Cook On Concord: Legislature goes home, leaving question marks
After weathering a 94-degree day at the State House, the New Hampshire Legislature went home June 27. The House and Senate both adopted House Bills 1 and 2, the state budget and the budget trailer bill, as well as the capital budget — all of them resulting from compromises hammered out in committees of conference, including a couple of “all-nighters,” which strained the endurance of solons.
Depending on one’s point of view, the budget was either profligate in its spending or dangerous because it pushed costs from the state to the counties and local governments and their supporting property taxes.
There is double-digit increased spending in the budget, critics claiming that this will set the state up for fiscal disaster and supporters saying that prior budgets have not even kept up with inflation. It is a two-year spending plan of over $10 billion, without full funding for the state’s share of education, whatever that cost turns out to be.
A constitutional amendment addressing the Claremont lawsuit/school spending was not adopted. In spite of this, the sun came up the next morning and no plagues were visited upon the state. What effect this failure is going to have on the future will be interesting to see.
The legislative session, presided over by Democratic leadership in both houses with the support of a Democratic governor, was a time of learning for a lot of the new members of leadership, and they finished on time and with many accomplishments. On the other hand, there were some rough moments when new chairs had to seek advice from old chairs, and there were a number of bumps in the road, none of them fatal.
Many bills were “retained in committee,” there are a lot of study groups planning to work, so legislative activity will continue. Traditionally, study committees have not met during July and August but pick up again in September. Whether the Democratic leadership keeps that tradition or not, the long hot summer is no time for legislative action, with vacations and other activities distracting the legislators – who, after all, make $100 per year plus mileage.
At an interesting forum hosted by the New England Council, freshmen Democratic U.S. Reps. Carol Shea-Porter of the 1st District and Paul Hodes of the 2nd District discussed their experiences in a joint appearance June 25 at the Bedford Village Inn.
The style of the two members of Congress differed greatly. Congresswoman Shea-Porter — serious, friendly and rather folksy — stressed the need to be responsible regardless of party and her surprise in being on committees with important responsibilities. She reminded the folks in attendance that she had been a military spouse and therefore took the safety and health of members of the armed forces very seriously. She talked about the need to support troops as a different responsibility from influencing foreign policy. The constant hard work was one of her topics.
Hodes, on the other hand, came across as eloquent, polished, focused and made many policy statements. He has been elected “President of the Freshman Class” of Democrats in Congress, and his talent was obvious in his presentation, as well as his influence. Whether events in Washington are as related to Hodes’ actions as he seemed to suggest, obviously he has hit the ground running and seems to contradict what used to be good advice on Capitol Hill: “Freshmen are to be seen and not heard.”
Both, although new, demonstrated that they are working hard, taking their jobs seriously, and are learning that there are parts of the job they had not anticipated while on the campaign trail.
Their election was an historic shift in New Hampshire like that in the Legislature, and whether it was a blip or part of a trend will be important to the state, and, obviously, to the two members of Congress.
In the other house of Congress, New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators, both Republicans, split on the immigration issue. Judd Gregg sided with President Bush to allow debate on the bill to continue while John E. Sununu opposed it.
Sununu is up for re-election in 2008, and there is a lot of talk about his seat being one most coveted by the Democratic party nationally. How his position on immigration will affect the outcome is hard to determine, but he undoubtedly is watching events in Iraq and other major international and national issues in an attempt to avoid the same fate that Congressmen Charles Bass and Jeb Bradley experienced in 2006.
Whether Sununu will join Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana in calling for the beginning of troop withdrawal from Iraq or distance himself from the administration will be an interesting struggle to observe. nhbr
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.