Norelli takes House speaker’s gavel, pledges bipartisan efforts in new legislative session

Last modified: 1/31/2013 9:54:41 AM
A new Legislature took office yesterday, with leaders in the newly Democratic-controlled House saying they want to move past the contentiousness of the past two years and work across party lines.

“This Legislature works best when we work together,” said new Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat who was speaker from 2006 to 2010 and minority leader during the past two years of Republican control. “As newly elected and re-elected members of the House, we have been honored by the voters in our districts. The citizens of the great state of New Hampshire sent us here, I believe, with a message: They want a Legislature that puts partisan politics aside and works in a respectful way on the issues that matter to the Granite State. And that is exactly what we should all plan to do.”

There were some nods toward bipartisanship yesterday in the House, where Democrats hold a 219-179 majority after being outnumbered in the last session by a nearly 3-1 margin. Norelli said she would resume weekly meetings with GOP and Democratic caucus leaders. And Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican and former speaker, made the motion to elect Norelli as speaker. (She was unopposed, and Chandler’s motion passed on a nearly unanimous voice vote.)

Chandler said he offered the motion “in the spirit of getting off, starting on the right foot” – though, he warned, “things may change a little bit as we go along.”

Chandler and Norelli agreed that they wouldn’t agree on everything. But they said they could cooperate on some issues and be civil on others.

“I pledge to do my best job to put the interests of the state of New Hampshire first and foremost in everything we do,” Chandler said. “There’ll be many ways and many ideas that we have that we will share jointly, that we can move this state forward on, and I pledge to do that. I also pledge that there will be some instances when we don’t agree with the other party, and it’s our job to make sure that we make our points in a very appropriate manner, and I’m hopeful that we will do that.”

Norelli didn’t mention Rep. Bill O’Brien, the Mont Vernon Republican who held the speaker’s gavel for the past two years, by name. But she made clear she wants to “end the harshness that has been in the air, that has plagued us in recent years.”

She added, “Just because one political party is in the majority doesn’t mean that the other party is irrelevant. In fact, each and every one of us in this room has one vote and one vote only.”

Those hopes for cooperation were echoed yesterday in the Senate, where Republicans retain a 13-11 majority. Republican Peter Bragdon of Milford remains president and Democrat Sylvia Larsen of Concord continues to serve as minority leader.

“Those who elected us expect the finger-pointing that was prevalent in the campaign to stop and they expect us to lead. They expect us to work together to identify our challenges and work together to craft solutions,” Bragdon said in prepared remarks. “They do not expect us to agree all the time, but they do expect us to discuss issues and possible solutions in a respectful manner, being willing to listen to our colleagues who hold opposing views and respecting their convictions.”

The legislators elected Nov. 6 were sworn in yesterday by Gov. John Lynch, who will step down next month when Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan, a fellow Democrat, takes office. The two chambers conducted routine first-day business, including the selection of leaders and state officers.

Penacook Rep. Steve Shurtleff is the new majority leader in the House, and Concord Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, who served as majority leader before the 2010 election, will lead the powerful House Finance Committee.

Shurtleff nominated Norelli for speaker yesterday, and Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Norelli last month for leadership of the Democratic caucus, seconded it.

“Our state is facing some tough times and some tough problems. But these aren’t Democratic problems and they’re not Republican problems. These are New Hampshire’s problems,” Shurtleff said. “And in the spirit of the late governor John Winant, our constituents want us to work together to come up with bipartisan solutions to these issues. Now more than ever, the New Hampshire House needs a speaker who’s ready, willing and able to work across party lines in the best interests of all our citizens. That person is Terie Norelli.”

Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, will be majority leader in the Senate, and Lempster Republican Sen. Bob Odell will be Senate president pro tem. Salem Republican Sen. Chuck Morse will continue to serve as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Republicans will chair the Senate’s 10 other standing committees; during the last session, one Senate panel, the Judiciary Committee, was chaired by a Democrat.

And a joint convention of the House and Senate yesterday awarded new two-year terms to State Treasurer Catherine Provencher and Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

Gardner, who has held the office since 1976, is the longest-serving secretary of state in the country and is widely known as a defender of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

“Thank you all very much for letting me stay here a little while longer,” Gardner said to laughter.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)


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