Cook On Concord: Strange things can, and do, happen in this world

The recent political drama created when Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester, a political activist and officeholder who has graced (or disgraced) each of the political parties and the independent designation, accused Raymond Buckley, vice chairman of the state Democratic Party, of unsubstantiated charges of child pornography, tested the bounds of political propriety and broke them.

Vaillancourt, who claimed to be defending the New Hampshire primary when he drove his political machine off the road, through the fence and over the cliff, claimed to have evidence that Buckley had possessed child pornography and had a tendency to child abuse.

Sending a letter to Governor Lynch, who wisely sent it to the attorney general’s office, Vaillancourt back-tracked quickly. Attorney General Kelly Ayotte conducted an investigation, the results of which came out the first week of March.

In a stunning editorial on Sunday, March 4, 2007, the New Hampshire Sunday News summed up the investigation as follows:

• “When questioned … his story changed entirely. He said he ‘never saw (Buckley) actually smuggling it in; (Buckley) just told me about it … I mean, I can’t say I know … for a fact.’”

• “Questioned by police, he said that, ‘well, he never discovered any such thing’ and ‘I can’t make those specific allegations.’”

“It was all a web of lies. And like most lies, Vaillancourt’s admittedly politically motivated allegations disintegrated under the pressure of a criminal investigation….”

• “What now? With the blessing of Governor John Lynch, Buckley ought to resume his campaign for the state Democratic party chairman … Buckley was viciously wronged, and he ought not suffer for it. Keeping him out of the race would grant Vaillancourt the victory he wanted.”

• “For their part, since Republicans cannot run Vaillancourt out of town on the noon train, as he deserves, they ought to demand his resignation from the House. Vaillancourt will never resign, of course. And so Republicans should see to it that he has a strong primary challenger next time around – and the party establishment must back that challenger. They cannot ever appear to condone Vaillancourt’s vile behavior, and silence will give that appearance.”

Vaillancourt and his cronies do not understand the bounds of politics, civil discourse or the fact that issues should dominate. All right-thinking Republicans and Democrats should make sure that they have no influence and no office.

While I have often disagreed with Buckley on issues and candidates, the treatment he received was despicable.

On March 6, Buckley announced he was re-entering the race for Democratic chair, former Representative Jim Craig suspended his candidacy, and it appears Buckley is headed for victory. If so, both he and new GOP Chair Fergus Cullen, can lead their parties to find the best candidates and debate ideas, the conduct in which politicians should engage.

(In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that my law firm represents Representative Buckley in a lawsuit brought by Joe Kelley Levasseur.)

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The Legislature sees various issues brought to the fore that appear to be one thing and may be another. In the last edition of New Hampshire Business Review, the small power generators who burn wood and produce power in various places around the state were highlighted.

Specially noted was the Bridgewater plant. Such plants already provide energy for 82,000 homes and are a benefit to the state’s wood industry. Existing contracts between the small plants and larger power companies have expired or will expire by 2008, so their future is uncertain, their advocates say.

Bills in the last legislative session and this seek to encourage generation of wood-burning energy and allow large energy generation projects by Public Service of New Hampshire, last year touted as a potential economic boon for Berlin.

Some years ago, the deregulation of energy in the Granite State provided that PSNH and other large energy companies would be sellers and resellers of energy and not have new generation capacity. By requesting generation capacity, PSNH would change that equation, critics and competitors claim. On the one hand, PSNH is one of the fine New Hampshire companies, major New Hampshire employer and its success and contributions to the community should be applauded after its troubles surrounding the Seabrook nuclear power plant some years ago. The forest industry and North Country need all the help they can get.

On the other hand, PSNH’s competitors and the small power producers claim that an attempt by it to build and operate new energy generation capacity would change the deal and the existing rules that apply to PSNH, competitors like Unitil, and the existing small generating companies.

While this is all very complex, and I do not claim to understand it in detail, watching the debate and listening to the arguments points out how complex relatively simple bills and advocacy can be. Is this one of those issues on which everyone is wrong and everyone is right? Certainly the participants would disagree with that! It does demonstrate the nature of issues facing New Hampshire legislators and the sophisticated knowledge they need to acquire to make the correct policy decisions.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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