Derry, Windham and Hampstead are electing a new state senator next month. On the ballot are Democrat Kristi St. Laurent – local Dem town committee chair, planning board member, owner of a Facebook page nearly issue-free except to say she likes teachers’ unions and dislikes right-to-work – and Republican Regina Birdsell. Regina’s a two-term state rep from Hampstead. I’ve seen her in action at the State House. I hope she gets to come back as a senator.
A few things you ought to know about Regina:
She supported the language of Griffin’s Law as it was introduced – a genuine fetal homicide bill.
She voted against the buffer zone and its attempt to nullify the First Amendment
She voted yes on parental notification, yes on the partial-birth abortion ban, yes on death penalty repeal.
Her opponent? No record on “buffering” the First Amendment, parental involvement, or late-term abortion.
Regina’s campaign web site: http://reginabirdsell.com/
Kathy Rago was a state rep who did her town of Franklin proud. I saw her in action at the State House: a woman with a calm manner who did her homework before speaking up about bills. While in the House, she served on the high-profile Education Committee. She declined to run for re-election in 2012, opting to devote her time to the Network for Educational Opportunity, a scholarship administration organization that fosters school choice for families with students in grades K-12.
She’s back in the political arena in 2014. She’s running for New Hampshire state senate as a Republican, taking on incumbent Democratic state senator and buffer-zone supporter Andrew Hosmer in district 7. In addition to Kathy’s town of Franklin and Hosmer’s city of Laconia, the district also includes Andover, Belmont, Boscawen, Canterbury, Gilford, Northfield, Salisbury and Webster.
What made her decide to go back to politics? “Realizing no one was looking out for taxpayers. Watching our economy stagnate, with no end in sight – watching the New Hampshire Advantage slipping away. Watching the Democrat majority continue to diminish our liberties as they grow government power, continue to overspend and then turn around and raise our taxes to cover their mismanagement of our economy. I could no longer just watch.”
Kathy has lived in Franklin with her family for 15 years. She and her husband have three kids, two of whom are in college and the youngest of whom is at home. “My youngest is in special education in a public charter school – school choice, you know.”
School choice is a high priority for her. Her work with NEO has included support for New Hampshire’s education tax credit law, which the state Supreme Court refused to throw out earlier this year. “The Court just ruled in our favor, so we are moving forward to reach out to more families.” She’s glad to be part of the effort “to change the climate for school choice.”
“I love my job [with NEO]. I became interested in school choice because of my children’s need for options and realizing, while sitting on the House Education Committee, how few options were available to lower income families.” She says she also knew “how it felt to be stuck due to finances in trying to provide the best education for [our] child.”
One of her achievements as a state representative was passage of a House resolution praising the work of pregnancy care centers. “I had folks from CareNet in Plymouth contact me and [ask] me to sponsor a resolution, which I gladly did. I then reached out to other representatives and senator I knew were pro-life to sponsor with me.” She’s seen firsthand the failure of other bills touching on the right to life, including a Women’s Right to Know bill. “It is perplexing to me why anyone would not want the same regulations that apply to any outpatient facility for minor procedures to apply to abortion providers. We have to do a better job of explaining why it is a safety issue.”
Would she have a to-do list in the Senate? “Everything I can to jumpstart our economy. Look at lowering business tax rate; reducing burdensome regulations – for example, taking a close look at occupational licensing which is a barrier to entry in the job market. Prevent wasteful spending.” She also wants to look at energy costs and how to reduce them. She says that making New Hampshire more “open for business” so more jobs are available for everyone, especially New Hampshire college graduates.
Ask Kathy what she likes about her district, and her enthusiasm shines through. “I love central New Hampshire! There is so much beauty all around. I love Webster Lake, and go kayaking in it quite often. I love how Soulfest comes to the area every year. We have Meadowbrook Pavilion, beautiful Weirs Beach, and wonderful walking and hiking trails, just to name a few things.”
For more information on Kathy Rago’s campaign and how to support it, go to her web site (www.kathy4nh.com) and Facebook page.
Gary Daniels is one of four Republicans vying for the nomination in District 11. This is an open seat, most recently held by Sen. Peter Bragdon (R-Milford).
At various times, Milford voters have entrusted Gary Daniels with the offices of selectman, school board member, school district moderator, and – for eighteen years – state representative. What have we here? A career politician?
“I’ve been called a career politician. I guess if $1800 before taxes is a career, then I’m probably not very good at choosing careers.” What Daniels could have said, but didn’t, is that the voters seem to have chosen the work for him. He’ll be on the ballot again in September, this time for state Senate in a district spanning Wilton, Milford, Amherst and Merrimack.
Let me also mention that he has a pro-life voting record going back years. I served with him a some years ago on the board of the state’s oldest pro-life organization.
Deciding to run, and what “establishment” means
Why the Senate? Gary told me he decided to explore the race when retiring Sen. Peter Bragdon had to recuse himself from this year’s Medicaid expansion vote, citing a conflict of interest arising from his job with HealthTrust. “There was uncertainty over whether this district would have representation when it came to Medicaid expansion. That’s when I seriously started thinking about it. I jumped in when Peter announced he wasn’t going to run [for re-election].”
One of his opponents in the primary recently called Gary an “establishment” candidate. I asked Gary about that. “Before you go calling people ‘establishment,’ don’t just look at how long they’ve been there. Look at their voting record. Mine has been consistent for eighteen years. My first year up there, I got dragged into the back room by the [GOP] majority whip, and he started in on ‘you have one of the worst voting records among Republicans for supporting leadership.’ I simply said ‘when leadership starts acting like Republicans, then you’ll have my vote.’ That mindset has continued for eighteen years.”
New Hampshire House GOP leadership eventually got the message. When Republicans last held the House majority, Gary was named chairman of the Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services committee. (With Democrats in charge, he’s the ranking Republican.) That’s a high-profile, high-pressure job, with right-to-work legislation drawing large crowds and controversy whenever it’s introduced. Gary’s temperament and attitude in the role earned him respect “I had [the head of a prominent New Hampshire union] come up to me and say ‘we’re never going to agree on this, but I do respect the way you run the hearing. You’re very fair, you give people a chance to talk.'” Gary paused for a moment before adding, “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
He knows how to work on a team where not everyone has his kind of temperament. I asked him about former Speaker Bill O’Brien, who led the GOP majority in 2011-12. “People criticized him for being harsh. I don’t see that he was any harsher than Terie Norelli has been. Remember, we had an $800,000,000 [budget] hole going into 2011-2012, and you’re not going to make friends when you’re filling that hole. But the thing is, we filled that hole and we didn’t raise your taxes.”
Representing more than one town would not be new to him. His House seat is a floterial district, covering the towns of Hollis, Milford, Mont Vernon & New Boston. “Really, what I’m doing [if I win] is changing from Rt. 13 to Rt. 101.” A testimonial on the campaign web site from a Mont Vernon resident notes that even though Mont Vernon is the smallest town in Gary’s House district, Gary “gave Mont Vernon the same attention he gave the largest towns.”
Gary was pro-life long before he was elected to office, and he has a long pro-life voting record. Most recently, he opposed the buffer zone and supported Griffin’s Law.
Referring to Maureen Mooney, the other district 11 candidate with a state voting record, “Maureen’s and my pro-life vote is probably the same. I think she’s been pretty staunch on that. I think the biggest thing that separates us is experience. I hope that people can see the value.”
Has he seen any shift over the years in how representatives treat the life issues? Yes. “We will fight for social issues on constitutional grounds, as in pro-life. We’re talking about a human being here, and government’s purpose is to protect people. And we’ve actually made progress on that front. When you think back to my early days in the legislature, we were fighting about whether [the preborn child] was a human being or not. We don’t hear so much of that these days.”
If there’s a shift in House and Senate membership after this year’s election, will the buffer zone law be repealed, if it’s not tossed out by the courts? Probably, said Gary. “Constitutional grounds. That would be something I would highly expect to pass.” What about parental notification? Is that safe, or will someone try to repeal it? “Anyone can put in a bill. If Republicans are in a majority, I’d say that any attempts [at parental-notification repeal] would probably fail.”
Where has the local pro-life movement missed some opportunities? Gary described a recent email he received from a pro-life activist. “Yes. I was former chair of New Hampshire Right to Life. That’s why I got a little bit perturbed this year when I got an email, saying something like ‘you have been identified as being someone who is not pro-life.'” Gary traced the accusation back through a Facebook post to a blog post to a comment on that blog. “You run into something like that once in awhile.” He shook his head and said of the commenter who sparked the email, “You don’t stop to think that you’re insulting the people who have stood by you for years and years.” He knows less-experienced colleagues who have voted pro-life on bills but then received criticism from pro-life activists anyway. “If you don’t have a strong person there, and they might have put themselves out to support a bill and then they get a thing that says ‘I understand you’re not pro-life,’ they say ‘you know what? If that’s what you think, forget you.'”
“Sometimes it takes time to pass a bill,” he said, acknowledging that this can be frustrating for activists eager for progress.
Other Senate issues
Where does Gary think the state has unfinished business? Jobs. “If you don’t have work, then a lot of these other things like affordable health care don’t mean a whole lot, because it’s not a high enough priority and people go without.” He mentioned a recent survey on how children are faring in various states, and said that New Hampshire’s rank has dropped sharply year-over-year, “primarily because of children in poverty. If we have jobs for people, then maybe the children wouldn’t be living in poverty. But we can’t produce jobs when you have a mindset that business is evil. ”
He described a successful project from his time as chair of the Labor committee. “We were having people [come to the committee] who were facing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines because they didn’t do something right with worker’s compensation or something like that.” He suggested to the state’s commissioner of Labor that a “welcome packet” be created for owners of new businesses, with the state’s labor laws included on a CD. Business owners would have all the relevant information in one place, rather than having to figure out the law piecemeal. Since that program began, he said, “We haven’t had one person come back after with the same issues of non-compliance. It’s things like that where you can look back and say ‘I made a difference,’ whether it’s working with people or just helping with businesses.”
What else? “We need to come up with a New Hampshire solution for health care. That was one of the original intents in running for the seat, feeling that people needed a voice. And I felt it was a big enough issue that it needed to have attention. Education – this whole Common Core thing has to go away. I’m trying to bring education into the 21st century, and a lot of it ties into jobs and the economy.” He cited the state’s Building Aid program to school districts. “Enrollments are going down. Is there an opportunity to give building aid money to putting schools together with fiberoptic, creating virtual classrooms with students from around the state? Let the state start building the infrastructure that will make a 21st century classroom.”
His proudest legislative accomplishment is a Lyme disease law that he sponsored, passed without former Gov. John Lynch’s signature in 2011. “This was a segment of society that had been forgotten by the legislature, and in many ways are still forgotten by Health and Human Services. People were having to go out of state [for long-term antibiotic treatment] because one doctor would say ‘there’s no such thing as chronic Lyme disease,’ while another would say ‘chronic Lyme DOES exist and MAY be treatable with long-term antibiotics.’ The problem was that doctors around the country treating with long-term antibiotic therapy were being reported to their [state] boards of medicine, and having their license pulled, and people with Lyme would lose a doctor. So we were trying to be proactive.” Passing the New Hampshire law was painstaking, gradual work. “This is where legislative experience comes in. It was a process. A lot of constituent work. I worked with people who had Lyme disease. I let the Lyme patients be the advocates. Two hundred of them showed up at the House hearing. No way could anyone walk out of that hearing thinking there’s no such thing as chronic Lyme.”
“If I get elected, something that should not be too confrontational is to take the educational requirements that a nurse must go through, and make at least an hour or two of those about Lyme disease. We have one of the highest concentrations of the disease right here in New Hampshire.”
“If I’m not up there, then maybe there won’t be someone up there to represent my views. So at least while I’m up there, I can fight for the things that I feel are right, the things that my constituents elected me to fight for.”
Maureen Mooney is one of four Republicans vying for the nomination in District 11. This is an open seat, most recently held by Sen. Peter Bragdon (R-Milford).
Maureen Mooney showed me an envelope during our interview. “I happen to be on my way to mail my New Hampshire Right to Life personhood affirmation.” She pointed out the design on the stamp. “I purposely put an Equality stamp on the envelope, because I’m working for equality for our unborn.”
No shock there. Maureen used to be one of my state representatives, elected in 2002 and serving three terms. I know she voted pro-life. Since her terms in office, she’s been an active volunteer in the New Hampshire Republican party, and she currently co-chairs U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown’s Women for Brown coalition. Now, she’d like to return to Concord, this time to the Senate. She has entered one of the state’s most competitive primaries. So what sets her apart from a crowded field?
Why she’s running
“I decided to run in June. When I heard that the seat had opened up, I spent an entire month talking with people throughout district 11 for their feedback on my being a candidate, the views of this district, and whether or not I could represent them. I wanted to really see if it was a good fit and if my candidacy was needed and I came to the conclusion Yes.” She added that her decision’s been reaffirmed by the people who agreed to be on her steering committee. It’s a broad-based group, and she adds “I’m very proud of that.”
She mentioned her opponents by name only to speak respectfully of them. Of Gary Daniels, for example: “He should be very proud of his record because it’s outstanding.” Nevertheless, she yields to no one. She noted that unlike two of her opponents, she has never lost a Senate race. “I feel I bring a fresh perspective to the conservative cause. And that’s very important. In addition to that, I’ll be a full-time senator. I do not hold local office, and so I can be fully committed to all the commitments that the job entails. I look forward to that.”
Maureen spoke about supporting Sen. Peter Bragdon before his retirement from the State House. “I backed him very strongly because I knew he’d be an effective advocate. And that’s what I can emulate. I want to say this too: Peter Bragdon, towards the end of his legislative career, found himself in a position to have to excuse himself [from some votes] because of his job [as executive director of HealthTrust]. I won’t have that problem. I don’t anticipate any conflicts of interest.”
She’s confident her experience will pay dividends for her district. “I served with almost half [of the incumbent Senators] when I was in the House. They were colleagues of mine. I have the familiarity with who’s up there now and the ability to advocate for the principles that this district stands for.”
“I’m pro-life,” she reminded me. “Always have been. Always will be. I put that right up on my web site.”
She was glad to see a parental notification law finally get enacted after her House terms. What would she do as a Senator if a repeal effort came up? “I would build [a coalition against repeal] by pointing to the success other states have had with that law. The success that New Hampshire’s had with the law. The fact that there are so many that support it. Again we’d get into – and this came up when I was up there in the initial debate – how many things out there require parental notification. I’ll never forget a representative standing up during the debate, holding up a paper for a coloring contest that some organization was sponsoring, saying that parental notification was required for a minor to enter the contest. These types of things are very important to rally support.”
She calls the New Hampshire buffer zone law “terrible. It’s a freedom of speech issue on public property. People who have been affected by this buffer zone are peaceful advocates. I know that some advocates pray and silently make their statement. So there’s no threat.” She called the bill an “overreaction” by abortion providers. “What are they afraid of? It’s an attempt to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s part of a very strong pro-choice agenda.”
How about accusations that the GOP is waging war on women? “To me, that is real clever Democratic slogan. It’s catchy, and liberals take an incredible amount of pride in being able to throw it around. But what does it really mean? I’m not quite sure. Here I am, a Republican woman, pro-life, running for the state Senate. I don’t see a war on women at all. They’re trying to label issues as women-specific. I see a lot of issues applying to everybody. For example, getting jobs into the state. That’s not a gender-specific issue. Getting tuitions to be lower, that’s another issue. So I think it’s an attempt to label certain issues as gender-specific, and I’m looking for the greater good for society as a whole.”
Getting to know her district
Maureen Mooney has lived in Merrimack for more than twenty years. District 11 includes not only Merrimack, but Milford, Wilton, and Amherst as well. That’s a lot of new ground for her. How’s she doing? “I’ve been going door-to-door, making phone calls into the district. I’ve been going to events. I’m meeting activists and meeting people who aren’t necessarily involved in politics but who vote. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very enjoyable.”
She knows that Senate races can be expensive. “You have to have the ability to raise funds, which so far I’ve been very successful in doing, and that’s very important not only for the primary but for the general.” She expects Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and the Democratic party to pour money into state Senate races. “Unless you’ve run for state Senate, you wouldn’t know just what a dramatic difference it is from running for state representative. Geography-wise, money-wise, and making contact.”
What are she looking forward to doing that she hasn’t done before? “Getting out there and meeting more and more people, really. Hearing peoples’ stories is something I always look forward to on the campaign trail. It’s the only way to know what the public is thinking. You spend too much time with Republican activists, you become insular, and it’s not always about that. It’s about getting what the voter feels.”
(First in a series of profiles of New Hampshire 2014 state senate candidates.)
Jane Cormier’s neighbors elected her to the state legislature in 2012. She earned the Republican nomination for the seat the hard way, defeating an incumbent. She did it as a political newcomer, in a year when many GOP candidates were clobbered. Not a conventional candidate, by any measure. Proudly pro-life, too.
This was no “stealth” candidate. Jane Cormier was (and is) right up front about who she is and what she believes. “Being outspoken, telling the truth, has no ‘R’ or ‘D’ attached,” she said to me when we spoke recently.
In her first year in office, she sponsored a bill to strengthen informed consent requirements for women seeking abortion. I was at the hearing and at the floor vote when she defended her bill, saying “this is about knowledge and information.” She learned that knowledge and information about abortion were not things that some of her colleagues wanted to encourage. This year, she was among the most committed legislative opponents of the buffer zone bill. First in committee and then in the floor debate, she urged her colleagues not to rush to pass a bill when the Supreme Court’s decision on the similar Massachusetts law was pending. Cormier’s concerns were vindicated when the Court threw out the Massachusetts law.
The 2014 campaign brings a change of scene and a new challenge for her. Business and family commitments recently prompted the Cormier family to move from Alton to Hooksett, and Jane has decided to take on incumbent state senator David Boutin in this year’s GOP primary. No Democrat is running, so unless a serious write-in campaign springs up, the primary will determine the next senator.
So how is she getting to know her new district? “Door to door. We’re working ’em all right now.” A tall order, in a district that includes Hooksett, Dunbarton, Bow and Candia as well as wards 1, 2 and 12 Manchester. “A lot of calling. I know I’m the new guy coming in. I’m not going to be afraid to talk to the voters. That’s the only way I can get my message out. It’s going to be an interesting race.”
Why she’s running
Cormier and Boutin both got the buffer zone and fetal homicide votes right this year, so the primary isn’t going to be about that. So why is she not just running, but running against an incumbent in a district that’s new to her?
“It’s all about a message. Wake up. Things are seldom what they seem, and more so in politics. Unless we pay attention to what’s being said, and verify what’s being said, we’re going to get good ol’ boy politicians.”
“This is about integrity,” she continued. She talked about some of Boutin’s votes. “All the gun groups came to the table for constitutional carry. He had said he would support it, and he’s the guy that stopped it from happening. Here’s a man that signed the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers pledge, and then he voted for the gas tax, a 23% increase. He talks about being
fiscally sound, and then voted for Medicaid expansion, which is going to end up causing an income tax – there is no way you can get around it. And how can you support more Medicaid when you know the health outcomes are worse for its users than not having insurance? We give people sub-par insurance and then pat ourselves on the back for it. There’s nothing charitable about it.”
Why she’s Republican
What does it mean to her to be Republican? “The platform is common-sense, liberties-based. I believe in that.” She wonders if some GOP candidates lost sight of that in 2012. “If we had coalesced around our platform, we would be winning. I love that platform. I am a Republican because of that platform.” She believes the party platform is the key to a constructive Republican primary. “Engage these folks [primary opponents] on where they stand with the party platform, or what we’ll get is Democrat Lite.”
Is she a Free Stater? “I am a Republican. When I first heard that Free Stater thing, I didn’t even know what it meant.” She and her husband have been in New Hampshire for more than 30 years, long before the libertarian Free State movement began. “One Republican called me a Free Stater who wants to burn things down until there’s no government left.” She
shakes her head as she recalls the accusation. “I told him I am a Republican who loves the platform.” She wonders why any Republican would use words like “Free Stater” and “teabagger” to label the party’s conservative base. “Libertarians try to pass themselves off as grassroots conservatives. They are not.”
I asked her what “grassroots” means to her. “Listening. You’re working for them.” She fears that’s an endangered attitude in the New Hampshire Senate.
Not afraid to debate
Jane Cormier doesn’t mince words, and some of her fellow Republicans aren’t sure what to make of that. “If you are assertive, you are branded as a bomb-thrower. I’ve been called that more than a few times. I am someone who’s trying to get back to the Founding documents.”
“A fellow Republican told me I was [annoying people]. And I said to him, when do we push back? If we have a situation where it’s plain and simple, what is being said is wrong, is untruthful, we are not supposed to address it? And if it’s not me, who? And on the life issue, when do we push back? You shouldn’t be afraid to address it. It’s part of the platform.” She spoke several times
in our conversation about the need to “take the debate to the Democrats” on issues. She prefers not to play defense, politically. On the buffer zone, for example, she’s “Avoid discussing the buffer zone in Manchester? Not a chance. I’m not saying that you stand on a soapbox and proselytize. That’s not correct, either. However, if we are afraid to debate, we’ve got nothing. Pack up
and go home.”
She’s not afraid to take a debate to fellow Republicans, either, when circumstances so warrant. When fellow GOP state representative Frederick Rice recently published a letter endorsing Sen. Nancy Stiles over her primary opponent, Cormier found much to dispute. From Granite Grok, here is the text of Rep. Rice’s and Rep. Cormier’s respective letters.
“I needed to challenge it” [the Rice letter]. She did so by writing her own letter, pointing to specific votes from Sen. Stiles: support for the gas tax increase, co-sponsoring the now-on-hold buffer zone law, support for Common Core educational standards. She wrapped up with “If you want a Democrat, you can vote for a Democrat. But, Republicans should expect their public servants to vote with AT LEAST with the larger planks in the platform. Stiles does not.”
Isn’t she afraid her letter will be used against her politically? No, she told me. “That will give us another opportunity to have the debate.”
“Reaching across the aisle does not mean giving up the farm.”
I asked her what she’s proudest of from her term in the House. “That I would stand in my principles, no matter how much somebody pushed back. My principles do not move. Reaching across the aisle does not mean giving up the farm.
“My job is to fight for the race and let God do the rest.”