On the Political Front: N.H. Senate's Upcoming Changing of the Guard

May 23, 2016

"On the Political Front" is our weekly check-in with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. 

It's committee of conference season at the State House, which means House and Senate negotiators will be meeting and reaching deals - or failing to reach deals - on a bunch of bills. I know predicting outcomes at this time of year is a dicey proposition, so let me ask you about something we do know for certain. At least six state Senators won’t be back next year because they aren’t seeking re-election. What do you make of that?

Well the number, which could grow before we are done, certainly has precedent. But the Senate will be losing some experienced hands. On the GOP side, Russell Prescott of Kingston, who hopes to win election to the Executive Council, has been in and out of the Senate since 2002. You know, he faced Maggie Hassan three times in his Senate runs and he won twice. David Boutin of Hooksett, meanwhile, got to the Senate via special election in 2009. He’s retiring; Jeanie Forrester, of Meredith, wants to be governor. Jerry Little will, in a few weeks, be banking commissioner. Boutin and Little’s districts are expected to be competitive come November.

Molly Kelly
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  The seats being vacated by Democrats: Molly Kelly represents Keene and surrounding towns; David Pierce represents the Upper Valley, Lebanon, Hanover. Both of those would seem less likely to swing.

I think that’s true, but it does depend on who runs. There could be crowded primaries, which can beget strange things.

One race where the primary has gotten a lot less crowded is the 1st Congressional District. At one point you had four candidates in the seeking the Republican nomination. Now it’s just incumbent Frank Guinta and Rich Ashooh.

Yes. They faced each other in 2010, the primary where Congressman Guinta’s campaign finance problems arose. That involved the sudden appearance of what Guinta claimed was a forgotten bank account, but what was later found by the FEC to be improper loans from his family. I think it’s fair to say that getting out of a primary in a head-to-head matchup against a guy who sits in the party’s mainstream could be tougher for Guinta than if Dan Innis and Pam Tucker remained in the race. The logic there being mostly arithmetic:  more candidates dilute whatever anti-Guinta vote may exist.

  Guinta’s polling suggests he’s pretty vulnerable, and Rich Ashooh, who worked for Warren Rudman, and was for years a BAE Systems executive, appears to be well-liked by plenty of Republicans.  

He is. He's more or less a by-the-book Republican who has worked as a lobbyist and who has the support of old-line Republicans like former executive councilors Ruth Griffin, and Ray Weiczorek, former House Speaker Doug Scamman. Is that helpful?  Maybe, maybe not. It’s been interesting to watch Congressman Guinta recast himself a bit post-fundraising scandal, and post the New Hampshire Union Leader calling him a liar, and Senator Kelly Ayotte, more or less suggesting he resign. Guinta has put his head down and toughed things out more effectively than might have been expected. And this has taken some unexpected turns. He and Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, for instance, have been working together a good deal on drug issues. And when Guinta gets asked about his campaign finance issues, he’s done a decent job of deflecting. The facts do remain the facts, though.

Frank Guinta
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  The Union Leader reported Sunday on newly released documents they obtained from the FEC via a right-to-know request. That report called into question Guinta’s version his dealings with the FEC.

It did. The report, while on the news pages, also seemed to indicate that the paper won’t be cutting Guinta any slack on the issue. What was new here was documentation that ran contrary to Guinta’s insistence that he had sought to resolve things with the FEC as fast as possible. The report claims his DC lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, had sought to push things off past the 2012 election. It obviously took a lot longer to settle up with the FEC, and according to emails, Mitchell sought to downplay that fact in any settlement agreement. And that may have been good lawyering on her part; the documents also show her services didn’t come cheap, by the way – almost $150,000 according to the documents in the Union Leader report. But, the big takeaway is that the overall picture of Guinta’s dealing with the FEC doesn’t square with what the Congressman told the public and the press, that he had wanted this issue resolved as soon as possible.