The New Hampshire House today approved a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget in a fight billed by supporters of California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. as a preliminary presidential bout with Brown coming out the winner.
However, Democratic leaders supporting President Carter, who is scheduled to appear here in this first-in-the-nation 1980 primary state next week, waved off claims that the vote was heavily influenced by Brown, who waged a last-minute lobbying effort, including phone calls from California and mailings to legislators here.
"I don't think his influence was anything", said House Minority Leader Chris Spirou, a staunch Carter supporter who led the drive to block the resolution. "Any person with some stature has a following; Jack the Ripper had a following, too, but Brown meant very little here."
Countered state Rep. Robert E. Plourde, a former minority whip who has broken with the Democratic leadership over his presidential allegience, "This is definitely a victory for Jerry Brown and the rest of the nation is watching; it is a slap in the face for Spirou and definitely for Carter."
The 178-to-161 vote also marks yet another victory for the campaign to convene a constitutional convention on the balanced budget issue, which so far has gained 29 favorable state resolutions with one in contention. Thirty-four states must approve the constitutional convention for it to be convened.
"We wanted to win but didn't expect to," said Charity Brown, spokesman for the belated drive to stop the balanced budget campaign led by Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, son of the U.S. House speaker.
"If we can maintain our present record-one loss and four wins-then we will ultimately be successful in stopping the convention," said Charity Brown. "The narrowness of the vote clearly indicates there are doubts in the minds of New Hampshire legislators about the wisdom of holding a constitutional convention."
Lobbyists fighting the constitutional convention movement have conceded defeat in the conservative New Hampshire Senate.
"This is a pivotal state: there is no question a defeat here for our cause would have sounded the death knell for a balanced federal budget." said Gray Davis, Gov. Brown's chief of staff.
The vote, Davis said, represents "a victory for Brown and a defeat for Carter; Jerry was inextricably bound up with this issue. He has championed this issue and we are pleased the legislature passed it despite a full court press from the White House."
The battle lines between the Carter and Brown forces were drawn several weeks ago when Brown accepted an invitation from Republican House Speaker George Roberts to testify for the amendment. Spirou, a Democrat, sent Brown a note suggesting he stay home.
Nevertheless, Brown made the 3,000 mile trip, stumbling into a bitter political fight. His acceptance angered the Democatic governor and Spirou. After conceding he had been used by the Republicans to embarrass Gov. Hugh Gallen, an opponent of the amendment, Brown returned home without testifying.
Plourde viewed that as a ploy by Spirou to trip up Brown on his first trip to New Hampshire. "The embarrassment to Brown was orchestrated by the White House to keep New Hampshire Carter country because Carter is vulnerable there.
"If Jerry Brown decides to walk the streets of New Hampshire now, he will be well received," Plourde said. However, Rep. Rick Trombly, who voted against the resolution, said, "Brown got burned last time he was here. He should have learned his lesson; his appearance had a negative effect on me as a Democrat.
"His is using this issue as a political springboard and I resent that"
Spirou said his forces lost the vote because he was outlobbied by the Republican majority. "House Speaker George Roberts sold half the gold dome on the state house and the entire third floor. He gave away every goody he had to give. He has been twisting arms and bending necks all week," Spirou said.