New state Senate Democratic leader an old hand in N.H. politics

  • State Sen. Donna Soucy speaks in Concord in April 2014. Soucy was named the Senate’s interim minority leader Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, after fellow Democratic Sen. Jeff Woodburn stepped down amid domestic abuse allegations. AP file

For the Monitor
Published: 8/7/2018 9:33:12 PM

Donna Soucy grew up surrounded by politics, and now she’s in the center of one of New Hampshire’s biggest political controversies.

As the new Democratic leader of the state Senate, Soucy has to address her predecessor, Jeff Woodburn, the North Country senator who is facing nine domestic violence-related charges.

Soucy, first elected to the state Senate in 2012, was one of the Democratic senators who called for Woodburn to resign, a position she maintains.

Woodburn has so far refused to give up his seat, and his name will remain on the ballot in the Sept. 11 primary.

“I think the eight Senate Democrats on Thursday evening who heard the news were clear in our statement that we thought Sen. Woodburn should resign,” Soucy said Tuesday. “We’ll go from there.”

As her party’s leader in the Senate, she faced questions about Democrats potentially seeking a write-in candidate to challenge Woodburn in the primary. In her second day on the job, she stuck to the script.

“We collectively issued the statement,” she said. “We stand by our statement.”

All of the chamber’s 10 Democrats took part in Monday night’s vote to make Soucy their leader except Woodburn himself and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, who was out of the state attending a conference. Soucy was elected to serve as interim Democratic leader. The lawmakers will meet soon after November’s elections to choose their leader for the next two-year legislative term.

Soucy wouldn’t say whether she’d run again for leader after the election.

“I haven’t made that decision yet. This just occurred last night. And I intend to work my heart out from now until November on behalf of our caucus and our Democratic candidates,” she told the Monitor.

Soucy was deputy minority leader under Woodburn. The position is not elected by the caucus but rather appointed by the Democratic leader.

Soucy said she hasn’t chosen who will be her deputy.

“We’ll notify you as soon as I do,” she said.

Woodburn was known as a very vocal critic of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who’s running this autumn for a second two-year term in the corner office. Soucy indicated that she’ll take the baton from Woodburn when it comes to targeting Sununu.

“I certainly have many differences with Gov. Sununu, and I intend to make those very clear on the campaign trail between now and the general election,” she said.

The Senate is back in session for a day in September to possibly override some recent vetoes by Sununu. Beyond that, the November elections are the top item on Soucy’s to-do list. The Democrats are trying to recapture the majority in a chamber currently controlled, 14-10, by the GOP.

“I think there is a great opportunity for the Senate Democrats to take over the majority and we’re going to work our hearts out between now and November,” she said.

Soucy is also close with New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, whom she’ll work with closely during the three months leading up to Election Day.

“Chairman Buckley is a very able chairman,” she said. “I’ve known him since he was the chairman of the Manchester Democrats and even before, he served in the Legislature with my mother. That relationship has been a strong one with respect to the caucus, and it will continue.”

Soucy is ready to make the case to voters why Democrats should lead.

“The focus of the Democratic caucus in the Senate is the people of the Granite State and making sure that we’re solving their problems and doing the people’s business, and that’s what we intend to do and work with many of our fine candidates to elect a majority in November,” she said.

If that sounds like a veteran politician talking, it is.

Soucy is the daughter of the late C. Arthur Soucy, a longtime Democratic Party activist and civic leader who was elected Manchester alderman and was the founding member and first president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats. And her late mother Lillian served as a state lawmaker.

Before serving in the state Senate, Soucy was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives and as a Manchester alderman.

Someone who’s known Soucy for years pointed to her track record to show how she’ll do in her new role.

“I think Donna has shown in representation of her district in Manchester what a strong leader she is,” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen told the Monitor.

Shaheen, a former state senator herself, predicted Soucy will succeed.

“I know how challenging it can be sometimes to get your colleagues to work together, and Donna’s shown she can do that,” Shaheen said. “I think she’ll be a great leader of the Democrats in Concord.”

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