DSCC - Concord Monitor: Exec Councilors "Reassured" Ayotte Would Fill Out Term

How firm a pledge?

Democratic Executive Councilor Bev Hollingworth of Hampton said she never asked Ayotte whether she meant to serve out the full term when she voted to reappoint her in March.

"It never entered my mind that she would be considering not staying," Hollingworth said. "I thought certainly she would be staying on. I'm sure (Gov. Lynch) asked. At least I'm pretty sure he asked what her intentions were."

Democratic Councilor Deb Pignatelli of Nashua said that Ayotte's potential departure "occurred to me, but then we were reassured that she intended to fill out her term."

She said she heard that from the governor, so she didn't ask about it at the public hearing.

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The Concord Monitor: Ayotte creates a buzz, But does the Palin comparison work?

Lauren R. Dorgan 7/12/09

Kelly Ayotte is looking to grab that rarest brass ring in New Hampshire politics. She announced last week that she's stepping down from her post as attorney general - where she's become arguably the most powerful Republican in state government - to explore a run for the U.S. Senate.

So far, Ayotte has had an charmed career: She was appointed attorney general by Republican Gov. Craig Benson and by the man who defeated Benson, Democrat John Lynch. Amid an ugly partisan brouhaha, she replaced Peter Heed, who now raves about her, and she was re-confirmed just this spring by a primarily Democratic Executive Council, whose members rave about her responsiveness and apolitical ways. Now, senior U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg is retiring and praising Ayotte as a potential successor.

Democrats apparently want Ayotte to know that her bipartisan skate is over. The state Democratic Party was fast to denounce her as a Sarah Palin-esque quitter, producing a web video featuring a montage of the soon-to-be-former Alaska governor and soon-to-be-former New Hampshire attorney general, calling Ayotte out for resigning months after her reconfirmation after, apparently, privately telling the governor she wouldn't.

That Palin-Ayotte campaign just might backfire. Editorial boards from the Nashua Telegraph to the Manchester Union Leader have panned it. The U-L cited the Republicans' line that Lynch, too, broke a pledge to Benson when he ran for governor a year after Benson had reappointed him as chairman of the board of the university system.

Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley responded to that last charge personally in a comment posted online on the U-L editorial. "It is absurd to even try to compare the full year later decision of John Lynch to resign from the volunteer post as a UNH trustee to the 16 weeks later decision of Ayotte to abandon her position as the full-time paid New Hampshire attorney general with a desk full of important cases pending," Buckley wrote.
For truly bipartisan defense of Ayotte, let's throw to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Arnie Arnesen, who says she's found the Ayotte-Palin campaign sexist. "They would never have said it if Kelly Ayotte was a boy," Arnesen says. "I think the party has to get out of their gender stereotyping and realize that not all girls are alike."

"Sarah represents such - oh God, she's a soap opera. And Kelly, she's not that," said Arnesen. "Sarah is unique, and she deserves to stay unique, because she's so quirky and I think, frankly, crazy."

Arnesen notes that New Hampshire is a state short on political stepping-stones, a place where Senate seats come open once in a generation. To her mind, politics is about seizing the opportunity while it's there. "We would all do it," she said. "Come on, ask (announced Democratic Senate candidate) Paul Hodes if he would do it!"

(None of this, Arnesen said, means she's a big Ayotte fan: She thinks Ayotte's never done much with her title but play it

safe - "basically knit one, purl two" - and she recommends public speaking lessons for the AG.)

If nothing else, the Palin-Ayotte comparison downplays the strangeness of what's gone on in Alaska. Here in the Granite State, Ayotte resigned her job in the hopes of getting a bigger one. Whether you think that's right or wrong, you have to allow that it's rational. Up there on the Last Frontier, they've had a governor say she's resigning mid-term so she can pass the ball and/or not float with dead fish - no, I have no idea what all these analogies mean, either.

Says political-watcher Dean Spiliotes: "At this point, the only real thing they have in common is gender and party ID." Ayotte's move is "a very standard progression, and to somehow equate that with the craziness that has surrounded Palin for the last year, I thought was sort of a stretch."

Sununu's role

Republican Party Chairman John H. Sununu says he's "very happy that (Ayotte's) in the process of coming to a final decision."

But, he says, his job is to recruit candidates, not squash primaries. "I do not want it to be the battle royale that we had between John Stephen and Jeb Bradley last time," he said, a mission he said he hopes to accomplish, as ever, through his "warmth and charm."

"Republicans should talk about what they bring in a positive way, what they bring to the office, and should point out the failings of the Democrats they want to run against," Sununu said.

Of his son former senator John E. Sununu, who recently announced that he's staying out of the 2010 mix, the elder Sununu says he's "earning a few tuitions" for now.

Bass's thinking

Former 2nd District congressman Charlie Bass said, yes, he's still pondering. "Kelly Ayotte has obviously served the state well, and I think it's good for the party and I think it's good for New Hampshire that she's considering a run for the Senate," he said. "I'm doing the same thing, though she's limiting herself to the Senate and I'm not."

More than one conservative pundit echoed to me the idea that if a lot of conservative Republicans enter the Senate primary, Bass will be increasingly tempted to get in.

I asked Bass if he had any idea of where Ayotte falls.

"I don't know where Kelly Ayotte is on the philosophical spectrum. I think she'll have an opportunity to define that," he said. "I've voted on every conceivable issue, probably two or three times."

Lamontagne, too

Ovide Lamontagne continues to weigh his run and expects to make a decision by "Labor Day, certainly by Christmas."

He, too, praised Ayotte for keeping her politics to herself. "She has tried and I think kept successfully kept her personal political views to herself," he said. "It would be very convenient for someone to exploit the office on political issues, which I don't think she has."

That was fast

Lynch didn't run down the clock on the medical marijuana bill, which went to the governor Friday morning. He had until Wednesday to sign or veto it. By Friday midday, it was vetoed.

Who was that again?

The recent UNH poll showed that Ayotte is the strongest potential Republican Senate candidate, followed by Bass. Nashua businessman Fred Tausch, the only potential candidate who's on the television and radio airwaves, brings up the rear, with 85 percent saying they don't know who he is.

But wait a minute - the UNH surveyors asked about "Nashua investor Frank Tausch."

In any event, he's got to work on name ID.

How firm a pledge?

Democratic Executive Councilor Bev Hollingworth of Hampton said she never asked Ayotte whether she meant to serve out the full term when she voted to reappoint her in March.

"It never entered my mind that she would be considering not staying," Hollingworth said. "I thought certainly she would be staying on. I'm sure (Gov. Lynch) asked. At least I'm pretty sure he asked what her intentions were."

Democratic Councilor Deb Pignatelli of Nashua said that Ayotte's potential departure "occurred to me, but then we were reassured that she intended to fill out her term."

She said she heard that from the governor, so she didn't ask about it at the public hearing.

A little clarity

Commissioner Nick Toumpas wrote a rather hair-raising letter to Health and Human Services employees last week about layoffs.

So far, according to Toumpas's letter, the 46 employees at the soon-to-be-closed Tobey School are the most clearly impacted; five were laid off last week and four others were reassigned to the Sununu Center or to the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.

Beyond that, to meet the budget, Toumpas wrote, the department needs to "reach and maintain a 10 percent vacancy rate," which equals 335 vacancies. As of last week, the department had just over 250 vacancies. "Hopefully, retirements and normal attrition will get us close to the 10 percent mark, and we will not have to resort to additional layoffs to achieve this reduction," Toumpas wrote.

Toumpas told employees that the department will have a resource center to help laid-off employees search for jobs, staffed by human resources which will have fax machines, computers and more.

"Even though we've known for some time these steps would be required as a result of this budget, it is still upsetting," Toumpas wrote. "I know personally that this will be a very difficult time for those who are losing their jobs and I want to thank them for their dedicated service and wish them each well as the future unfolds for them and their families; while working in the private sector, I too was laid off during an economic downturn. No matter how well I thought I had prepared, it was hard to accept."

Hodes's plan

Hodes announced last week that he's sponsoring a plan to offer tax credits to small businesses and their employees, a plan that can either stand alone or be folded into the mammoth health-care reform bill now being worked over in the Senate.

Funny he should be talking tax credits, because the discussion on how to pay for health care has revolved largely around taxing health-care benefits. Wouldn't that wind up as kind of a wash?

"I'm very sympathetic to the concerns of those who don't want to see health-care benefits taxed," said Hodes, who said he didn't think benefits won by unions over years of negotiations could be swept up with efforts to tax "gold-plated" health benefits.

For the record, Hodes says he doesn't know how much his plan costs - the Congressional Budget Office hasn't scored the bill - and doesn't have a specific plan to pay for it except for that it may be included in the broader health-care reform bill.