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N.H. GOP losing 3 state senators willing to work across the aisle

State Sen. Jim Rausch of Derry announced he won’t seek re-election yesterday, making him the third Republican senator who plans to vacate his seat alongside Sens. Bob Odell of New London and Peter Bragdon of Milford.

Even during times of intense polarization at the State House, all three have shown a willingness to work across the aisle on at least a few major issues, leading to bipartisan plans to increase the state’s gas tax to pay for road and bridge repairs, expand Medicaid and join 10 other states in a plan to reduce carbon emissions. But it’s these very types of initiatives that have led conservatives, including the Republican Liberty Caucus, to threaten primaries against incumbent Senate Republicans. With the retirement of just these three senators, the New Hampshire Senate could look very different next year.

“A big question is who emerges as the Republican candidates in those districts, and will they be in a similar cast to those three or will they be more partisan,” said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

Conservative challengers emerged in both Odell’s and Rausch’s districts even before the two announced their retirement plans, but both point to family as their reasons for retiring. Both have been in the Legislature for 14 years, with Rausch spending four in the Senate and Odell 12. Bragdon is retiring to continue his work as executive director of HealthTrust, a job that caused him to step down as Senate president and prompted an ethics investigation last fall. He will leave the Legislature on June 6. No Senate Democrats have yet announced plans to retire, but more announcements are likely. About one-third of the Senate turns over each year.

New Hampshire Republican Party Vice Chairman JP Marzullo will take on former New Hampshire Banking Association president Jerry Little in a primary to replace Odell, while state Rep. Linda Tanner of Georges Mills is the Democrat seeking his seat. State Reps. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead and Frank Sapareto of Derry, as well as Jim Foley, chairman of the Derry Republican Committee, will face off for Rausch’s seat. For Bragdon’s seat, Rep. Gary Daniels of Milford and Merrimack town Councilor Dan Dwyer, who lost to Bragdon in a 2012 primary, both told WMUR they will run.

Democrats are feeling confident about their chances of picking up seats.

“We have motivated, strong candidates on the ballot, and the (Democratic Party) will be working doggedly to give our candidates the support they need to connect with families across the state who are sick of far-right representatives who work more for the special interests than for our communities,” party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. “With these Republicans leaving the Senate, and the far right primaries that are shaping up, it is clear the Tea Party faction of the (Republican Party) is flexing its muscle.”

But Bragdon noted that all three districts have a moderate edge, which he said makes it likely Republicans elected to run for those seats will bring a similar approach to their predecessors.

Odell’s seat

Based on the numbers, Democrats have the best shot at picking up Odell’s seat. His district, which covers 24 towns including Antrim, Hillsborough, New London, Newbury and Weare, voted for Democrat Maggie Hassan by a wide margin in the 2012 election and President Obama by a smaller one. Odell has built a reputation as one of the Senate’s most bipartisan Republicans. He worked on a Medicaid expansion plan that uses the federal dollars to expand access to private health care for 50,000 individuals, supported the gas tax increase and was one of two Republicans to vote for repealing the death penalty after a memorable speech on the Senate floor.

Rausch’s seat

Rausch’s district, which covers Derry, Hampstead and Windham, is solidly Republican. One of Rausch’s biggest legacies will be his effort to increase the gas tax by 4 cents, the first increase since 1991. His effort took serious heat from Republican groups, and just four other Republicans, including Bragdon and Odell, supported the bill. Rausch also said his work with Republican Sen. Nancy Stiles to revamp the state’s education funding formula is one of his proudest accomplishments. He also joined six other Republicans to vote for Medicaid expansion. After spending 10 years in the House, Rausch said the Senate has a more collegial environment.

“I am a Republican. I believe in Republican principles, but through all that, we have to solve problems,” Rausch said.

Bragdon’s seat

Bragdon controlled the Senate during Bill O’Brien’s reign as speaker of the House, and the Senate often handled issues with a more pragmatic approach than the lower chamber. In 2008, Bragdon co-sponsored legislation bringing New Hampshire into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade type agreement with 10 other states aimed at reducing carbon emissions by power plants. Bragdon voted this year for the gas tax increase, but largely because he was able to secure an elimination of tolls in Merrimack as part of the deal. He recused himself on the Medicaid expansion vote, citing a conflict of interest with his work at HealthTrust. Bragdon said he believes its possible to work across the aisle without giving up on “underlying core principles.”

“I do think my approach is to sit down with people and talk about stuff and see if you can come to a meeting of the minds,” he said. You “treat each other with respect, and that comes in handy the next time you want to deal with an issue.”

His district, made up of Amherst, Merrimack, Milford and Wilton, voted for Hassan in the 2012 governor’s race, but for Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential.

For all of the three seats, vigorous primaries are expected.

The Republican Liberty Caucus plans to hold steady on its promise to find “liberty-minded” candidates to challenge every senator, Republicans and Democrats, who voted for Medicaid expansion, Chairman Aaron Day said. As of now, they’ve recruited 20 candidates.

All candidates for statewide office must file to run between June 4-13. Voters will have until the Sept. 9 primary to decide whose approach they like best.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments10

It is a mistake to assume that the Republican Liberty Caucus will field candidatesl who will not work across the aisle. There may be some items on which no republican will see eye to eye with any democrat but it seems to me that there are plenty of common issues of concern on which Democrats and Liberty Republicans should be able to work together. Because they are more driven by principle that by partisanship, Liberty Republicans are will seize common ground if Democrats are smart enough to offer it honestly and without strings attached. Liberty Republicans tend to be forward looking innovators and free marketeers and this predisposes them to be natural allies to small businesses and entrepreneurs who are the heart of the New England economy. They also tend to be less rigid in their pursuit of social issues, with a live and let live attitude which encompasses reasonable social progression such as gay marriage and legalizing marijuana. This is actually a pretty good fit with the small business, small government and social justice wing of the Democratic Party. Democrats who write liberty republicans off as just another brand of extreme conservative, do themselves a disservice by writing off valuable allies on the new right before they really get a chance to know them.

A breath of wisdom from the other team. I am usually very suspicious of any group that has liberty, freedom, patriot or any other similar descriptor in their name. Past experience has proven that Freedom, Liberty or Patriotism is the farthest thing from their agenda. I don't really care if there is a D or a R after the name as long as you strip out religious holier than thou crap. I ran a small business from the late 70's thru early 90's when it just was no longer fun. I was more of a conservative at the time, so I can see both sides of the fence and I do have reservations about free market thinking. History has always been my passion be it ancient or post industrial revolution. All the market will bear, thinking went out with the Robber Barons for one very good reason, the same reason that price gouging has been vilified. So I will look into the Liberty Caucus to be fair about my thinking. You will have to pardon my caution as I have been exposed to all that is evil concerning the GOP in the form of BPR's comments and his minion Itsa. We could use a fresh voice to drown out the ignorance. Feel free to chime in more often. It would be nice to have an intelligent view as opposed to the "I know you are, but what am I" crowd.

Beware of wolves in sheep clothing. I distrust any group that endorses Ted Cruz and Ron Paul.

I would have to agree with you, a look at "their" website contains little actual information about them except the multiple ways to donate or pay to join their club.

"and his minion Itsa". Grow up. I am a business executive and I see government interference in business every day. Government is in the way in so many cases. If you are a student of history, you must be aware that there are safeguards in place so that "Robber Barons" (a hyperbolic, overused brand). You need to come out of the 60's, trade up the VW. You can keep the beard, wire rimmed glasses and puka shell necklace, they define you. Call me "ignorant", afraid not. PS-you assume and you know what you get when you assume?

Isn't Bragdon the senator the monitor tried to smear as being disrespectful evil republican extremist at lynchs state of the state speech??? But now he's a moderate...up is down left is right...

the answer to that case your were confused....

This is going to be a surge election greater than 2010. No worry - any Responsible Republican will carry the day against the fiscally irresponsible tax , borrow, bond and spend democrat

A surge election like 2010, I guess we all know what that surge caused. Not many left from the surge, how soon those without a clue forget. In 2010 Bin Laden could have run and won as long as he had a R after his name. I don't think the NH voters have had enough time to forget what a god awful mess 2010 caused.

You ignore that the surge election was a backlash where one party took things too far and then the pendulum swung too far the other way in response. This year it is about Obamacare and Obama failures on the economy and in foreign policy. There are plenty of reasons why it would be a surge election. I call it a correction election and it is necessary.

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