Nashua Telegraph: Hassan tried for Medicaid deal, but it was destined to be losing effort
The New Hampshire Legislature special session is over for 2013, and there was little to show for it.
Some might question why Gov. Maggie Hassan would schedule a two-week meeting of lawmakers on expanding Medicaid without a bipartisan blueprint for how to get there.
But the first-term Democrat has to be given credit for making an effort to get it done.
Think what would have been said of Hassan had she acted in an opposite fashion and never called lawmakers back because there was no deal to vote on.
Health care providers and advocates for the poor would have roundly criticized her for giving up prematurely.
In retrospect, it was destined to be a losing effort.
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, faced his first significant legislative meeting since taking over and had to grapple with a GOP caucus in some state of turmoil.
To be sure, Morse had nearly all of the 13 Republicans onboard for his hybrid solution to the Medicaid dilemma, which would require all of those who are newly eligible to apply for private insurance under the Obama exchange.
But Bedford Republican Sen. Andy Sanborn started out as the lone hard holdout to any Medicaid solution, and ultimately, he brought fellow GOP Sens. Sharon Carson, of Londonderry, and Russell Prescott, of Exeter, with him.
Carson said she most objected to the so-called “bridge,” the waiting period for getting a federal waiver to compel those getting Medicaid to switch to private insurance.
“I was concerned it might have even been sustainable in only one year,” Carson said. “To me, it didn’t make any sense to start any of this until we had in hand all the waivers we were looking for.”
The week of inaction ended with all sides pledging to keep talking, but it’s hard to be optimistic about a Medicaid solution coming forward in the 2014 election.
That’s only possible if some compromise could emerge quickly and then be voted on by the end of January. Failing that, partisan politics will take over in this election-year meet, and they won’t even get as close then as they have been to reaching consensus.
Work behind the scenes
When it came to public showmanship, Medicaid supporters had it all over opponents.
During four public hearings on the topic, several hundred turned out to back New Hampshire taking advantage of this 100 percent, three-year reimbursement offer contained in the federal Affordable Care Act.
Fewer than a dozen opponents turned out.
But behind the scenes, fiscally conservative groups were busy reaching out to make the case, especially to GOP senators.
The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity spent a pretty penny during the final week flooding the telephone lines of key senators with members opposing any deal.
“We were hopeful that making communication at the right time would help make a difference,” state director Greg Moore said. “This was a very important issue to us.”
Likewise, groups such as Cornerstone Action and the Republican Liberty Caucus were also aggressive in reaching out to those they thought they could persuade to hold firm.
What about Hassan’s own aggressive posture, bringing her “Vote Yes for Medicaid” message into the heart of districts held by three GOP senators?
Did that backfire, as Morse suggested last week?
Hardly. Hassan kept the issue in the news by mounting this bid, and also galvanized her political base that might have been a bit disheartened by what had happened during the state budget debate.
After the fact, some liberals felt Hassan didn’t do enough to combat cuts that were contained in the Morse-written Senate budget. Ultimately, the Senate got most of what it wanted out of that two-year spending blueprint.
Hassan came across on this issue as someone willing to fight hard for a goal that had popular public support.
That’s never a losing strategy.
Support for journalist
While all of us are celebrating Thanksgiving with family and other loved ones, it might be a good time to reflect on one New Hampshire-related family that isn’t united.
U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., released letters at week’s end to mark the one-year anniversary of when journalist James Foley disappeared in Syria.
The two wrote Secretary of State John Kerry and FBI Director James Comey, urging both to continue to bring up Foley’s fate in any negotiations with officials in Syria over the coming weeks.
“Our thoughts are with the Foley family today, and we continue to pray that James will be found and brought safely home,” the senators wrote.
“As we mark one year since James’ disappearance, we urge the State Department and the FBI to redouble their efforts to find James and secure his release. We will continue to assist the Foley family and press federal officials to take every reasonable measure to find James and bring him home.”
You only get one vote
Politically, we had a Halley’s Comet moment at week’s end.
A New Hampshire state prosecutor actually brought felony voter fraud charges.
Attorney General Joseph Foster confirmed that after a one-year investigation, it was charging Lorin Schneider Jr., of Carver, Mass., with wrongful voting in the presidential election on Nov. 6, 2012.
Schneider claimed residence in Ward 9 in Manchester even though the state’s investigation found he had been living in the Bay State for more than 20 years.
The charges carry a maximum prison term of seven years and a $4,000 fine.
Schneider is listed as the president of Vamtu Corp., which is located in his hometown, employing two in the sale of household audio and video equipment.
According to a Massachusetts voter list, Schneider is registered as a Democrat and voted in the last three presidential elections in that state, including on the same day he reportedly voted here, as well.
Seeking Burton’s post
The election isn’t even 2 weeks old, and already, the race to replace the late North Country icon Raymond Burton on the Executive Council is shaping up.
Thanks to legislative redistricting, the district is the second-friendliest in the state to Democrats. It’s behind only District 2, which Colin Van Ostern, of Concord, represents in central New Hampshire.
Grafton County Commissioner Michael Cryans jumped into the fray last week, a day after an even stronger contender, Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, decided to take a pass on running.
Cryans ran against Burton more than a decade ago and did fairly well, but like every other Democrat before him, lost to the moderate Republican.
At week’s end, The Telegraph first reported that former Grafton County Attorney Rick St. Hilaire was giving the race a serious look for the GOP nomination.
St. Hilaire not only has his own name recognition in the region, but his brother, Dan, served on the council before ceding the seat to Van Ostern by not seeking re-election in 2012.
Cryans and Rick St. Hilaire are friendly, so if this comes to pass, it won’t be a grudge match, but a tight contest between two proven, vote-getting candidates.
That’s probably just how Burton would have liked an election run to replace him.
But it’s hard to imagine the conservative base in the North Country is just going to take a pass and not try to promote someone for a slot that hasn’t come along in a quarter century.
The state GOP continues to struggle financially, but at least it’s able to pay the bills and keep the lights on.
In September, the party raised $17,102, but about two-thirds of that money came from the Republican National Committee, which came to the rescue with a check for $11,625.
Individual donors kicked in only $3,400. It came from the usual suspects, former Executive Director Wayne MacDonald and longtime campaign activist Kerry Marsh.
The GOP did end the month with $30,000 in the bank.
Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party said it took in $208,000 at its biggest fundraiser of the year, the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last weekend.
The issue that won’t die
An authority was set up to create a scheme for legally regulating expanded gambling, but last week, the group looked like one that was working to tee up the next casino bill in the 2014 session.
While the final report isn’t expected to explicitly call for a casino, there were plenty of sections in the draft that were friendly to casinos.
So many, in fact, were written in such an accommodating fashion that Foster registered his objection to the language.
There will surely be some alterations to the draft once the nine-person group meets Dec. 6.
But this report is shaping up as one that casino-supporting lawmakers such as Manchester Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro and Derry GOP Sen. Jim Rausch can easily run with as they pursue a casino bill next session.