NH Dems review record, ask for votes

NASHUA – Top legislative leaders and Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley touted results brought by the first Democratic takeover of the Legislature in more than 150 years in Nashua on Tuesday.

“Democrats have good reasons to be proud of the work that we have done for this state,” House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, said during a roundtable interview with a Telegraph reporter.

Work, the Democrats said, brought results on long-stalled measures affecting the economy, education, the environment and energy.

Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, said equally important was a behind-the-scenes shift in tone as legislative leaders and Gov. John Lynch hosted weekly meetings to stay together on top priorities.

“This kind of teamwork is something the likes of which we haven’t seen in Concord in a long time, and I think the results bear out that our efforts to better communicate were worth it,” Larsen said.

Buckley admitted this tour of the state’s critical voting blocs in the four months leading up to the Nov. 4 election are necessary because state issues have taken a back seat to the presidential campaign and federal issues dominating the U.S. Senate and two congressional races.

Also feeding that vacuum is the lack of a competitive challenge to Lynch, a two-term Democrat up against state Sen. Joseph Kenney, of Wakefield, who is underfinanced and not well-known, Buckley said.

Finally, adding to the anxiety is that this is the first election since lawmakers got rid of straight ticket voting, which allowed voters to cast a ballot for every candidate by making a single mark that states a political party preference.

“We are concerned that some voters will walk in and vote for (Democratic presidential nominee) Barack Obama, Governor Lynch, (U.S. Senate nominee) Jeanne Shaheen, a congressional candidate and then walk out,” Buckley said.

“Our Democrats holding legislative offices have an impressive record of accomplishment to tell,” Buckley said.

Republican State Chairman Fergus Cullen said the Democratic record is one of supporting a 17 percent increase in state spending and raising more than 20 taxes and fees to balance the current state budget.

Cullen said this led to Lynch scrambling to get the Legislature to approve two rounds of cuts and higher cigarette taxes to balance the plan as well as reports last week that Lynch may propose more cuts before the end of 2008.

“This spending spree came at exactly the time when New Hampshire families watching the decline in real estate values and increase in gas prices were becoming more cautious about their own spending at home,” Cullen said.

If Democrats keep control of the Legislature, it may be the first time ever in state history, and Cullen predicted it could lead to adoption of a broad-based sales or income tax to closing a future budget hole and paying for increased state aid to schools.

“When the broad-based taxers come here after they win this election, they will say, ‘Don’t blame us, the courts made us do it,’ ” Cullen said.

Buckley said Democratic leaders led by Lynch oppose income and sales taxes and this scare tactic won’t work.

“There is no evidence that Republican argument is gaining any traction,” Buckley said. “If the people of New Hampshire were buying what Republicans are selling, it would be reflected in slumping popularity for Governor Lynch and we’ve seen the exact opposite.”

Norelli and Larsen reminded that in the past two years, lawmakers adopted the first, court-ordered definition of an adequate education, raised the state’s minimum wage, adopted a business tax credit for research and development, created a permanent source of financing a popular land and building preservation program, raised the age when teens can legally drop out of school, reinvigorated a state job training program, set standards for the use of renewable energy and joined a 10-state initiative to reduce harmful emissions that contribute to global warming.

“The bottom line is if people don’t know what we have done in the Legislature, how can they know how important it is to send us back?” Norelli asked rhetorically.