Victorious Hassan looks ahead to working with new N.H. Legislature

Last modified: Thursday, November 08, 2012
Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan yesterday said she’s eager to work with a Legislature that has been transformed overnight from a GOP stronghold to a State House where Democrats and Republicans are set to share power.

“I think what we see now is kind of a return to a New Hampshire tradition of bipartisan and often nonpartisan problem-solving,” Hassan told reporters outside Manchester’s Red Arrow Diner, “and that there’s a great opportunity for that with this legislative makeup.”

Hassan, an Exeter Democrat, defeated Republican Ovide Lamontagne of Manchester in Tuesday’s election to succeed Gov. John Lynch, a Hopkinton Democrat. With 99 percent of precincts reporting yesterday, Hassan had 55 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Lamontagne and 3 percent for Libertarian John Babiarz of Grafton.

Voters also reshuffled the State House, where Republicans in 2010 won big majorities in both chambers. Democrats regained a majority in the 400-seat House, while in the Senate, Republicans retained 13 seats to 11 for the Democrats, though a recount is expected in Republican Andy Sanborn’s narrow win over Democrat Lee Nyquist in District 9.

Lynch, in his fourth and final term, has repeatedly clashed with Republican legislative leaders over the past two years, using his veto pen to kill right-to-work legislation and other bills.

That dynamic is likely to change in the next session.

“I think people in New Hampshire really want things to work, and I think things were pretty dysfunctional the last couple of years and they want us to move forward,” Hassan said. “And that’s what this is about.”

House Speaker Bill O’Brien will keep his seat representing Mont Vernon and New Boston, but he is set to lose power as Democrats take control of the House. The House Democratic leader, Terie Norelli, in a statement said she and the new majority “look forward to collaboratively working with” Hassan and the Senate “to move our great state forward.”

Assuming Republicans keep their narrow edge, Senate President Peter Bragdon is expected to retain the top job. He served with Hassan during her three terms in the Senate, but scorned Hassan’s bipartisan bona fides in the heat of the fall campaign.

“For her to say she worked to bring both sides together and listened to opposing views is laughable and simply untrue,” Bragdon said in an Oct. 24 news release from the Lamontagne campaign. “Sen. Hassan heard just one viewpoint, that of the Democratic Party.”

But Bragdon and Hassan have both said their focus will be on jobs and the economy, and Bragdon yesterday said he could work with Hassan to achieve that goal.

“I worked (with) Gov.-elect Hassan when we were in the Senate,” he said. “I was the minority leader when she was the majority leader (from 2009 to 2010). And I think it will be the same thing now. There are issues on which we disagree, but we’ll have a good rational debate on the Senate floor. And our discussions will be cordial and professional.”

Hassan said yesterday that she and her team “are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work,” with roughly two months until she takes office in early January.

“We’re going to reach out to people, again, legislators, citizens, all political stripes to make sure that we’re getting the best ideas and the best people together,” she told reporters. “As you know, I’m focused on growing the economy. I think it’s critical that, to develop an innovation economy, we find ways to improve our education system so it’s aligned with (the) 21st century economy and we can have great jobs for today and tomorrow. And I’ll be bringing businesspeople and educators together to focus on that.”

Trailed by campaign staffers and cameras, Hassan then greeted the lunchtime crowd at the Red Arrow Diner, just as she had the day after she won the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

But for some at the diner, the long campaign wasn’t quite over.

“I got a question for ya. . . . The property tax thing, true or false? I just want to know,” said Don Dumont, a Nashua resident seated at the counter.

He was referring to television attack ads, funded by the Republican Governors Association, that accused Hassan of not paying property taxes on her family’s home. The house is owned by Phillips Exeter Academy, where her husband is the principal, and is tax-exempt.

Hassan told Dumont her family doesn’t own the house, and that the boarding school is Exeter’s largest property taxpayer.

“I’m glad you asked,” she said.

(Staff reporter Annmarie Timmins contributed to this article. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)