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Dave Solomon's Granite Status: Hassan readies Turkish trade mission despite travel ban

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 28. 2014 11:22PM

Gov. Maggie Hassan, with legislative approval, has issued an executive order freezing out-of-state travel paid for from the state’s general fund, but is going ahead with a $15,000 trade mission to Turkey.

The plan for Hassan to lead a group of New Hampshire business representatives on the excursion from June 20-27 was first announced in March, before state’s revenue shortfalls were reported in April, leading to the travel freeze.

According to Hassan spokesperson William Hinkle, there’s no point in turning back now.

“The Department of Resources and Economic Development worked hard with the business community to determine an appropriate trip and found a partner to help significantly reduce costs,” he said. “At this point, the trade mission is paid for by both the state and by the businesses, and cancelling it would be a significant cost to our businesses without saving the state any funds.”

The conservative policy group, Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, has submitted a Right to Know request with the Department of Resources and Economic Development to get more details on the trip, such as who on the state payroll besides Hassan will be attending.

“Like most Granite Staters, we understand the importance of expanding international trade and attracting businesses to invest in New Hampshire. We also certainly support curtailing wasteful spending,” said Matthew Murphy, executive director at Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, in a recent statement to the media.

“However, considering her upcoming costly trip to Turkey, it is more than fair to inquire whether Gov. Hassan’s executive order banning all out of state travel is nothing more than political posturing,” Murphy said.

The $15,000 for state’s share of expenses was included in the budget passed by lawmakers last year, but so was other money for travel that is now put on hold. Each of the participating New Hampshire businesses paid $2,500.The trade mission, scheduled for June 20-27, has been organized in partnership with the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey and the Turkish Cultural Center in Manchester.

Participating businesses, like Rokon International of Rochester, a manufacturer of all-wheel drive motorcycles, are hoping for access to decision-makers in business, government and higher education in a country listed as New Hampshire’s 12th largest trading partner.

Ban does not apply

When it comes to business travel, it’s hard to beat working for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, whose wine buyers routinely attend trade shows in wine-producing regions like Italy, California and Pennsylvania.

Five senior NHLC employees, led by Commissioner Joseph Mollica, just returned from a four-day convention in Marco Island, Fla., where the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association met from May 19-22.

The Liquor Commission has been participating in NABCA events for decades, and the trip to this year’s convention would not have drawn much attention if not for the travel ban.

The ban does not affect the liquor commission, which is funded from liquor sales profits, not the state’s general fund. Besides, according to NHLC spokesperson E.J. Powers, the trip was entirely paid for by the trade association.

“The commission pays $2,000 a year in annual dues to be a part of the association,” Powers said. “That membership enables a limited number of NHLC staff to attend the conference at no cost. All travel expenses are reimbursed by NABCA, therefore Executive Council approval is not required. There is zero cost to NHLC.”

Attendees besides the commissioner were Richard Gerrish, director of warehousing, merchandising and marketing; Mark Roy, spirits marketing specialist; Craig Bulkley, director of administration; and James Wilson, director of enforcement. Each of them attended or presented at various workshops, according to Powers.

“As you can imagine, the wine and spirits business is extremely competitive,” he said. “Attending informational conferences like NABCA, learning from experts, and sharing information is key to New Hampshire keeping its competitive edge.”

The fact that Mollica and his family were in Marco Island from May 17-24 prompted some anonymous emails to the New Hampshire Union Leader, suggesting we should make some inquiries.

“NABCA does not cover the cost for families,” wrote Powers in an email. “In this case Chairman Mollica exercised his privilege (as many previous NHLC commissioners have done) to invite his wife to attend and personally paid for airfare and accommodations for his two children to accompany them. He decided to extend his stay and take some personal family vacation time and personally paid all expenses.”

Debate dates set

The Union Leader, WMUR and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College will partner again this year on a series of live TV debates in the races for Congress, U.S. Senate and governor before the primary and general elections this fall.

Debates for primary races will take place at WMUR studios from Sept. 2 to Sept. 5. General election debates for the same races will be held from the campus of St. Anselm College from Oct. 27 through Oct. 30.

All debates will air live on WMUR at 7 p.m.

The First Congressional District primary debate will be on Tuesday, Sept. 2; the Second Congressional District primary debate on Wednesday, Sept. 3; the U.S. Senate primary debate on Thursday, Sept. 4; and the gubernatorial primary debate on Friday, Sept. 5 The general election debate in the First Congressional District will take place on Monday, Oct. 27; the Second Congressional District on Tuesday, Oct. 28; the gubernatorial debate on Wednesday, Oct. 29; and the U.S. Senate debate on Thursday, Oct. 30.

Bradley for Brown

Senate Republican Majority Leader Jeb Bradley on Wednesday became the latest in a long line of “establishment Republicans” to endorsed Scott Brown for U.S. Senate, describing him on WGIR radio as a ​“​Live Free or Die​ type of guy” ​with strong New Hampshire ties.

“I think that we need to bring voices like Scott Brown to Washington to protect taxpayers, to try to grow our economy and to solve our nation’s problems,” said the Wolfeboro Republican and former First District congressman.

Bradley’s unscripted endorsement on the radio interview came a day after U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Executive Councilor and Manchester Mayor Ray Wieczorek, and two former GOP governors endorsed Brown at a highly scripted event in Nashua.

Brown doesn’t allude to his primary opponents on the stump, and has been talking like he is already running against incumbent Jeanne Shaheen.

He declined an opportunity to debate Jim Rubens, Bob Smith and Karen Testerman at a Merrimack Town Hall event on June 18, and may not share the same stage in a face-to-face debate with his rivals until the September session mentioned above.

It’s a far cry from the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2010, when Kelly Ayotte, Bill Binnie, Ovide Lamontagne and Jim Bender seemed to debate almost every week.

Brown has accepted an invitation for a primary June 20 candidate forum on WMUR’s CloseUp, according to Communications Director Elizabeth Guyton.

Not running ... yet

Manchester Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold, a Democrat who came within 1,000 votes of beating Mayor Ted Gatsas in the last mayoral election, was widely rumored to be in the running for state Senate in District 16, now held by Republican Dave Boutin, R-Hooksett.

But it was not to be.

“After much discussion with my family, we recognize that now is not the time to pursue a state Senate seat,” he said in a statement issued on Wednesday, “but rather to keep our efforts focused on the challenges we face here in New Hampshire’s largest city and to continue our work to move Manchester forward.”

Although not running for state office this year, the 30-year-old Arnold did not sound like someone headed out to pasture: “Though my name will not appear on a state ballot this year, I look forward to being out on the campaign trail talking with voters, hearing their concerns, and participating in a substantive conversation regarding the solutions our city deserves.”

That leaves Democrats looking for someone to take on Boutin, assuming he beats back a primary challenge from one-term state Rep. Jane Cormier, R-Alton, a favorite of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire.

The conservative policy group Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire is pouring third-party money into the race. “We are currently educating residents in Senator Boutin’s district of his votes on the important issues, especially on his support for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and the 23-percent hike in the state’s gas tax,” said Derek Dufresne, the group’s spokesperson.

Liberty Caucus endorses Rubens

Jim Rubens, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, was endorsed on Thursday by the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire and their national counterpart, the Republican Liberty Caucus.
The Republican Liberty Caucus is not affiliated with the Republican Party, and is fielding several tea party-style challenges to incumbent Republicans in New Hampshire whose votes have not been consistent with the group's conservative positions.

The Liberty Caucus endorsement of Rubens comes a few days after former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown was endorsed by incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte and two former GOP governors.

Endorsement by the RLC qualifies Rubens, who is more conservative than Brown on gun control and abortion, for RLC-USA PAC funds.

In announcing the endorsement, Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire (RLCNH) chairman Aaron Day said Rubens "brings the intelligence and experience needed to reverse the damage inflicted by Obama and Shaheen."

"Jim’s 40-year track record creating jobs and wealth as an entrepreneur, empowering the citizens of New Hampshire as a legislator, and ability to solve complex problems while bringing people together is exactly what is needed in this time of great peril," Day said. "The Republican Liberty Caucus is pleased to endorse Jim Rubens as the clear choice to replace Jeanne Shaheen in the United States Senate."

In accepting the endorsement, Rubens said, "I am deeply honored to have the endorsement of the Republican Liberty Caucus. Together, RLC, grassroots Republicans and my campaign will win elections by showing how we will solve our nation's most pressing challenges and improve people's lives without retreating from core Republican values of personal liberty, a free economy, and constitutionally limited government."

Rubens is in a primary contest with Brown, conservative activist Karen Testerman and former N.H. Sen. Bob Smith for the right to challenge Shaheen in the fall

Granite Status

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