Democrats take control of N.H. House and make big gains in the Senate
Maggie Hassan delivers her victory speech at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. Hassan defeated Republican candidate Ovide Lamontagne in the race to be New Hampshire's next governor.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Maggie Hassan celebrates after delivering her victory speech at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester on November 6, 2012. Hassan defeated Republican challenger Ovide Lamontagne to be the next governor of New Hampshire.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Tuesday’s election is going to make it much harder, perhaps impossible, for Republicans to get the second chance they wanted at passing right-to-work legislation, repealing gay marriage, loosening gun laws and restricting abortion rights.
The Democrats not only held onto the governor’s office, but they took control of the House and more than doubled the five seats they currently have in the state Senate. Nearly 75 sitting House Republicans, including the majority leader and committee chairman, lost their seats.
And while House Speaker Bill O’Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican who set the Republican agenda for the last two years, won re-election, he said yesterday he won’t seek a leadership position for the minority. Pending a few recounts and final tallies, it appears the Democrats now hold at least 217 of the House’s 400 seats and at least 11 of the state Senate’s 24 seats.
House Minority Leader Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, said yesterday it was O’Brien tone and an extreme social and fiscal agenda that helped Democrats reclaim a majority in the House. O’Brien oversaw a budget that cut the state’s support of universities and colleges by 50 percent and led efforts to fight unions and allow employers to drop insurance coverage for contraception if they morally opposed its use. He also championed the effort to repeal gay marriage.
O’Brien and his supporters also called for the defunding of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
“As I have travelled around the state . . . speaking to Democrats, Republicans and independents, what I have heard is that people really did not appreciate the divisiveness of this term, the tone of this term or the harshness,” said Norelli. “And the same was true of the agenda. New Hampshire is a traditional fiscally moderate state and a socially moderate state. We have a Libertarian bent and that means government should stay out of a person’s life and out of their doctor’s office. (Voters) were looking for a return to moderation and common sense, and I think that is what our candidates were offering them.”
Fewer than five House Democrats lost their seats yesterday and some lost seats in voting districts that became more Republican under this year’s Republican-led redistricting.
Republicans reached yesterday and Tuesday didn’t wholly disagree with Norelli’s analysis of the election, but they saw other factors at play, too.
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican serving his eighth term, held onto his seat by just 13 votes. He said the Democratic sweep at the top of the ticket clearly helped Democratic House candidates at the bottom. But Vaillancourt, who opposed efforts to repeal gay marriage and clashed publicly and frequently with O’Brien, said Republican leaders like O’Brien and gubernatorial hopeful Ovide Lamontagne also hurt party members.
“In New Hampshire, I’ll go on record as saying that we must lay the blame at the fascist tendencies of leadership – yes, I know it’s dangerous to use that word,” Vaillancourt said by email. “But Ovide’s extreme social conservatism, teamed with the bullying Stalinist tactics of Bill O’Brien, set the tone for the Democratic sweep. Republicans got what they deserved by and large, but unfortunately as always, a lot of good people got caught up in the sweep – me nearly.”
Rep. Gene Chandler, a former House speaker serving his 15th term, was less sweeping in placing blame yesterday. He beat his Democratic challenger easily and said Republicans most suffered from President Obama’s success in getting votes and new voters in New Hampshire.
“Once (voters) get those check marks going (on the ballot), they just keep going down,” Chandler said.
Rep. Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican who was re-elected to his 10th term, agreed. “I think there is probably some backlash (to Republican legislative efforts), but we had an incredible amount of same-day registration. But when you get up to 70 percent of the people (voting) it is the will of the people.”
Susan Arnold of NARAL-Pro Choice, said yesterday the results were a response to legislative efforts to “attack women” by trying to restrict abortion rights and access to birth control and affordable health care.
“Attacks on access to family planning services and abortion care by the state legislature over the past two years were relentless,” she said in a statement. “ Yesterday, voters across New Hampshire and the country used their vote to stand up against these attempts to bully women back to the dark ages.”
“We are so proud of the hundreds of committed grassroots activists across the state who worked on behalf of New Hampshire women’s health to get out the pro-choice vote. Today is a proud day for New Hampshire women,” the statement said.
Outgoing / Incoming
Local Republicans who lost their seats include Rep. Jenn Coffey, an Andover Republican and Free Stater; Rep. Brandon Guida of Chichester; Rep. G. Brian Seaworth of Pembroke; Rep. Greg Hill of Franklin; and Rep. Ken Kreis Sr. of Canterbury. They voted along party lines and with O’Brien.
They were replaced by Democrats running for the first time or Democrats who were voted out in 2010 during the Republican sweep. Returning Democrats include Frank Davis and Dianne Schuett of Pembroke and Sally Kelly of Chichester. Other returning Democrats include Leigh Webb of Franklin, Joy Tilton of Northfield, Mary Beth Walz of Bow and Barbara French of Henniker.
In Laconia, a Republican stronghold, Reps. Robert Kingsbury and Harry Accornero, both Republicans, lost their seats. They not only voted for deep budget cuts but also drew national ridicule for wanting to return Magna Carta rule to the state (Kingsbury) and insisting President Obama was not American enough to be president (Accornero.)
Some local Republicans survived, including Rep. Priscilla Lockwood, a Canterbury moderate; Rep. Dennis Reed, a Franklin conservative; Rep. David Kidder, a New London moderate who opposed right-to-work; and Rep. JR Hoell, a Dunbarton liberty-minded House member who led efforts to loosen gun restrictions.
Rep. Dan McGuire and his wife, Rep. Carol McGuire, conservative Free Staters from Epsom, also won re-election.
This shake-up is bound to sideline some of the early bill requests submitted in September by sitting lawmakers. Those early filings seek to restrict abortion rights, give the Legislature more control over education and prohibit the state from accepting federal money to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. O’Brien had made clear that he would renew efforts to pass right-to-work legislation, and conservative groups that backed many Republicans did so after asking them to renew an effort to repeal gay marriage.
Those efforts will not find support from the Democratic majority in the House. And Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican who was chosen yesterday to remain president, said his focus will be on a “jobs and economy” agenda. He said Republican senators do not intend to file any “social issue” legislation.
Reversing GOP initiatives
There are also some Republican initiatives that Democrats pledged to undo during the campaign season.
Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan said she favored rescinding the reduction to the cigarette tax and revising the new voter ID law. She said she would reverse the parental notification law for abortion and restore state funding to the university system in exchange for the universities freezing tuition for two years. She also opposes the newly passed education tax credit that allows businesses to claim a tax credit if they contribute scholarship money for private school tuition and home-school expenses.
Those plans will find a more receptive audience in the House now but it remains unclear which will be a priority and where Hassan would look for the money to pull some of those off. Hassan’s spokesman declined to be specific yesterday.
“Governor-elect Hassan looks forward to working with the Legislature to implement her innovation plan, which includes providing tax credits and technical assistance to businesses and freezing tuition at New Hampshire’s public universities and colleges to build a strong workforce that will attract innovative businesses,” said Marc Goldberg by email. “She will be reaching out to legislators from both parties over the coming weeks to discuss her ideas and their ideas for promoting innovation, strengthening the economy, and creating jobs in order to keep New Hampshire moving forward.”
Back to dormancy?
There’s a good chance the Redress of Grievance Committee, revived after 100 years of dormancy by O’Brien, won’t survive. Ditto for the numerous recommendations it made to investigate impeachment proceedings against judges in family law cases.
The committee’s Rep. Paul Ingbretson, a North Haverhill Republican, was defeated yesterday. So was the one lawyer who gave advice to the committee, Rep. Gregory Sorg, an Easton Republican. Most of the Democrats assigned to the committee did not attend the meetings and Norelli said yesterday she doesn’t believe the committee has been a positive addition to the Legislature.
Norelli is one of two Democrats running to replace O’Brien as speaker. The other is Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat elected to his seventh term Tuesday. Both stressed yesterday the need for the Democrats to partner with the Republicans in ways they said O’Brien never reached out to Democrats.
“I think we need to think about moving forward responsibly with common sense,” Norelli said. She said she’d like to return the word compromise to the House lexicon.
“Partisanship was rejected by the voters in 2010 when they threw the Democrats out,” Campbell said. “And in 2012, the Republicans were thrown out of the majority. Clearly, we can’t run government with the pendulum swinging that wildly. We need to build consensus and forge alliances across the aisle.”
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)