WEDNESDAY, MAY 30, UPDATE: SEVERING TIES. Embattled former House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt is no longer involved in fellow Republican Ovide Lamontagne's gubernatorial campaign.
Bettencourt was announced as a member of Lamontagne's steering committee last October.
But according to Lamontagne senior advisor Jim Merrill, he has now withdrawn from that group.
“D.J. has withdrawn from his involvement with Ovide's campaign, including from his service on Ovide's steering committee,” Merrill told the Granite Status. “The charges in this matter are serious and disappointing, and accordingly, we have accepted D.J.'s withdrawal.”
Bettencourt resigned from the House during the weekend after admitting he falsified information about the amount of work he did as an intern in the law office of another state representative as he pursued a law degree.
(Earlier updates and the full May 24 Granite Status follow.)
WEDNESDAY, MAY 30, UPDATE: KEVIN ON THE AIR. Republican Kevin Smith became the first candidate for governor to hit the airwaves with advertising this week with a radio piece that combines a positive, view of the future with a veiled shot at three of the others vying for the same office.
Also, we've learned that a seasoned New Hampshire political media consultant has joined Smith's campaign.
It's logical that Smith would be the first on the air with an “introductory” ad since, at least on the Republican side, he trails Ovide Lamontagne in name recognition and in a head to head matchup, according to recent polls.
Smith's goal in the ad is to introduce himself as a fresh face in New Hampshire politics and as someone with a full plan to deal with the budget and economy.
Although neither Lamontagne, who is making his fourth run for office, nor Democrats Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley, both former state senators, are mentioned, his ad begins with an announcer saying, “Career politicians and perennial candidates are full of empty rhetoric.”
The announcer goes on to call Smith “a bold, new voice,” before Smith says he's running “to end the status quo in Concord and chart a new vision for New Hampshire.”
He then says his plan calls for “cutting taxes, lowering health care costs and improving opportunities for young workers.”
Smith's campaign says the ad is part of a “substantial and sustained” statewide buy.
Also Wednesday, Smith's campaign has hired long-time media relations consultant Alicia Preston to handle communications.
Preston has been with numerous campaigns in New Hampshire and elsewhere, including Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, Frank Guinta and Jeb Bradley.
She arrives as the campaign says it is beginning to expand its operations to ramp up for the summer months.
Meanwhile, Cilley, Hassan and fellow Democratic candidate for governor Bill Kennedy are scheduled to debate at New England College on Thursday.
(Earlier updates and the full May 24 Granite Status follow.)
TUESDAY, MAY 29, UPDATE - Two-term state Rep. Pete Silva, R-Nashua, will be announced as the new House Majority Leader by Speaker Bill O'Brien at 1:30 p.m. Silva has been Deputy Majority Leader under resigned Rep. D.J. Bettencourt.
FRIDAY, MAY 26, UPDATE: DOES CLASS SIZE MATTER? President Barack Obama's campaign lashed out at Republican Mitt Romney Friday for saying earlier this week and in his 2010 book that class size alone does not necessarily play a decisive role in the quality of education taught America's children.
Romney's campaign countered by noting that Obama's own Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has made a similar argument and by suggesting that if Obama feels Duncan is also wrong, perhaps he should fire him.
“Mitt Romney is out of touch with reality and with the needs of our students and teachers,” John Day, a retired 28-year Manchester Central High School English teacher, said during a conference call organized by the New Hampshire Obama campaign. “Every teacher, every parent and really everyone with a little common sense knows that smaller class sizes are better.”
Day said he chaired the English Department at the school for 23 years, and, “I can say unequivocally that when you're trying to teach, you can't have huge classes. Students learn best when their teachers are intricately involved in the learning process.”
James Kvaal, Obama campaign policy director and a former deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education, said Romney's overall education plan “would take us backwards, just like he did as Governor of Massachusetts” and “would abandon the national commitment to turning around failing schools.”
Kvaal noted that Romney, in his book, “No Apology,” wrote, “In the United States, then, the effort to reduce classroom size may actually hurt education more than it helps.”
Romney's campaign pointed to a report Friday on the web site Talking Points Memo that Duncan “has made exactly the same case (as Romney) for years, citing studies indicate that larger class sizes were not inherently detrimental.”
According to the publication Education Week, Duncan, at a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, suggested school district consider “modest but smartly targeted increases in class size” and then pay effective teachers who are able to handle larger classes more than other teachers.
Education Week reported that Duncan said at the forum that as a parent, he would rather have his children in a class of 26 “with a really excellent teacher, than in a class with 22 kids, led by a mediocre teacher.”
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan William said, “If President Obama is as focused on class size as his campaign seems to be, his outdated view of education reform puts him at odds with leaders like Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, and his own secretary of education, all of whom have said that improving teacher quality gives kids the best opportunity to learn.
“President Obama should be ashamed that his campaign is launching such cheap political attacks at the expense of a serious discussion about education policy,” Williams said. “If he actually believes what his campaign is saying, he should fire his education secretary for supporting the same view on class size that Governor Romney is advancing.”
But Obama campaign spokesman Holly Shulman responded, “Both experience and evidence show that smaller classes are better than bigger classes, especially for young children. But class sizes aren't the only thing that matters, and President Obama and Secretary Duncan are also working to raise academic expectations, invest in teacher quality, and turn around struggling schools. That's very different from Mitt Romney, who thinks that smaller class sizes don't matter or can even be harmful.”
The Republican presidential hopeful spurred controversy on Thursday when he told a group of educators in inner-city Philadelphia studies have shown that class size, by itself, has no effect on student performance.
Visiting the Universal Bluford Charter School, Romney said that as Governor of Massachusetts, he gathered information from all 351 cities and towns in the state to compare class sizes with student performance. He said there was no relationship.
“As a matter of fact, the school district with the smallest classrooms, Cambridge, had students performing in the bottom 10 percent,” Romney said. “So just getting smaller classrooms didn't seem to be the key.”
He said the McKinsey Institute, a consulting firm, studied schools in Singapore, Finland, South Korea and the United States and found the “highest-performing schools in the world” have classroom sizes “about the same as the United States, so it's not classroom size that's driving the success of those school systems.”
He said McKinsey found those systems' successes were driven by “parents very involved” as well as “excellent teachers” and “administrators who are able to guide the school with good policies of discipline and getting the right resources.”
Philadelphia teacher Steve Morris questioned Romney's assertions.
“I can't think of any teacher in the whole time I've been teaching, for 10 years, 13 years, who would say that more students would benefit them,” Morris said. “And I can't think of a parent who would say, 'I would like my student to be in a classroom with a lot of kids with only one teacher.' So I'm kind of wondering where this research comes from.”
In a speech on Wednesday, Romney laid out an education plan that would revamp funding formulas and promote more charter schools.
Rather than send funding for special needs and low-income students to school districts, Romney would use a voucher-like system tailored to individual parents and students.
“For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted,” Romney said. “To receive the full complement of federal education dollars, states must provide students with ample school choice.”
Kvaal said Obama, in his “Race to the Top” program, has encouraged states “to expand options to strengthen charter schools,” but he does not support private school vouchers because they “do not raise student achievement and do nothing to improve the public schools. In fact, they drain resources from public schools, where the vast majority of students are always going to be.”
State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, a retired teacher and former chairman of the New England Board of Higher Education, said when Romney was governor, “Massachusetts students suffered with larger class sizes, laid off teachers and, in one year, had the second-largest per pupil (state funding cut) in the nation.
“Those cuts forced school districts to lay off thousands of teachers, along with librarians and even police officers _ 14,500 in all,” he said.
D'Allesandro said Romney vetoed a bill calling for universal pre-Kindergarten programs in his state “and questioned the value of early education.”
But Romney's campaign said that when Romney was governor, Massachusetts scored highest in the nation in reading and math national assessment testing.
(The full May 24 Granite Status follows.)
HIKEL FALLOUT. After allegedly calling former state Republican vice chair Pamela Manney a former “pole dancer” and “stripper” in front of a crowd at a GOP event last weekend, state Senate candidate and current Rep. John Hikel has been removed from gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne's campaign steering committee.
Hikel was on the steering committee since last October, while Manney endorsed Lamontagne about a month ago after leaving the state GOP vice-chair post.
Manney, a Goffstown mother, grandmother and long-time GOP activist, told us yesterday afternoon that Lamontagne, who she said she's known for 20 years, had just called her to offer support. She said that during the conversation, she “suggested” Hikel be removed from the steering committee.
She said Lamontagne told her he would talk to his campaign about it immediately.
A few minutes later, the Status received an email from the Lamontagne campaign quoting Lamontagne as saying:
“Pam Manney is an outstanding volunteer and activist for our Party. I am proud to have her support. What John Hikel said about her the other day was offensive, inappropriate and should never have been said.
“There is no place for this divisive discourse or these types of personal attacks in politics, and I won't tolerate it,” the statement continued. “I have removed John from my steering committee.”
By acting as he did, Lamontagne avoided potential criticism from other Republicans as well as Democrats, who were watching this saga closely.
Manney told us she had also heard from Lamontagne primary foe Kevin Smith as well as state GOP chair Wayne MacDonald, both offering support.
Hikel said Monday he apologized to Manney for “stupid” and “inappropriate” remarks apparently made in anger at a picnic hosted by his primary foe, state Rep. Phil Greazzo, after a Goffstown-Weare GOP meeting last Saturday.
Hikel was apparently upset Manney is backing Greazzo.
But Manney said she did not accept the apology, which Hikel left in a telephone message, because he “never said he was wrong,” and never actually acknowledged what he said.
Manney said she appreciated Lamontagne's move, which, she said, “shows that Ovide really does respect women.”
After being “mortified” by Hikel's remarks, Manney said that the bottom line for her now is, “I really want this over and done with.”
Maybe now, it is.
MacDonald, meanwhile, told us, “Only John Hikel can make the decision, but if I were advising him, I'd recommend he reassess his campaign. I'm not advocating he get out, but I think it merits another look.”
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BACKING OVIDE. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith was in New Hampshire for many weeks leading up to the first-in-the-nation primary, as a senior advisor to the Newt Gingrich campaign.
Now, Smith is stepping back into New Hampshire politics.
We've learned that today he will endorse Lamontagne for governor, saying Lamontagne “has by far the strongest combination of leadership, substance and accomplishments” and is “a man of integrity and conservative principles.”
Interestingly, Smith chose Lamontagne, who he has known for two decades, over GOP primary foe Kevin Smith, who is no relation, but worked for four years in Smith's office before joining former Gov. Craig Benson's office in mid-2003.
According to our files, Kevin Smith served as the state coordinator and law enforcement and public safety coordinator in the former senator's office.
Lamontagne backers say Bob Smith's endorsement is another example of a broad cross-section of Republicans backing Lamontagne.
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100 FOR SMITH. Kevin Smith today will roll out a broad coalition of supporters himself.
His biggest grassroots announcement to date will include 100 New Hampshire names.
The full list can be seen at his website, KevinSmithforGovernor.com, but a handful of key backers are:
-- James M. Jalbert of Dover, president of C&J, a major northern New England public transportation firm and a prominent GOP activist and donor.
-- Peter Angerhofer of Stratham, a health-care consultant and former state Senate candidate.
-- Rep. John Reagan of Deerfield, chairman of the House Committee on Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs.
-- Long-time GOP activist and former state Rep. Paul LaFlamme.
-- John Tinios, owner of the Galley Hatch Restaurant in Hampton.
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BUCKLEY HELPING WITH OBAMA LGBT EFFORT. State Democratic Chairman Raymond Buckley, who is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, says he will have a key role in a new coalition announced Wednesday by the Barack Obama campaign focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans.
The campaign is calling it “Obama Pride.”
Buckley, who says he is the highest-ranking openly gay member of the DNC, has been working with the DNC's LGBT caucus, the Obama LGBT Finance Council and the Obama LGBT Leadership Council for a year.
“The President and his administration have established a historic record of pro-equality achievements,” Buckley said. “It is great to have a President to represent the vast majority of Granite Staters who strongly support full equality for LGBT citizens.”
On a related topic, Lamontagne took some heat Wednesday from Democrats and the New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality on the same-sex marriage issue.
He had told students at Manchester Central High School on Tuesday that while he is a social conservative and believes in “traditional marriage,” he “is “not running to deal with that issue.”
The two groups pointed out that two months ago, Lamontagne told a State House rally, “If Governor Lynch prevents a return to traditional marriage, you can count on me to aggressively work to make this happen once I'm governor.”
“Will the real Ovide please stand up?” asked the NHRFE, while the NHDP accused him of “double-talk.”
No comment yet from the Lamontagne camp.
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MITT'S NEW HQ. The Mitt Romney campaign has secured office space for a new state headquarters.
The lease has been signed and they're moving equipment into 273 S. River Road in Bedford, which will also have space devoted to the Republican National Committee “Victory” operations.
In 2010, RNC Victory headquarters was on the first floor and the Rich Ashooh congressional campaign was on the second.
It then became headquarters for Tim Pawlenty, and then Rick Santorum.
A grand opening event will be held in a few weeks.
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OBAMA'S THIRD AD. The Obama campaign today will begin airing a new ad in New Hampshire saying that the economy has “reversed” since he's been in office.
The piece conveys a message that the stimulus, the auto bailout, a small-business tax cut and a payroll tax cut prompted “26 straight months of private sector job growth” and the “addition of 4.25 million jobs.”
It's the campaign's third ad in the state.
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HITTING OBAMA, AGAIN. Meanwhile, a conservative issues advocacy group began airing a new television ad yesterday charging that Obama's policies have made it harder on recent college graduates to find jobs.
The DNC called the ad by Crossroads GPS, co-founded three years ago by former George W. Bush senior advisor Karl Rove, “deceptive.”
The ad has a fictional woman lamenting that her two children were unable to find work after their college graduations and are living with her.
“They can't find jobs to get their careers started, and I can't afford to retire,” the woman says.
The ad, clearly timed to air during college graduation season, is being shown in 10 swing states, including New Hampshire.
The pro-Obama Priorities USA Action Super PAC said Crossroads GPS was “using actors to portray a fictional family.” Priorities put up its own ad Tuesday, though not in New Hampshire, using a “real life” woman describing how she lost her job after the Mitt Romney-led Bain Capital closed the plant where she worked in Indiana.
Crossroads GPS said it will spend nearly $10 million on its new ad as part of a larger $25-million ad campaign first announced last week.
It is the second Crossroads GPS ad to air in New Hampshire and the other swing states in the past two weeks. The three-week New Hampshire buy totals $772,000, Crossroads GPS said.
The ad is also being aired in Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
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A NEW CONSERVATIVE PAC. Conservative liberty movement activist Andrew Hemingway has filed a new political action committee aimed at electing a Republican governor this year.
“4RG,” or “For a Republican Governor,” will not take sides in the GOP primary for governor between Lamontagne and Smith, but will focus on helping the eventual nominee win in November.
As we first reported last week, Hemingway considered taking on U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass in a Republican 2nd District U.S. House primary, but recently decided against it in favor of setting up the new PAC.
“4RG will work independently, strategically and tirelessly to elect the next Republican New Hampshire governor,” Hemingway said.
Hemingway is the past chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire. He was the state director of Gingrich's presidential campaign in New Hampshire during the recent primary campaign.
The PAC's communications director is conservative consultant Alex Talcott, a Dartmouth graduate and public affairs and marketing communications principal of Vaura Consulting LLC of Amesbury, Mass., which is expanding its operations to the Portsmouth/Durham area.
Talcott was a senior communications specialist and New Hampshire coalitions director of the Gingrich campaign and was state communications director for Michigan U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter's short-lived presidential campaign earlier in the cycle.
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AG: PUSH POLL CASE “A STATE ISSUE.” Since the Federal Election Commission said in a formal advisory opinion a month ago that the state's law requiring candidate disclaimers on push-poll telephone calls does not apply to candidates in federal elections, the state Attorney General's Office had been silent.
Finally, it's made at least some aspects of its position known in a filing this week in U.S. District Court in Concord.
AG Michael Delaney responded to a motion by Charles Douglas, attorney for U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass's campaign, that the state's civil suit against Bass for alleged violation of the state push-poll law should be removed from state court and heard in federal court.
Douglas had said that the FEC's advisory opinion, while not binding, argues heavily in favor of the Bass campaign's position.
The campaign denies the AG's charge that it violated the state push-poll law disclaimer requirement when it polled against Democrat Ann McLane Kuster in 2010. It says it wasn't even conducting a push poll under the description in the state statue.
Delaney, asking the U.S. District Court to send the case back to the Merrimack County Superior Court, argues that Douglas cannot simply have the case “removed” to a federal court because, he said, the case is based on “a state court action initiated by a state enforcement agency based entirely on state law.”
If the Bass camp wants to argue that the state push-poll law is preempted by the Federal Election Campaign Act, which has no disclaimer requirement for push polls, Delaney wrote, it must make that “preemption” argument in state court.
Delaney wrote that the FEC has said that federal law supersedes state law on the reporting of federal candidates' receipts and expenditures and limits on campaign contributions, but does not mention telephone polling as one of the areas where federal law preempts state law.
“This is consistent with the absence of any regulation in the area of telephonic polling” in the Federal Election Campaign Act, the AG wrote.
Delaney wrote that the federal law “does not provide an alternative cause of action in favor of the state to enforce its rights.”
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KICKING OFF. Bass kicked off his reelection campaign this week.
With a theme of “Commitment to New Hampshire,” he has made, or will be making, stops throughout the week in Nashua, Keene, Claremont, Salem, Concord, Littleton, Pittsburg, Berlin and Jefferson.
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GRIMM SUPPORTERS. Wednesday was a big announcement day for state Senate candidates, as Republican incumbent Nancy Stiles of Hampton said she is running for reelection in District 24, Republican Bill Grimm of Franklin said he is a District 7 candidate, and District 4 Democratic candidate David Watters announced top staffers.
We've learned that Grimm today will announce a steering committee that includes several top area Republicans, such as Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield and former Franklin mayors Tony Giunta, David Palfrey and Stuart Trachy, and Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard.
Watters' campaign manager is Duncan Fleming, a former state Senate intern and former Londonderry High School valedictorian. His campaign treasurer is Carol Appel, vice chair of the Strafford County Democratic Committee and former state Democratic Party secretary.
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“STOP THE TEA PARTY.” That's the theme of a new fund-raising plea for the state Democratic Party by Democratic National Committeeman and former state Sen. Peter Burling.
“Already, we are seeing outside interest groups pour money into the state to try to save (House speaker) Bill O'Brien and the Tea Party's agenda. Americans for Prosperity (funded by the Koch Brothers) has just launched a new radio ad. And Tea Party activists are creating a new PAC aimed at electing a Republican Governor.
“The people of New Hampshire have had enough of Bill O'Brien and the Tea Party,” Burling says before asking for donations.
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COUNTY CANDIDATE. Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance has told fellow Democrats that she intends to run for county attorney this year. She says she has informed Republican County Attorney Dennis Hogan of her decision.
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LANCERS HONOR SMITH. And speaking of Londonderry High School, GOP gubernatorial candidate Smith was honored on Tuesday by the Londonderry Educational Outreach Committee with the “Outstanding Community Contribution Award” for his commitment to the school's athletic program and his 18 years as the “Voice of the Lancers”.
John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @jdistaso.