From the VAURA Patriot – Alex Talcott’s Political Notebook

Alex Talcott, Vaura Consulting* Go to hell or off fiscal cliff?: ABC News reporter Sunlen Miller, who has the U.S. Senate beat, noted on New Year’s Eve the debate-opening prayer of Senate Chaplain Barry Black: “Lift them from the darkness of hopelessness.” Amen. But aw heck—a public records search shows that in addition to cushy federal benefits, we pay the Chaplain a $151,000 salary. The taxpayers pay his chief of staff $127,000; his communications director $75,000; and his assistant $50,000.

* Loser-Bracket Liberal: I disfavor contested primary elections within parties with few elected. But if Scott Brown’s “yes” vote on the 12/31 Senate tax-and-spend bill did not earn him a U.S. Senate special election primary should he run, then the MA Republican nominee will be a loser-bracket liberal versus the Democratic Party’s choice.

In fairness, numerous Republican presidential and vice presidential aspirants, near candidates, and future short-listers voted for the bill: Senators Rob Portman (Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), and John Thune (South Dakota), and Representative McMorris Rodgers (Washington). The Texas Senate delegation cast two votes for it three days before Senator-Elect Ted Cruz, a sure-fire no, was to be sworn in—a “lone star.”

* Mass. GOP-uh-leez: The more I learned about the race for Massachusetts Republican Party Chair, the less I wanted to know. Asked in December whom I liked by a friend (who is in fact most qualified for the position), I replied, “I don’t. Underwhelmed.” The position of MA party chair has been de facto emptier than Eastwood’s in recent years. The jockeying story in this year’s horse race dates back to recruiting Mitt Romney, while in Salt Lake City, Utah running the 2002 Winter Olympics, to run for governor. A decade later and dollars shorter, who cares? It’s inside baseball (and I don’t even like that expression; only political insiders use it.) I don’t know any of the four or so candidates personally and hardly think it’s their bad for not knowing me. I’m starting to see more evidence of management ideas and public lobbying on RedMassGroup, Facebook, and Twitter. All are cogent and worthy of a seat with Jim Braude on NECN’s Broadside representing the party and movement win, lose, or withdraw. They should take advantage of, and make, platforms to refine and get out the message. I walked away from a column solely on the chair’s race but will run to people with new ideas on political and public policy communication and organization.

* Smell the Roses, Thank a Thorn: Why isn’t Andover State Rep. Jim Lyons more conspicuous? Isn’t there supposed to be an established farm system to scout and tout star citizens? Lyons is a kind, well-spoken Main Street businessman (Dandi Lyons florist and ice cream, Reading and Tewksbury) who has twice beat competent incumbent and Treasurer’s Office administrator Barbara L’Italien.

*NH off another Cliff: In New Hampshire, Cliff Hurst was the consensus candidate in waiting for Republican state chair. Already vice chair, he’s a conservative (state co-chair for Rick Perry up to the New Hampshire primary, chair for Mike Huckabee in ‘08), a self-made businessman, the leader of religious invocations at events, father of the state Young Republicans chair and a friend to many Young Guns. Cliff was uniquely positioned to bridge the Establishment and Tea Party factions, white-hair-rim bald yet 5,000 Facebook friends. Two-time Republican congressional candidate Jennifer Horn announced her intentions and quickly rolled out endorsements, from establishment as well as conservatives and, most impressively, Senator Ayotte. Clearing the field is more difficult nowhere than New Hampshire. Thirty-year-old new-media entrepreneur Andrew Hemingway, a state chair and national digital communications and development director for Newt Gingrich and former Bristol town budget chair, entered the race. Goodwill for my friend and past collaborator Andrew, according to pledged delegates, stems in part from endorsements and grassroots support from the Republican Liberty Caucus, whose NH chapter he chaired through the 2010 elections. I missed Jennifer’s Nashua radio work, but I have been a guest in her home for a debate watch and at speaker events she organized though her “We the People” organization. She offered kind congratulations for a gubernatorial primary debate I moderated with the NH House Speaker and steps up as an eager candidate spokeswoman (Pawlenty, Romney, Kevin Smith). I still wish Cliff got the (unpaid) job. He appreciates corny jokes, so here goes: His chairmanship would be one step for a small man, but a giant leap for the GOP.

“The party” is a pile-of-bricks roadside house-HQ, a paid staff of three (compared to fourteen professional Democrats), and a cycle-delayed, myopic voter identification regime. The chair cannot be a recliner. The position as an institution should be thankful, not thankless; it has bred more contempt than the NH and MA Democratic equivalents and at present is worth less than a bucket of frozen spit (LBJ said the phlegm of the vice presidency was at least warm). The real party is a grassroots group of neighbors who do not “Bowl Alone”—they are otherwise engaged in – indeed, creators of – their community life. A motley crew, they would do well to proceed as a summer-camp color war team; do-nothing, uninformed orthodoxy is failing.

* I want a rhinoceros for New Year’s: National Review Online contributor Jonah Goldberg shared a prediction that Huntsmanism will spread to the House: “Someone in the House GOP will try to revive the ‘gypsy moth’ Republican caucus. This Republican will get lavish media coverage for his (or her) efforts. In 2014, this same Republican will announce his retirement from Congress and his exciting new post at Harvard’s Kennedy School.” I call RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) unicorns; both have a point, or they would if they existed.

* Social media civics: If you won or lost an election on November 6 and haven’t tweeted or posted to your Facebook page since, you are still sending a message—that you care(d) more about “having the job than doing the job,” as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick likes to say.

* A radio star: Evaporating talk radio, AM and FM “dial” alike, is bad for all of us, not just the likes of Valley Patriot columnist Jeff Katz, a former Talk 1200 morning host. He consistently aired national guests along with his Swampscott cynicism.

* Heal, Hillary: I share New York Times columnist Nick Kristof’s concern that Hillary Clinton works too hard. The next example the 11-years-running Gallup poll most admired woman can set is to take care of her health before national health care or international cancers. I do not share ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz’s tweeted sentiment “Really seems we should be told more about the condition or our secstate.” What are the precedents and where is the line drawn? Even Valley Patriot editor Tom Duggan, with his ignored FOIA requests, probably doesn’t want the HUD Secretary’s full medical records, for example.

* Force Estate: Kristof was detained in Bahrain in late 2012 the same week NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and crew were kidnapped in Syria. Earlier, but reported later, a journalist with North Andover family was kidnapped in Syria. American media, even from elite outlets, are hardly untouchable. For all that plagues the press, what they do abroad – and even what Duggan does here – is not safe.

* Tora Bora? Anyone? Bueller?: With “Zero Dark Thirty” on the bin Laden kill in theaters and as history teacher for my day (and night) job, I wonder if the modern asymmetric War on Terror will yield any “battles” for the textbooks or common curriculum. It’s been 11-plus years.

 * Kuster’s Stand: WMUR9 (NH ABC affiliate) wunderkind James Pindell predicts new NH-02 Rep. Annie Kuster will serve in Congress for a long time. The Democrat came back from a narrow loss in 2010 to unseat Rep. Charlie Bass by really, truly “wuhrkin’ hahd,” not by just riding President Obama’s coattails. Colin van Ostern, who managed Kuster’s first campaign, won a seat on New Hampshire’s Executive Council and is a name to watch. If you find an insider’s Intrade, bet on him for a future governor.

* “Paying Attention!”: If you’ve paid attention this far, you’re likely a listener of Tommy’s radio program on 980WCAP. I went to hear the singer-songwriter of the show’s eponymous theme song, Lowell’s Melvern Taylor, at no-cover TOAD in Cambridge last month. He plays the ukulele non-ironically and might be the only hip hipster I know.

Alex Talcott, Durham NH, is the public affairs principal of Vaura Consulting LLC and a college and college preparatory history instructor. Email: