On The Political Front: Possible 2016 U.S. Senate Matchup Already Heating Up

Mar 2, 2015

Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte

On The Political Front is our weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. This week, a possible 2016 U.S. Senate matchup is starting to heat up and a look at what's on top this week at the Statehouse.

The legislature’s back in this week, the presidential candidates keep coming, but let’s start with Governor Maggie Hassan. Is it US senate candidate Maggie Hassan?

Governor Hassan repeatedly says she’s focused on her duties in Concord, but plenty of people in both parties expect her to challenge U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte next year. And last week, Republicans – the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and Crossroads GPS,  a group affiliated with Karl Rove - both ran radio ads attacking her budget proposal. The RSCC ad seized on a particular detail of her budget proposal –the creation of a chief operating officer position – as proof that she was looking past her current job and towards Washington. The line of attack being that she wanted someone to make her job easier so she could focus on running for Senate. It ought to be noted that the COO job, which isn’t likely to be funded by the Legislature, was a recommendation of an efficiency commission, which thought it could save the state a bunch of money, possibly millions.

How weird is it for ads to be run against someone who’s not yet running?

It’s not terribly common but recall how Democrats treated Scott Brown before he announced he would challenge Jeanne Shaheen. And  Hassan is clearly the best chance state Democrats have to unseat Kelly Ayotte. One recent poll out from NBC showed Hassan beating Ayotte. That may be next to meaningless given how far we are from any election,  but consequential people in both parties are watching. And they both know that presidential years have lately been good for Democrats in New Hampshire. So it makes sense for Republicans not to take the possibility of Hassan running lightly. And whether she chooses to say or not the Governor is acting like someone who could run --- relentlessly on message, eager to be seen as a comer in national Democratic circles. Monday, for instance  she’s making speeches in New York and Washington. At noon she’ll be giving a  lecture at the University Club in Manhattan, “NY’s premier social club," per its website. At 7 she’ll be in DC on a panel at an EMILYS list 30th anniversary celebration. Neither event is open to the press, so who knows what we’ll get to know about she says. The Governor has said she’ll signal her plans for 2016 this summer, but in some sense her schedule speaks for itself.

You mention the governor being on message. A column in Sunday's Concord Monitor criticized the governor for her stance on the right to know law. Basically for being retentive.

Yes. For some time, the Monitor’s been seeking documents from the governor’s efficiency commission, and any plans agency heads proposed to save money. The governor's office has repeatedly denied those requests, citing executive privilege and arguing such proposals were drafts and thus exempt from disclosure any way.  More broadly, the governor’s view is that the right to know law simply doesn’t apply to the governor’s office. The AG’s office agrees with her, by the way. Both do acknowledge, though the constitutional duty that the public’s access to “governmental proceedings and record shall not be unreasonably restricted.”  Given the Governor’s stance, the only way to really test this would be to sue.

In the meantime, Republicans in the Senate have introduced a bill to make the governor’s office subject to the right to know law.

Yes, it’s sponsored by 9 of the 14 GOP senators. So it has a good change of getting out of the Senate.  It’s in the judiciary committee right now. The governor  has said she sees the bill as have constitutional issues. We’ll see where it goes.

Before you go, the Legislature is back from vacation. Any major bills up for votes this week?

Yes. The Senate will vote on two bills GOP leaders call their top priorities –the reductions in the rates of two major business taxes, the business enterprise tax and the business profits tax. Backers see cutting these taxes as key to making the state more competitive; Democrats, including the governor, meanwhile, think lowering the taxes will make it harder to fund a budget. In the House, there’s nothing quite so high profile, but one bill headed to the floor this week, would add more qualifying conditions to the state’s yet to be implemented medical marijuana law – epilepsy, lupus, Parkinson disease and dementia.