By JOHN DiSTASO, News Editor
CONCORD — Republican Walt Havenstein, trying to pre-empt a likely challenge to his eligibility to run for governor, filed his own petition with the state Ballot Law Commission Wednesday asking it to declare that he meets the state constitution’s residency requirement of seven years in order to serve as chief executive.
State election officials believe the Havenstein petition is the first time a candidate for office pro-actively sought an advisory opinion or declaratory judgment supporting his eligibility. Until now, the BLC has addressed challenges by others to candidates’ eligibility.
His move does not preclude others, such as the Democratic Party or Havenstein Republican primary foe Andrew Hemingway, from filing their own petitions challenging his residency.
Havenstein, 64, announced that he asked the BLC for a declaratory judgment upholding his residency as he filed his candidacy for the state’s top office, promising to bring his business acumen and experience to bear on solving the state fiscal and economic issues.
Secretary of State William Gardner accepted the Havenstein candidacy filing, and Assistant Attorney General Steve LaBonte told the New Hampshire Journal the question at this point is whether the issue is “ripe.”
LaBonte pointed out that the law governing the BLC saysthe panel “shall hear and determine disputes arising over whether nomination papers or declarations of candidacy filed with the secretary of state conform with the law.”
As a result it remains unclear whether the BLC has the authority to act on Havenstein’s petition, or whether it must wait until a challenge is filed.
Ballot Law Commission Chairman Bradford Cook said the BLC is considering meeting before the end of June to review “all matters that have been filed before the commission” by that time.
State Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley, while not announcing that the party will challenge Havenstein’s candidacy, hinted at it saying, “We’re sure that New Hampshire citizens will want the opportunity to raise a number of key issues that aren’t likely to be included in Walt’s own self-challenge of his residency with the Ballot Law Commission.”
Havenstein, meanwhile, said his campaign theme is “economic growth and private sector job creation.” He will begin airing a television ad on Thursday, becoming the first candidate for governor to do so.
A fiscal conservative who is also pro-choice on abortion, Havenstein said he is hearing from Granite Staters concerns about “the rising costs of health care” and that “energy prices are too high. And we’re faced with economic stagnation.”
“I know I can help and I know we can do better,” said Havenstein, who said he is looking forward to “a fun time on the campaign trail. It ought to be a hoot.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan is scheduled to file her candidacy Thursday morning, while Havenstein’s GOP primary foe, Hemingway, is expected to file Thursday afternoon.
Known in the state Republican Party as an activist and a donor, Havenstein is making his first run for public office after being urged by the party “establishment” to do so. He is retired after heading BAE Systems, Inc., and later Scientific Applications International Corporation, leaving that firm in 2012.
Democrats have not only charged that Havenstein is ineligible to serve as governor because, they say, he declared a condominium in Maryland as his “principal residence” in order to receive a property and real estate transfer tax breaks in that state, but they also charge he was at least partially responsible for a scandal involving SAIC that began before he arrived but continued during his tenure.
The scandal involved CityTime, a contract to precisely track the hours worked by New York City employees. Authorities have said it cost New York taxpayers $600 million, but Havenstein has pointed out that SAIC made restitution to the city.
“I don’t feel responsible” for the SAIC scandal, he said, “but I do feel accountable. When you’re a leader you’re always accountable even if you inherit a bad situation. The first thing you’re accountable for is fixing it and I did that. And I fixed it in a way that minimized the impact first to our customers, second to our shareholders and third to our fellow colleagues at SAIC. And for that I make no apologies.
“We did exactly what we had to do in as quick a time as we could,” he said.
Havenstein said the defeat of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by a Tea Party challenger in Virginia on Tuesday shows “there is no guarantee in incumbency. And I like that.”
He said he is asking the BLC for clarification because waiting “just adds uncertainty and confusion as we go farther into the campaign. I don’t want to have people continue to throw those kinds of comments and ambiguity into the campaign process. So let’s get it resolved now so everybody is clear.
“I am 100 percent confident there is no issue with my eligibility,” he said. “Rather than wait for (his opponents’) frivolous complaint I’m going to go ahead and petition today to get clarification as quickly as I possibly can to put this to rest.
“I’ve lived here as a resident of this state for the past 15 years and in that 15 years I voted in New Hampshire and only in New Hampshire. And I’m a proud, proud resident of this great state.”
But NHDP chair Buckley said “The facts of Walt’s case are clear and haven’t changed: in order to receive the tax breaks he received, Maryland law required Havenstein to certify that his Maryland home was his principal residence, including for voting, paying taxes, driver’s license and car registration, which clearly makes him ineligible to run for state office under New Hampshire’s Constitution. The only alternative is that Havenstein asserts that he committed tax fraud in Maryland, which raises a whole other set of legal questions for him to answer.”
Havenstein’s 13-page petition, plus several supporting documents, filed with the BLC, written by attorney David Vicinanzo, says that Democrats have made “meritless and irresponsible allegations,” which, he said, “are designed to negatively impact Mr. Havenstein and his campaign and are designed primarily to mislead member of the public” about the candidate.
The petition says that Havenstein moved to Bedford in 1999 and then to Alton in 2004. It says he has voted in Alton, “and nowhere else,” since 2004 and that he always considered Alton his home and always returned, and intended to return, there.
The petition says that when he became chairman and CEO of BAE Systems, Inc., based in Maryland, in 2007, he purchased the condominium in Bethesda, Maryland, “and commuted home to Alton, New Hampshire on weekend, holidays and whenever else possible.”
It says that he did in fact qualify for and take a “recordation tax exemption” after declaring that he intended to occupy the residence for at least seven of the next 12 months immediately after the property was conveyed and that it is considered “a principal residence.”
He also qualified for and received a “Maryland homestead tax exemption on his condominium as his principal residence under Maryland law.”
But the petition says that while receiving these exemptions, Havenstein “did not change his domicile from New Hampshire to Maryland.
Rather Mr. Havenstein always considered New Hampshire to be his domicile since he moved to the state in 1999. His residence in Maryland was temporary while he completed his duties at BAE Systems, Inc., toward the end of a long and successful business career, after which he intended to reside full-tine at his domicile in Alton, New Hampshire.”
Havenstein also acknowledged that when he purchased an automobile in Maryland, he was required to register his vehicle in Maryland and to obtain a Maryland driver’s license.
The petition says that he “temporarily resided in Maryland for work,” but did not change his voter registration in Alton, was involved in civic organizations in the Granite State, paid property taxes in New Hampshire and filed federal income tax forms from Alton. He also received bank statements in Alton, kept a New Hampshire telephone number, and even kept his New Hampshire.
The petition also noted that he sold the Maryland condominium after leaving SAIC, which was based near the condominium in Virginia, and returned to Alton full-time. It says he “always intended his work situation in Maryland to be temporary.”