WEDNESDAY, JULY 9: O’BRIEN SPEAKS TO ‘WEDNESDAY MEETING.’ Former New Hampshire House speaker Bill O’Brien spoke today in Washington at the “Wednesday Meeting” of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, seeking support from fiscally conservative leaders to help him restore a conservative majority to the House this year.
O’Brien, who lost the speakership in 2012 after Democrats won a majority in the House, has announced he will again run for speaker if Republicans regain the majority. Also announcing runs for speaker are Republican leader and former speaker Gene Chandler, Republican Rep. Laurie Sanborn, as well as the current Democratic House Majority Leader, Steve Shurtleff. Current speaker Terie Norelli has announced she will not seek reelection to the House.
O’Brien said Wednesday he has spoken to the group a handful of times in the past. The Wednesday Meeting series was launched in 1993 by ATR founder and president Grover Norquist and has long been one of the most significant regular events in Washington conservative political organizing.
“I’m down here (in Washington) for reasons everyone would expect,” he said. “I wanted to talk about the opportunity we have in New Hampshire, where we now have a budget with an 11 percent spending increase. We do need a Republican House and not a governor that supported a gas tax increase.”
He said he wanted to get ideas from the conservative leaders in the room.
O’Brien also talked about the House Victory Committee PAC , which he heads and, he said, “is trying to raise funds that could be made available to Republican candidates who are interested in getting out the message of job growth and increasing the strength of the state economy by limiting state spending.”
Sources said O’Brien also spoke highly of former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, who is running in a Republican U.S. Senate primary. He also touched on the status of the GOP primary for governor.
O’Brien, however, told the Journal he is not a “political savant,” and is focused on the issues, which he said, include “the unfunded public employee pension problem and looking at the devastating effects of Medicaid expansion and Obamacare on New Hampshire.”
(Earlier Granite Reports follow.)
SATURDAY, JULY 5: THE ‘HOBBY LOBBY’ DECISION. In New Hampshire, a state with its own libertarian (note the small “l”) bent, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the so-called Hobby Lobby case will cut both ways as the election moves closer.
While abortion is often subject to debate here, the issue of contraceptive coverage was thought to be settled. New Hampshire has a 15-year-old state law that requires employers to cover contraceptive services.
Supporters of that law now fear that it may be challenged as a result of the Hobby Lobby decision.
From a political standpoint, the issue – and the GOP candidates’ reactions to it – will not help their efforts to close the gender gap.
When we get to the fall, the Democratic Party will certainly not let anyone forget that candidates Walt Havenstein and Scott Brown, while declaring themselves to be pro-choice, supported the 5-4 decision, which said that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. The ruling meant that corporations owned by religious families cannot be forced to pay for some contraception coverage for their women workers.
Although the conservative majority said the decision was narrowly focused, applying only to “closely-held” for-profit corporations that operate on religious principles, the dissent said the opposite – that the ruling could apply to all corporations and to countless laws.
Brown and Havenstein tried to walk a fine line.
“Scott Brown supports women’s health care and access to contraception, but by injecting government into every aspect of our lives, Obamacare threatens all our freedoms. The best solution is to repeal it,” said campaign spokesman Elizabeth Guyton early in the week.
On Wednesday, Brown, on appearing on WXL radio’s “New Hampshire Now” with Chris Ryan (link), reitereated that he has “always supported women’s health care and access to contraception, but by injecting government into every aspect of our lives, Obamacare threatens our freedoms.
“I’ve supported in the past and will continue to support the right of people of faith to practice their faith. And even though that may be out of touch with social opinion, it’s a narrowly drawn case.” He said that Hobby Lobby “is still providing I believe 16 contraceptive opportunities for women to get that care and coverage. There are four that they objected to.”
Brown, as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, co-sponsored the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to opt out of covering birth control if the contraceptive coverage was at odds with their religious or moral beliefs. The measure failed in the Senate.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, expressing disappointment in the decision, launched a petition on her campaign web site blasting Brown for a “dishonest” statement on the decision and pointing out his support for the Blunt Amendment. Her campaign organized a roundtable after the decision at which women, including Shaheen criticized it – and Brown.
Shaheen told the Concord Monitor, “I think that distinction will be clear to women throughout this campaign.”
Havenstein, who, like Brown, describes himself as pro-choice, said he supports “women’s access to health care,” but said the decision “has exposed one of Obamacare’s fundamental flaws, which is that it imposes a one size fits all answer to every circumstance.”
The state Democratic Party said the statement showed Havenstein “can’t be trusted on women’s health issues.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan, on her official state web site, called the ruling disappointing but said, “I’m optimistic that employers will continue providing coverage for family planning services because it’s the right thing to do for workers, it will help businesses attract high-quality employees, and it will strengthen the economic security of working families.”
But in a campaign email, she expressed outrage: “Like any woman in America right now, I am absolutely shocked by the Supreme Court’s decision to side with big, conservative corporate interests and deny women access to birth control.”
Lining up in favor of the majority opinion were all of the other Republicans running for top offices – except one.
Candidate for governor Andrew Hemingway said, “(T)he court sided with the Constitution, not a corporation,” and “this ruling does not deny anyone access to anything. It simply says the government can’t force someone to do something against his or her religious beliefs.”
Senate candidate Bob Smith said, “The Supreme Court put freedom of religion above reproductive freedom and I applaud the Justices. Companies cannot be forced to offer insurance coverage for certain birth control methods they equate with abortion. This is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Second District U.S. House candidate Gary Lambert called it “a victory for religious freedom.
Marilinda Garcia, the lone Republican woman running for a top office this year, supported the majority decision “to defend religious liberty and not force Americans to comply with government rule-making authority when doing so violates the First Amendment.”
This prompted criticism from the NHDP, which said Garcia is “wildly out of touch” on women’s health issues and that she “has a disturbing inclination to side against progress for women at every turn.”
Garcia responded, “It is time that (U.S. Rep.) Ann Kuster and her Liberal allies stop saying that women have to act or think a certain way in order to be women.”
(By the way, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who’s not up for reelection until 2016, also backed the decision, saying, “Americans shouldn’t be forced to comply with government mandates that violate core principles of their faith. This case is fundamentally a matter of religious freedom, and this ruling affirms Americans’ religious liberties as protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”)
First District U.S. House candidate Frank Guinta said the court “correctly affirmed a central tenet of the First Amendment, that the federal government cannot coerce an individual to violate their religious beliefs.
Guinta added, “The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously against the Obama Administration 13 times since 2012, putting a check on an increasingly bloated bureaucracy that has run amok on Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter’s watch. I will continue to focus on limiting the reach and excesses of government in order to put Granite Staters back to work.”
Alone in silence was the other 1st District GOP candidate, Dan Innis, whose campaign adviser said he had no statement. When we followed up by asking if he WOULD have a statement, we received no response. Innis has described himself as pro-choice.
As expected, Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter called the decision “incredibly disappointing” on an issue that “was seemingly settled decades ago, and most companies and institutions had been offering birth control coverage as part of a health care package without controversy.
“This decision will only make some women’s lives even more difficult, and leaves me wondering what’s next from this activist Supreme Court.”
Kuster posted on Twitter: “Hobby Lobby decision puts bosses’ religious beliefs before workers’ access to healthcare.”
What’s it all mean? Possibly trouble for the GOP if access to birth control is stressed, as expected, by the Democrats.
The Affordable Care Act, overall, may not be popular in New Hampshire, but there has never been – at least in this state – any overwhelming outrage expressed over the contraception provision or the state’s own contraception law.
The reactions to this decision could well broaden the gender gap, and make it more difficult for the GOP in what so far has been generally shaping up as a GOP year.
As Jess McIntosh, communications director at EMILY’s List wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, “The gender gap favoring Democrats has widened as access to birth control has grown as a political issue. The 2014 midterm map favors Republicans, but this issue in particular does not.”
THE FEDERAL GAS TAX. Curious that in the same week the state gas tax rose by 4 cents-a-gallon, Shaheen spent time talking about the need for infrastructure improvement and seemed to have changed her opinion on the need for a hike in the federal gas tax.
The issue, of course, is that the federal highway trust fund is going broke and so without some action, the extra money being raised now by the will still be far short of what is necessary to finish work on Interstate 93 between Manchester and Salem.
Early in June, Shaheen told the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, meeting in Portsmouth, that the federal government should take a range of steps to beef up infrastructure funding. According to the Portsmouth Herald, she included raising the federal gas tax in the list.
But Tuesday, she said no, that a federal gas tax is not acceptable to her.
ANDREW FEATURED. GOP candidate for governor Andrew Hemingway was featured this week in Real Clear Politics as the self-described “first millennial to run for governor in the country.”
(John DiStaso is news editor of the New Hampshire Journal and the most experienced political columnist/reporter in New Hampshire. Watch for updates of his Granite Reports column as news breaks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @jdistaso.)