New Hampshire Gearing Up for GOP Primary Fight

It’s getting to be that time when politicos all around the country start living on Red Bull as primaries begin heating up — and circus-like cable news debates dominate Twitter conversation. This time around, it’s Republicans working to find a candidate who can defeat a rather unpopular incumbent president. But, of course, if you’ve been watching the debates and/or the latest mini-scandal surrounding Herman Cain, you can see why a GOP victory is far from a certainty. In this Real Clear Politics article, the focus is on Mitt Romney’s efforts in New Hampshire and how other candidates are hoping to stop him.

The former Massachusetts governor has not yet aired advertisements in New Hampshire, instead choosing to conserve his resources for a potentially lengthy primary fight. But Romney’s campaign is leery about being lulled to sleep here, and several other candidates seem poised to give him at least some reason for concern.

Though Michele Bachmann’s New Hampshire campaign remains on life support after the defection of her entire statewide staff, several viable GOP contenders are set to boost their efforts here.

Rick Perry remains mired in the low single digits in state polls, but his campaign has shown no signs of giving up here despite growing questions about whether he should devote most of his resources to Iowa and South Carolina — the two early-voting states that appear to be his most likely vehicles for a national comeback.

The Texas governor is launching a New Hampshire TV and radio advertising campaign on Wednesday, as he joins Ron Paul as the only candidates to air ads here thus far.

Perry’s wife, Anita, will campaign in the state on Friday and Perry himself will likely return by the end of the month, according to aides.

“He’s going to be campaigning hard in New Hampshire, and he has been campaigning hard,” said Perry’s New Hampshire strategist Paul Young.

Though the three-term governor may be able to survive a poor showing in New Hampshire if he exceeds expectations in the other early-voting states, the same cannot be said for Jon Huntsman. The former Utah governor recently moved his national campaign staff to New Hampshire and has banked his underdog candidacy on pulling off a surprise victory here.

Huntsman drew a crowd of almost 200 mostly college-age voters on Tuesday for a speech at the University of New Hampshire on energy policy. In it, he vowed to eventually eliminate all energy subsidies and called for an end to the oil “monopoly as a transportation fuel.”

Utah Changes Course on Four-Day Workweek

We’ve written about the Utah government’s move to a four-day workweek on this blog before. But if the opposite of "Back to the Future" is "Forward to the Past," then I guess that’s what the Beehive State is doing now, as it plans to once again use the five-day model like everyone else. As this article from the Deseret News conveys, the move — initially launched by former Gov. (and current presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman — was expected to save $3 million. The move hasn’t realized those savings, however. I guess you could throw that in the "Well, it was worth a shot" file.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced he was ending Utah’s four-day workweek as of Sept. 6 in a letter to state workers.

"Most certainly, this decision will generate mixed feelings," the governor said in the letter released early Wednesday evening by his office, calling the return to a Monday through Friday schedule "the best alternative to balance both customer and employee needs."

Herbert’s decision follows action by lawmakers last month to override his veto of a bill requiring state agencies to reopen on Fridays. The bill would have allowed agencies to keep some employees on a workweek of four 10-hour days.

But staying open longer hours and reopening Fridays carried a price tag of some $800,000 that was not funded by the Legislature, the governor said after the veto override. His letter said the decision to return to eight-hour work days was necessary to "comply with legislative mandates and remain within budget constraints."

It was former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. who instituted the four-day workweek in 2008 as a cost-saving measure. Huntsman had hoped closing offices on Fridays would cut some $3 million from the state’s energy bills, but an audit found the savings fell far short of that goal.

Herbert said the new hours of operation for state offices, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, will take effect Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day. He said in the letter he hoped that would be enough time for state workers to make the needed adjustments to their personal and professional lives.

"This transition will undoubtedly require a spirt of cooperation from all employees, so please know I personally appreciate everything you do on behalf of the people of Utah," the governor wrote. 

Utah Unveils Unique Health Care Option

The Salt Lake Tribune reports on Utah’s new venture into the world of health coverage — the Utah Health Exchange. Some Utah officials are opposing federal health care reform plans so they may experiment with this program on a statewide level (not that federal health care reforms are resoundingly popular in Utah anyhow):

Shopping for your health insurance plan, style, is about to become a reality.

The Utah Health Exchange, a Web site where individuals and businesses can compare and buy health plans, is going live Aug. 19.

A cornerstone of the state’s health reform plans, the Utah Health Exchange marks the beginning of a defined contribution market, portable health coverage — and giving Utahns more of a say in their health care.

Only the second health insurance exchange to be developed in the country — Massachusetts pioneered the first — the Utah Health Exchange was created by HB 188. Signed into law by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in March, it’s one of four health reform bills designed to improve the affordability and accessibility of policies, and make the market more transparent.

The Utah Health Exchange, said House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, "is one of the seminal moments in that health reform" that will help move the state toward its goal of containing costs and making health care more accessible to nearly 300,000 people.

As part of HB 188, employers will have the option of depositing money into their workers’ health savings accounts — instead of just paying a portion of their premium — allowing them to buy any plan they want.

On its launch day, the Utah Health Exchange will begin enrolling up to 150 small employer groups — those with between two and 50 workers — who intend to offer their workers this option.

Then, in early November, their workers will be able to log on with a pin number and pick the plan they like best. If they don’t elect one, they’ll be enrolled in a default plan chosen by their employer. Their coverage will begin Jan. 1.

"Our hope is it empowers consumers, or patients, to see the system and have skin in the game and make choices that influence the market," said Natalie Gochnour, chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Chamber.

States Seek Pre-emptive Strike Against Card Check

Companies and employees are rightfully worried about the ramifications of the Employee Free Choice Act — or card check as it is more commonly known. The removal of the secret ballot from the union organizing process benefits one group — union leaders.

If the Democratic majorities in Congress make this a reality, states want a weapon in their arsenal. Utah is the first to place a measure on the ballot that aims to pre-empt the possible changes. The Legislature passed a resolution that would have voters decide whether they want to amend the state constitution to require that the secret ballot elections be maintained.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who offered his support for the measure as the Legislature debated the issue, says,  "This constitutional amendment would ensure that individuals will be constitutionally guaranteed the right to a secret-ballot for these types of important elections." The resolution will go before the voters in 2010.

Advocates for the measure argue it was needed because of the possibility that Congress will enact the card-check bill.

GOP state Rep. Carl Wimmer, the bill sponsor, adds, "Is the secret ballot under attack? Right now there is a movement going through the federal government that will — regardless of what you’ve heard — do away, effectively, with secret ballots when it comes to employee representation and forming of labor unions."

Several other states are pushing similar efforts. The group Save Our Secret Ballot is working on initiatives to amend state constitutions so that union elections are required to be conducted by secret ballot.

Utah’s Four-Day Week Not Yet Yielding Big Results

We published a post last June about Utah’s public employees moving to a four-day work week in an effort to save on energy costs. At the time, gas prices had peaked and it seemed interesting — a possible archetype for similar moves across the nation. So far, however, the results have not been as pronounced as they hoped:

Several unforeseen issues, such as extreme temperatures, employee habits and workers coming in on the occasional Friday, made such a large amount of savings an impossibility this year, she said.

Michael Hansen, strategic planning manager for the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, calls the lower savings "lessons learned."

"We made all these estimates and assumptions, and it looks like we were optimistic," he said. "We thought it would be easier, but there were all these weird little things."

He said he has a draft report prepared with actual figures showing how much the state has saved thus far, but it has not yet been approved for release.

The initiative was implemented with little to no input from state employees, lawmakers or residents, but (Gov. Jon) Huntsman has worked to make the environment a top priority, even though many in the Legislature look at global warming as a farce.

The initiative moved 17,000 of the state’s 24,000 employees from working five, eight-hour days to four, 10-hour days.