Bragdon to step down as N.H. Senate president after criticism over new job at LGC
Senate President Peter Bragdon spoke to the editorial board on Thursday, April 28, 2011.
(Neil Blake/Monitor Staff)
Facing mounting criticism, Peter Bragdon announced yesterday that he would step down as president of the state Senate, abandoning his plan to keep the post while simultaneously taking a $180,000-a-year job as leader of the Local Government Center.
“I think those who work with me know that I try my utmost to maintain transparency, openness and integrity in all that happens in the Senate. I’ve worked to nurture that over the last three years,” said Bragdon, a Milford Republican and the Senate’s president since 2010. “I don’t think anybody was thinking that I would fall prey to any temptation. But I think the potential is there, and the perception is there.”
Bragdon doesn’t plan to resign his seat representing District 11 in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 13-11 majority. He said he’ll call the Senate into session shortly after Labor Day, Sept. 2, to elect a new president.
Already running to succeed Bragdon is Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem. Morse, a Republican, is serving his fourth term in the Senate and is chairman of the powerful Finance Committee.
“I’ve proven I know the process and can solve conflicts. I think that lends itself to being the Senate president,” Morse said yesterday.
‘Integrity of the Senate’
On Tuesday, the LGC, a Concord-based quasi-governmental organization that operates public risk pools providing insurance coverage to New Hampshire governments, hired Bragdon as its executive director. Bragdon said he planned to remain Senate president.
The move drew criticism from Democrats and the LGC’s regulator, the state Bureau of Securities Regulation. They said the LGC’s ongoing legal battle with the bureau and its extensive interests before the Legislature presented a potentially serious conflict with Bragdon’s powers and influence as the Senate’s leader.
Several former Republican senators also expressed concern, including Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who said during an appearance on WGIR news radio that doing both jobs would be “impossible” and Bragdon should choose one or the other.
Bragdon said he decided Thursday, a day after starting his new job at the LGC, that he would step down as president.
“My initial thoughts were that this conflict would be no different than conflicts facing other senators,” Bragdon said.
But, he added, “There is merit in that argument that the office of Senate president has many more challenges.”
Many Republicans, including Bragdon’s fellow senators, had remained silent this week as the debate unfolded. Yesterday, they were generous with praise for him and his decision.
“I think he’s made the right decision for the Senate, to step aside, and I’m glad he’s made that decision,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican.
“I think he made the right decision,” Morse said. “I honestly believe, in talking to him, he thought he could manage his way through this. But he wanted to make sure the integrity of the Senate was preserved, and I think that was extremely honorable.”
“Sen. Bragdon made the right decision, and confirmed that he is a man of high ethical standards and integrity,” said Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, in a statement.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who served with Bragdon in the Senate, also praised his decision to step down.
“In light of the concerns raised about his position with the Local Government Center, I believe that Sen. Bragdon has taken an appropriate step in resigning as Senate president,” Hassan said in a statement.
Other Democrats said Bragdon should go further and consider resigning from the Senate.
“There still are many inherent conflicts of interests in the LGC hiring Bragdon, who as a sitting senator is being paid $180,000 a year for a job controlling a publicly funded body that frequently lobbies state lawmakers,” said Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat, said Bragdon will still wield significant influence as a member of the majority caucus and as a former Senate president.
“If it were me, I would step down. . . . There’s an appearance of conflict that will remain over his head,” said Larsen, a former Senate president herself.
Bragdon said any conflicts between his job at the LGC and his work in the Senate can be managed once he steps down as president. He said he planned to recuse himself from legislation affecting, for example, the state law regulating public risk pools like those operated by the LGC.
“I think it puts me back in the position I assumed I was under, that the ethics laws of the Legislature apply to everybody,” Bragdon said, “and I think they should applied equally, fairly and consistently.”
Bradley said that should work.
“I think it will be okay at this point, but, hey, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there,” Bradley said.
Picking a successor
Bragdon didn’t endorse a successor yesterday.
“I suspect any senator would look to somebody who has respect of their colleagues and the temperament to be a senator, and I’ll let each senator determine who might fit in that category,” Bragdon said. “But I haven’t really given a lot of thought to anyone in particular.”
Morse, 52, was quick to announce he would seek the job, and got Bradley’s endorsement.
“He has proven to be an able leader, as demonstrated by the job he did with the budget. It’s unprecedented that we would have a 24-0 budget,” Bradley said. “He can clearly work across the aisle with Republicans, with Democrats, with the governor, and will be, I hope, the next Senate president.”
Bragdon said he plans to announce a date for the session by the end of next week, and hopes to schedule it for a time when all 24 senators can attend.
Hassan said she “enjoyed working with (Bragdon) to constructively address our challenges,” and looks forward to working with his successor.
“No matter who is voted by the Senate to be their next president, I look forward to working with him or her to continue moving our state forward through the traditions of hard work, bipartisanship and commonsense problem-solving that the people of New Hampshire expect and deserve,” Hassan said.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)