Speaker Terie Norelli to retire after 18 years in N.H. House
Speaker Terie Norelli announced her retirement at 1 p.m. April 21, 2014, in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
House Speaker Terie Norelli announced her retirement at 1 p.m. April 21, 2014, in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building. Here she hugs a colleague after her announcement that she is not running again. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
House Speaker Terie Norelli talks with Larry Drake (left), chairman of the Portsmouth and the Rockingham County Democratic committee, after Norelli's retirement announcement April 21, 2014. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
New Hampshire House Speaker Terie Norelli announced yesterday that she won’t seek re-election, but she vowed to help Democrats in their fight to keep a House majority this fall.
“The fight doesn’t end today. We have more work to complete this session. We have an election to win this fall,” Norelli said in a press conference in Concord. “We know what the alternative looks like. We must win for the people of New Hampshire.”
Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, was first elected to the House in 1996 and elected speaker in 2006. She lost her speakership in 2010, when Republicans won control of the chamber, but retook the speaker’s gavel in 2012. She is the second woman, after Republican Donna Sytek, to serve as speaker in New Hampshire and the first Democrat to lead the House in 84 years. From 2006 to 2010 was the first time in state history that Democrats controlled the House for two consecutive terms.
Although Republicans quickly jumped on her retirement as evidence of Democrats’ weakness this fall, Norelli said she has been planning retirement since the session began.
“I actually came into this session knowing that this was going to be my last term, but I had the desire after last term to rebuild our caucus (and) to restore the dignity of the New Hampshire House,” she said.
Praise for Norelli’s leadership poured in from Democratic leaders yesterday, with many pointing to the state’s legalization of gay marriage in 2009 as one of the House’s biggest accomplishments under Norelli’s leadership. Many also said Norelli brought a new level of transparency and decorum to the House. One change she initiated was having Republicans and Democrats sit next to each other in the House chamber, rather than separating seats based on party. Her style of leadership compared to that of Republican Bill O’Brien, who was speaker from 2010 to 2012, is “night and day,” said Rep. Gary Richardson, a Hopkinton Democrat and majority floor leader.
Yesterday, Norelli listed off what she considers to be accomplishments by the House during her tenure. Among them are marriage equality, participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, ending the education funding lawsuits, passing a budget last year with strong bipartisan support, and the bipartisan Medicaid expansion agreement that Gov. Maggie Hassan recently signed into law. She also noted New Hampshire’s passage of a law allowing children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance, which is now a popular provision of the federal Affordable Care Act.
“I am so gratified by all that we have accomplished for the people of New Hampshire in the time I have been a state representative,” she said. “Now I feel that it’s time for me to step back and catch my breath, and give my family a break, too.”
Norelli, 61, moved to Portsmouth with her husband in 1980 and taught math at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton before joining the Legislature. She was encouraged to run in 1996 by then-state Rep. Martha Fuller Clark, who is now a state senator. As a representative, Norelli was first assigned to the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, then later served on the Public Works and Finance committees. When she was elected speaker in 2006, many of her colleagues told the Monitor she quickly displayed leadership qualities and made her mark as a lawmaker who was willing to dig into the details of complicated issues.
Before serving in the Legislature, Norelli was an advocate for women’s reproductive rights and victims’ rights, and she carried those passions through to her work at the State House.
Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, said yesterday that he remembers the first time Norelli spoke on the House floor. In 1997, he had authored a bill to extend protections for victims of domestic violence looking to change jobs. The bill came to the floor with a committee recommendation to kill it. Norelli got up to speak in favor of the bill, and the House voted to send it back to the committee. It later passed the House.
“What I remember is that clear voice from Portsmouth standing up in her first talk and speaking on behalf of victims,” Cushing said.
He also said that without Norelli’s leadership, the House wouldn’t have legalized gay marriage. In 2009, New Hampshire became the first state to legislatively legalize gay marriage without court intervention. In March of that year, the House debated the issue vigorously and, after an initial vote against passage, eventually passed the bill by seven votes.
“She just was a force, a calming force that let the debate take place and play itself out,” Cushing said. “I think both sides of the aisle and both sides of that issue will look back now and acknowledge that, but for Terie Norelli, history would’ve not been quite the same.”
When asked yesterday, Norelli didn’t say who she would like to see as her successor but said the House Democratic caucus has plenty of strong leaders, and she pledged to work hard for Democrats in the upcoming election.
Republican Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, sent out a statement thanking Norelli for her service despite their differences on issues, but he refrained from talking about the upcoming election. The state Republican Party, however, said Norelli’s retirement is an “implicit admission” that Democrats don’t believe they’ll keep a majority in November.
“Granite Staters are fed up with the tax and spend policies proposed by Governor Hassan and her allies in the Democrat-controlled House, and they are going to replace them with fiscally responsible Republicans in November,” party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn said in a statement.
Democratic National Committee member Peter Burling, who served as minority leader when Norelli was first elected, said the Republican party’s assertion is “foolish.” Serving in the House is a taxing job, he said, and one that Norelli has done with poise.
If you haven’t served in the House, he said, “you don’t know how tough it is to keep things going. And that’s why it’s important for those of us who understand the experience to say this woman has done a simply spectacular job.”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or email@example.com.)