a talking point.

Some media outlets have highlighted the fact that Maura Sullivan, a U.S. Marine veteran who recently moved to Portsmouth, has raised $430,000 thus far — 80 percent from out-of-state donors.

The showing put Sullivan well out in front of her five competitors. The closest to her is Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, who’s raised $219,000 — with 80 percent of that money coming from inside New Hampshire.

Will this be a decisive issue?

If past is prologue, the answer is it won’t be in a general election.

It’s hard to find an example in recent New Hampshire political history when out-of-state cash for a candidate proved a fatal flaw.

The most juicy example was in 1990 when newcomer Democratic candidate Dick Swett, whose father-in-law was an influential California congressman, raised a boatload of money outside New Hampshire.

Republican political operatives at the time thought they could bury Swett with the attack. Instead, Swett went on to unseat Congressman Chuck Douglas who at the time did have his own political baggage, including a long-standing feud with the Sununu family.

The out-of-state cash theme can resonate more in a primary campaign when party activists have difficulty separating these candidates on the issues they care about.

In a general election, as long as the money is legally raised and there’s no quid pro quo from any major sources, most voters have been shown not to care.

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There’s still plenty of time but state Republican leaders are hoping for a strong field of candidates for the seat Pappas is vacating on the Executive Council.

The success Pappas had in getting and holding onto the seat hides the reality that by party registration this district is the most Republican in the state.

The only Republican so far who has said he’s interested in giving the race a look is Manchester Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur.

Some have approached State Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, and asked her to consider giving this race a look.

She’s got several options.

She could remain in the House and hope that her third bid for speaker of the House after the 2018 election is the charm.

Former Speaker Shawn Jasper narrowly beat her in the GOP caucus last December.

When Jasper left to become agriculture commissioner, Gene Chandler won handily over Sanborn and others.

She could run for her husband’s state Senate seat.

Attempts to reach her for comment were not successful.

Meanwhile, fiscal conservatives are trying to talk Steve Kenda of North Hampton into challenging Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, in the 3rd District.

Prescott surely angered some with his early stumping for a turnpike toll increase until Gov. Chris Sununu put the kibosh on the idea.

But ask Maggie Hassan if Prescott is some pushover.

He once beat her in a state Senate battle.

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It’s been a tough week for longtime legislators in Concord as they lost two former Republican state senators.

Former Sen. Sam Cataldo died in a Farmington car crash last weekend on his way to a local finance committee meeting.

Also a former state representative, Cataldo agreed to take one for the team in 2016, leaving his Senate seat to try to take out Democrat Andru Volinisky in the council’s 2nd District.

Then there was the passing of former Sen. Louis Bergeron of Rochester, a 10-year senator who also served as the state’s insurance commissioner.

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Timing is everything and on Wednesday Republican State Chairman Jeanie Forrester misfired.

At 12:23 p.m., she sent an e-mail encouraging GOP supporters to sign a petition to get a budget deal entitled, “Another Schumer Shutdown.”

“Our Democrat representation in Congress is out of touch and out of line — we must oppose their latest attempt to shut our government down,” the e-mail said.

“Sign our petition to tell our federal delegation that enough is enough — it’s time to fund programs that support our military and most vulnerable citizens.”

Seven minutes later, the Senate Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell) and Minority leader (Chuck Schumer) announced their deal.

There were also media reports as early as 9:30 a.m. Wednesday that a Senate deal was in the works.

In her defense, it’s Forrester’s job as party chair to promote the Trump administration line and the President has yet to endorse the plan — other than his spokesman saying Trump is glad it would give the Pentagon more money.

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