In the midst of a scandal in the State House and political horse trading in the final legislative conference committees, the question many people are asking is: Why did Republicans, with supermajorities in both houses, throw Executive Councilor Dan St. Hilaire to the wolves?
As a redistricting year, which happens every 10 years after the census, and although they didn’t legally need to redistrict the Executive Council seats, Republican leaders decided they wanted to make three of the five districts as Republican as possible so that they are assured a majority on the Council for the next ten years until redistricting in 2022.
The House started the process creating a super Democrat district where St. Hilaire currently resides, which gave him an indication right off the bat that he was in trouble. The House passed that version of the bill and over it went to the Senate.
The Senate didn’t like the sprawling super Democrat district which started in Keene, went up to Claremont, over to Concord through Durham and down to Portsmouth. The House tried to include every top liberal area in the state and lump it into one district. But like most pieces of legislation coming from the House, the Senate didn’t like it and made changes.
However, the Senate changes made the one person mad in the state of New Hampshire you don’t want to make mad: the legendary Executive Councilor Ray Burton. Burton was furious that the Senate was removing most of Grafton County from his District where he is a County Commissioner and where he has very strong relationships. He immediately began lining up Senators and House members against the Senate plan in preparation for a likely Committee of Conference.
Then things got really interesting. Just before the House non-concurred with the Senate version, meaning it would officially go to a Committee of Conference, House leaders brought in a few of the Executive Councilors to brainstorm. This is when the House floated the idea of saving Dan St. Hilaire by carving wards 8, 9 and 10 into District 4 currently held by outgoing Councilor Ray Wieczorek. The House internally drew a map that included St. Hilaire in District 4, gave Burton everything he wanted, improved districts for Sununu and Wheeler, and preserved the super Democrat district thereby creating three solid Republican districts. Case closed and everyone is happy heading into the Committee of Conference, right?
No such luck for Dan St. Hilaire. The House stood strong but the Senate came back to the conference committee with a plan that generally gave Burton, Sununu and Wheeler what they wanted, but left St. Hilaire in the super Democrat district.
As has become typical in Concord, no one wants to take blame for dooming Dan St. Hilaire and making him the only casualty from the redistricting process in 2012. The Senate blames the House and the House blames the Senate. But the fact remains that the House had a written plan which carved St. Hilaire into a Republican district, and the Senate, led by Senators Nancy Stiles and Russell Prescott on the conference committee, made last minute changes that benefited Councilor Dave Wheeler and Chris Sununu.
Many sources tell us that current Senators who have an interest in a future campaign for executive council were actively involved in making Sununu’s district 3 the strongest of all 5. Republicans overheard Senator Nancy Stiles at the GOP dinner with Governor Huckabee on Wednesday night trying to convince St. Hilaire that District 2 really isn’t that bad and he should run. However, our quick analysis of the new District 2 indicates that it is so strongly Democrat that John Edwards could win if he were the Democratic nominee.
The bottom line is that St. Hilaire is out in the cold as summer heats up.
St. Hilaire is a rising star in the Republican Party and one who conservatives had begun rallying around given his controversial decision to deny state funding for Planned Parenthood. That decision brought him tremendous criticism from his local paper, the Concord Monitor, and liberal activists from his hometown began picketing him at the State House.
Dan St. Hilaire has been active in politics for a decade. He was elected Merrimack County Attorney in 2002 and served for three terms making a name for himself as a tough prosecutor and community leader. Dan then was elected to the Concord City Council at large representing the entire city. After running for Executive Council in 2008 and losing, St. Hilaire ran again in 2010 and beat incumbent John Shea handily.
For all intents and purposes, Dan St. Hilaire was the perfect Executive Councilor for conservative Republicans and no one will ever know who was truly responsible, or why, for ending St. Hilaire’s political career, for the time being at least. One thing is certain, the personal ambitions of the leaders in Concord are driving the agenda from top to bottom. And don’t get in their way or you’ll be run over by a Mack truck and you won’t even see the license plate.