Landrigan: Legislature’s power figures took it on the chin with education funding vote, 6/10/12

posted Jun 10, 2012, 4:54 PM by Bill Duncan
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Sunday, June 10, 2012


Kevin Landrigan

Don’t let anyone kid you.

All those in power in Concord lost something when the education funding amendment went down to crushing defeat on Wednesday.

To be sure, the defeat was the most acute and potentially damaging to William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, who staked much of the success of his first term as speaker on getting an amendment to the voters.

When the House of Representatives passed an amendment for the first time ever in March 2011, it was looking like the dam was finally broken that with this awesome 3-1 majority rule, the Republican-led Legislature was going to get it done.

Sixteen months ago, only 20 Republicans defied O’Brien’s wishes and opposed the amendment.

Last week, the dissident number more than doubled.

But this was also a top priority for Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and one Gov. John Lynch highlighted in each of his last two state-of-the-state speeches.

They can all “celebrate’’ having gone further than any other campaign since the landmark Supreme Court ruling 15 years ago.

That’s cold comfort.

With only 10 percent of Democrats in the House backing this amendment, it could have passed.

But given Lynch’s status as a lame-duck governor and long-standing opposition in the Democratic base to any such proposal, that wasn’t going to happen, even if the governor had done real work to try to change it.

And there’s little concrete evidence Lynch did.

So what was the profile of those House Republicans who voted no when it really counted?

A few were in O’Brien’s extended leadership team: Rep. Paul Mirski, of Enfield, who chairs the House Legislative Administration and Redistricting committees; Rep. Paul Ingbretson, of Haverhill, who chairs the new Committee on Redress of Grievances; and Rep. Dan Itse, who chairs the House Committee on Constitutional and Statutory Revision.

Given a mulligan – a second vote on the same amendment – Mirski and Ingbretson were among several who voted the “right’’ way and backed the amendment that time.

Then there was Manchester, where a majority of GOP members from the city supported the amendment, but seven went against it.

Only two Manchester Republicans had opposed O’Brien’s amendment in May 2011: Reps. Steve Vaillancourt and Irene Messier.

In the Gate City, newly named House Majority
Leader Peter Silva, R-Nashua, and city delegation Chairman Carl Seidel, R-Nashua, kept the gang together.

Not a single Nashua Republican opposed the amendment in the House, although three were absent Wednesday: James Summers, Timothy Hogan and Kevin Brown. Keep in mind that for O’Brien and Co., absent was as bad as a no vote, as he needed 237 warm bodies in the seats.

As in the past, Derry proved to be a killing field for this compromise: Only two House Republicans from Derry voted yes.

Curiously, O’Brien was able to win a few over for this amendment versus his own. Reps. Richard Drisko and Carolyn Gargasz, both R-Hollis, voted yes last week after opposing the speaker’s amendment.

This was the death of one or two cuts here or there spread across the state – 16 no votes from Hillsborough County, 18 from Rockingham County.

Clearly, the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire had more influence this time than it did when O’Brien handily won Round 1.

Why? The wording, of course, and it isn’t like O’Brien was caught by surprise.

More than a month ago, former Gov. John H. Sununu, gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne, and constitutional lawyers Eugene Van Loan and Chuck Douglas met privately with a key group of the libertarian “constitutionalists,” for lack of a better way to describe them.

The pitch was: Could they support an amendment that had the state assuming the “responsibility’’ for maintaining a public education system?

The answer was nearly unanimous, according to sources who were there.

No way.

A dish best served cold

If you have followed any of this never-ending saga, you gotta know it isn’t over.

There may not be a better chance than this one to pass an amendment through the Legislature – 3-1 super-majorities in the House and Senate.

Frankly, the governor’s support for something this time and in the past has been overstated.

Every chief executive since Claremont I has proposed or endorsed an education funding amendment. That’s five governors – three Republicans and two Democrats – and several governors who served before them have gotten onboard.

To any chief executive, this has always been about the balance of power.

Making aid to public education a fundamental right with a per-pupil grant requirement has been an anathema to them.

Politically, Lynch lost on the amendment, but he surely exacted some revenge for the defeats he had suffered at the hand of O’Brien the last two years.

Time and again, O’Brien got bills through the Legislature that Lynch either didn’t like or didn’t want, most prominently with a state budget in 2011 that Lynch refused to sign.

The nice guy Lynch would never say so publicly.

But Lynch had to know that if O’Brien tacked in the governor’s direction to get an amendment compromise, O’Brien would be unable to get that product through the House.

At week’s end, some constitutional amendment supporters maintained that the solution might still lie at the ballot box this November.

Every 10 years, whether the Legislature sends the question to them or not, New Hampshire voters have to decide if they wish to convene a constitutional convention.

This is the year.

In 2002, 63 percent of voters approved of a convention, not quite enough to convene one.

If a convention is held, delegates can bring to the full body any amendments to the Constitution.

You get the idea.

Surely, there will be GOP legislators that offer their own amendments in the 2013 session.

At week’s end, there were also rumors spread among O’Brien’s political enemies that O’Brien hadn’t given up this year and another amendment plan could be in the offing.

That isn’t at all likely.

Bringing up any proposal at this stage of the session would take a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.

If you can’t get 60 percent to do something, 67 percent is really out of reach.

From rival to supporter

Lamontagne got a former primary opponent to climb aboard his large bandwagon.

Jim Bender, of Hollis, ran in the 2010 primary for the U.S. Senate that Kelly Ayotte won narrowly over Lamontagne.

The two developed a kinship during and after that campaign.

“I know Ovide to be a principled conservative and a man of integrity whom I trust to do a great job as the governor of our state,’’ Bender said in a statement obtained by The Sunday Telegraph.

“I am happy to be one of the leaders of ‘Job Creators for Ovide,’ and I look forward to working with him to strengthen our local economy and to continually make New Hampshire an even better place to live and to raise a family.”

All for one

The House Democratic caucus stuck together throughout the final week.

Even the constitutional amendment to ban an income tax attracted support from only two House Democrats: Peter Ramsey and John Gimas, of Manchester.

There were 18 House Republicans who opposed putting the income tax question on the ballot.

Democrats smell blood in the water at the state party level, and at this juncture, all those in the minority should stick together because they all could benefit from it at the polls.

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Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@KLandrigan).
© 2012, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire
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