SENATE PRESIDENT Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, last week helped keep alive a controversial bill to legalize online gambling.
The legislation (SB 104) attracted bipartisan support and opposition. Bradley’s vote made it 13-11 for the bill, which goes to the Senate Finance Committee for more review.
The state lottery estimates this expansion would raise $5 million in its first year, $20 million in the second and $30 million by the third year.
Senate Republicans broke 10-4 for the bill from Ways and Means Chairman Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton. Democrats were 7-3 against it.
GOP senators who opposed it were Sens. Denise Ricciardi of Bedford, Bill Gannon of Sandown, Daryl Abbas of Salem and Carrie Gendreau of Littleton.
Senate Democrats who broke from their pack to support it were Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, David Watters of Dover and Donovan Fenton of Keene.
Gannon warned this would cannibalize profits that the 16 charity casinos in the state collect in support of non-profit sponsors of their games.
“We are going to eat away at our charity money,” Gannon said, adding that “brick and mortar” casinos provide jobs and economic growth in their communities.
Lang said of six states that legalized this gambling, only New Jersey saw reduced revenue from gambling establishments, and that was because two casinos in that state closed in the interim.
“They didn’t lose money, they actually increased (overall gambling) revenue” in New Jersey, Lang said.
“Gaming seems to be one of those industries that is recession-proof.”
The only entity to publicly oppose this bill was Churchill Downs, through its lobbyist, former Senate President Peter Bragdon.
Churchill Downs owns the Chasers Poker Room and Casino in Salem, which hosts the most games to benefit charities in New Hampshire.
Under Lang’s bill, 35% of the net profits would go to support scholarships for students in the Community College System of New Hampshire, and the lottery would get about 10% to administer it.
Watters insisted this bill would “grow the pie” and help produce the skilled workforce of the future.
“We came to the fork of the road on casinos,” Watters said of the state’s failure to legalize large casinos, which then led to this explosion of small ones that benefit charities.
“On gaming, the cat is out of the bag, and guess what? We had kittens.”
NYT fawns over Sununu
Gov. Chris Sununu got the wet kiss treatment from the New York Times, which ran a flattering profile about his potential Republican candidacy for president in 2024.
“I’m conservative, I’m just not an extremist,” Sununu said. “Sometimes people confuse conservative with extremist.”
The 2,100-word piece by Matt Flegenheimer was headlined, “Chris Sununu Eyes the G.O.P.’s ‘Normal’ Lane in 2024. Does It Exist?”
“For now, his pre-candidacy — his role as a national player at all — represents an early experiment for the party, a real-time barometer for abortion politics, Republican media strategy and the durability of what he sees as a dead-end Trumpian campaign mentality in general elections,” the profile began.
Sununu took his shots at Donald Trump, at one point explaining how the former president seems impervious to scandals that would have taken down many other political figures by now.
“That’s Trump,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what lethality you think the poison comes at, it’s not going to kill him.”
Sununu sounded dismissive of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ penchant for going to war with the state and national press corps, which follows his every word while avoiding unscripted encounters.
“I would love to see what happens when he walks in here,” Sununu said over milkshakes at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester. “To sit down, to have a milkshake and just chill. I don’t know; I’ve never seen it.”
Twelve hours with the governor netted a new nugget: After graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sununu said he briefly tried his hand at film study in New York.
Sununu revealed that he wrote two unpublished screenplays, one about a European man falling in love in Boston (“Beacon and Mass Ave.”) and a script about Paul Revere’s ride from the British perspective.
“The real story of Paul Revere, for what it’s worth, is absolutely fascinating, what the British had to endure and people know he got caught and was at Lexington, the fact he was in the woods with the secret documents,” Sununu told reporters in his office last week.
“I think this would be great for the big screen. We’ll see if someone runs with it. Just remember: Chris Sununu copyright, 2023.”
Sununu promotes sister
Sununu nominated his sister, Catherine Sununu of Exeter, to another term on the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.
An interior decorator, she also has worked in the publishing and restaurant fields.
After winning his second term in late 2018 and before Democrats took back control of the council, Sununu first appointed her to the arts board to serve an unexpired term that ended on Nov. 22, 2021.
She remained in holdover status throughout Sununu’s reelection year.
The GOP-led council surely will grant her a five-year term, which because of the holdover period, will end in late November 2026.
Pappas: Late votes ‘bizarre’
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., who served on the Executive Council with Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, had been unaware Wheeler would cast votes on items at the conclusion of their business meetings.
“The whole thing sounds bizarre to me. What if three members of the council did that?” Pappas asked, suggesting this could then reverse outcomes at the five-person council table.
Pappas spoke to the caucus of House Democrats in the State House cafeteria Thursday morning.
A new member of the House Small Business Committee, Pappas said he’s looking forward to working on federal legislation to undergird the work of the Small Business Administration.
Michael Vlacich, a former aide to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is the SBA’s regional administrator.
“We have a great relationship with the SBA here in New England, but in other parts of the country they aren’t as effective,” Pappas said.
“These are really challenging, unprecedented times for businesses coming out of a pandemic and struggling with issues from inflation and supply chain to workforce shortages.”
Another judge opening
Superior Court Judge Diane Nicolosi, 64, of Concord, has announced plans to retire as a full-time judge on May 1.
Although she plans to retire before reaching 65, Nicolosi has been on the bench for 15 years, which qualifies her for a pension.
Last week, the campaign to raise the mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 75 easily cleared its first of two hurdles to get on the statewide ballot in 2024.
Retired Supreme Court Justice and State Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment (CACR 6).
“How many people in this room are over 70 and believe you are too old to conduct your legislative duties?” Lynn asked.
No one spoke against the amendment, which passed, 321-27.
The proposal needs a three-fifths vote in the state Senate and approval by two-thirds of state voters to become a reality.
Free State founder in race
Jason Sorens, one of the founders of the Free State Project in New Hampshire, said he’s fighting the anti-growth establishment to try to win a seat on the Amherst Planning Board.
In his first run for public office, Sorens is opposing incumbents Arnie Rosenblatt and Tom Quinn for two available three-year seats on the board. The election is March 14.
Sorens has long been a philosophical proponent of breaking down zoning and planning barriers to development. He opposes three proposed warrant articles that he says would further restrict development.
Last month and then in late November, the state Supreme Court ruled against the town’s actions in planning matters.
“The majority seem to want to stop all growth by any means necessary,” Sorens said.
The incumbents said Sorens’ actions on behalf of the Free State project were a legitimate issue and residents support the board’s efforts to block unfettered growth.
Sorens charged his critics have spread falsehoods about him, including that he had supported the town of Croydon’s move to dramatically cut its school budget as well as an attempt by GOP conservatives to take over the Gunstock Area Commission.
“I opposed both of those efforts,” Sorens said, pointing to statements he made on social media against the Croydon budget cut.
Holiday compromise falls
While House Republican and Democratic leaders tangled over education freedom accounts, minimum wage, energy tax credits and other issues, they agreed to abandon a compromise to turn Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day in New Hampshire (HB 180).
A House panel had overwhelmingly embraced the suggestion of Rep. Peter Petrigno, D-Milford, to change it to Italian Heritage Day, but that ran into a buzz saw of opposition, which included the coalition that supported the original bill.
Rather than make an attempt at reaching consensus, the House voted to table the bill, effectively killing it.
Mom-nibus bill ahead
On the state budget, it appears the Senate has put one big marker in the sand with its initial 24-0 vote for the so-called Mom-nibus Bill (SB 175), which expands Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and children.
Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, who has led this campaign, early on got House and Senate Democratic leaders to embrace it.
Ricciardi, the bill’s only GOP co-sponsor, worked behind the scenes to get her Senate Republican colleagues on board.
Last week, the House narrowly approved its own bill (HB 565) on one aspect of the package — extending postpartum coverage under Medicaid from two months to 12.
AFP targets NH delegation
Americans for Prosperity has launched a digital ad campaign against a Biden rule that would encourage retirement fund managers to invest in liberal, environmental, social and governance projects.
U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Pappas, D-N.H., are among the 16 House Democrats and five Senate Democrats targeted in these ads.
Bartlett given tribute
The Executive Council and Sununu honored former Senate President Bill Bartlett, R-Kingston, with a proclamation last week.
Bartlett, 93, attributed his accomplishments to the “dedication” of state employees throughout New Hampshire government.
Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, said after leaving the Legislature, governors from both parties tapped Bartlett to help manage troubled agencies.
Former Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, returned to the State House to witness the ceremony.
“I follow him around everywhere he goes,” Morse quipped.
At the close of the meeting, Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, paid homage to a third ex-Senate leader, Durham Republican Ed Dupont, who passed away last week.
“He was one of a kind,” Kenney said of Dupont, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1992 and went on to become one of the state’s highest-paid lobbyists.