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Concord Monitor: Right-to-work backers, foes plan to rally

November 28, 2011 J

By Karen Langley – November 28, 2011

When the New Hampshire House convenes Wednesday, advocates for and against a high-profile labor bill plan to rally in case lawmakers finally attempt to override a veto by Gov. John Lynch.

The fate of the right-to-work bill, which would ban unions from collecting fees from non-members, has been a key political question at the State House ever since Lynch vetoed the legislation and House Speaker Bill O’Brien said he would muster the supermajority needed to make it law anyway. But a late May session date, which O’Brien had named for the override, came and went. Union activists have demonstrated on House session days ever since.

This week, conservative activists plan to show their support for the policy in a gathering Wednesday morning. The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a group aligned with the Tea Party, has asked supporters to meet at the State House to encourage a veto override. State director Corey Lewandowski said he has not been told O’Brien will call the vote. But with only one other House session date scheduled this year, he concluded the override could come up.

“I have no inside knowledge, but what I do know is the Speaker of the House has called a session on Nov. 30 and Dec. 14,” Lewandowski said. With state law allowing veto overrides only until the start of the official 2012 session, he said, “we’re kind of getting to the point where we’ve got a 1-in-3 chance it would happen that day.”

If his vote tallies are correct, a veto override will succeed only if several right-to-work opponents miss the Wednesday session.

“I don’t think there’s a whole bunch of surprises, based on voting history,” Lewandowski said. “My guess is right now the override vote is probably anywhere between two and five votes short.”

Union members will demonstrate too, said the leaders of two state labor groups. David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, said members will show their opposition to the policy. Lang said his group believes O’Brien has not swayed enough votes.

“We suspect the speaker doesn’t have the votes,” he said. “That’s why he won’t call it up.”

Diana Lacey, president of the State Employees’ Association, said she also has no evidence the numbers have shifted. But she said she suspects the House was called to meet Wednesday because lawmakers could be out of town for one of two national conferences of state legislators.

“We have no indication the votes have changed whatsoever,” Lacey said. “We think the date was strategically picked because there was a high likelihood that some veto-sustaining legislators would be away at a conference.”

She noted that lawmakers who support right-to-work could also attend the conferences.

State Rep. David Campbell, a Democrat from Nashua, had planned to be in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday for a National Conference of State Legislatures meeting, but he canceled the trip after the House was scheduled to meet on the same day. Campbell, who opposed right-to-work, along with all other voting House Democrats, said his caucus has remained alert for an override attempt at every meeting of the House.

“If he thinks he has the votes, he’ll bring it up. That’s his prerogative as speaker. If he doesn’t, he won’t,” Campbell said. “My bet would be he won’t, because I know the Democrats will probably show up in full force.”

House Minority Leader Terie Norelli, who is president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures, previously said she planned to change her travel plans to avoid missing the House meeting.

Aides to O’Brien did not respond to messages left Friday, but in the past, they and high-ranking Republican lawmakers have said O’Brien will call the vote at his discretion. The stated purpose of the Wednesday meeting is addressing the governor’s proposal for a constitutional amendment on education funding.

The House votes earlier this year on right-to-work show that supporters would need to pick up more than a dozen votes to override a veto. A vote in February fell 14 votes short of the two-thirds mark, and a May vote fell 19 votes short. Democrats were united in their opposition, so attention has fallen to Republicans who opposed the measure.

Interviews in recent weeks with many of those lawmakers suggest that most intend to vote the same way Wednesday. Several House Republicans who previously opposed right-to-work did say they had changed their minds. Those lawmakers included Rep. Debra DeSimone of Atkinson, Rep. Robert Luther of Laconia, Rep. Barry Palmer of Nashua, Rep. David Russell of Gilmanton and Rep. Karen Hutchinson of Londonderry. Hutchinson said she changed her mind this summer after learning more about the issue.

“I thought all these good people can’t be wrong,” she said. “I got a new appreciation for the right-to-work movement. I’ve always been for the worker, but apparently the non-right-to-work stance does not help the worker.”

Palmer said he had opposed right-to-work in part because of his own past union membership as a reporter and editor for the Union Leader newspaper. But he said he generally supports right-to-work and was dismayed by the tenor of union protests.

“I saw very unprofessional conduct of union members in the gallery during our vote,” Palmer said. “To listen to them yelling and screaming from the gallery I (thought), ‘Gee, this is really pretty tacky.’ ”

A few other House Republicans who opposed right-to-work said they may change their position but are not yet sure. Rep. Carolyn Gargasz of Hollis said she is undecided after receiving numerous comments from constituents who support right-to-work, and Rep. Alida Millham of Gilford said she is committed to attending the Wednesday session but does not know how she will vote.

“I go back and forth on it. What I told the leadership was I’m a question mark,” Millham said. “I could move a little bit if somebody gave me a good reason.”

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