Paul Caranci: ‘Dean of Secretaries’ Gardner is a national treasure

  • In a Nov. 6, 2015, file photo, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (left) watches as Democratic presidential candidate Steve Burke of Macomb, N.Y., signs papers to be on the primary ballot at the secretary of state's office in Concord. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 11/18/2018 12:10:14 AM

Since 1904, the National Association of Secretaries of State has been a beacon for secretaries of state throughout the nation.

As the oldest, nonpartisan professional organization for public officials, NASS serves as a medium for the exchange of information between states and fosters cooperation in the development of public policy, not only in the realm of elections and voting, but in state business services and state heritage as well.

As a former deputy secretary of state from Rhode Island, I relied heavily on the expertise provided by the leadership and staff at NASS to develop policy, discover current trends, and understand codes and protocols as they applied to my home state.

NASS is certainly a paragon of information, but it also offers a national treasure to leaders from around the country that have come to rely on the organization’s expertise. That treasure is New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner.

Known at NASS as the “Dean of Secretaries,” Gardner is their longest-serving official, having been an active participant and leader throughout his 42-year tenure as New Hampshire’s top elections official.

I first met Secretary Gardner in 2007 during my initial term as Rhode Island’s deputy secretary. My boss, Rhode Island Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis was already familiar with the New Hampshire icon: Secretary Gardner spoke at St. Anselm College when Mollis was still a student there and was among the first to influence Mollis’s fascination with public service.

Secretary Gardner has held many positions of leadership throughout his tenure with NASS, but it is his leadership “off the field” that makes him such a distinguished asset to secretaries of state from all over these United States.

He leaves partisanship at the door and his actions always reflect the best interest of the nation’s citizens and not the wants and needs of any political party. Yet, he is always quick to rise to the defense of New Hampshire, the state that he loves and represents so adeptly.

When many in NASS expressed concern that their state’s presidential preference contests were sometimes anticlimactic because the choice of nominee was decided before that state’s primary elections, secretaries from those states proposed a rotating presidential primary that would regionalize the primary calendar, thereby lending relevance to the primary outcome in those states. The proposal would also have eliminated New Hampshire’s status as the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Gardner quickly rose to object, insisting that New Hampshire’s interest be protected. It was only the immense respect that other members had for the Dean that the proposal, though hotly debated, was first amended to protect New Hampshire’s status and then indefinitely postponed.

In this age of fast-paced politics and slick politicians, it is also refreshing to note that in his 42 years of service to the residents of New Hampshire and to his colleagues around the United States, Secretary Gardner has been above reproach personally and professionally.

Always a gentleman, Gardner’s name has never been associated with scandal of any sort. He epitomizes all those qualities that make a public servant a natural leader.

He is truly a national treasure, one the people of New Hampshire can be proud to claim as their own.

(Paul Caranci is a former Rhode Island deputy secretary of state, a former elected official from North Providence and the author of eight books.)

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