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Shurtleff gets nod from Democrats in bid for speaker of N.H. House

  • Rep. Steve Shurtleff poses for portrait in the Representative’s Hall gallery at the State House on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Rep. Steve Shurtleff poses for portrait outside the State House on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Associated Press
Published: 11/15/2018 2:49:07 PM

The new Democratic majority in the New Hampshire House has nominated longtime Concord Rep. Steve Shurtleff as its new speaker.

The full House will vote on a new speaker Dec. 5, but is likely to go along with Thursday’s caucus vote. Pending recounts, Democrats will hold a roughly 65-person advantage in the 400-member House.

Shurtleff, who is entering his eighth term representing the Penacook village of Concord, defeated Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton by a vote of 183-42 to be the House speaker nominee. In addition, Democrats overwhelmingly picked Colin Van Ostern longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner 179 to 23.

“I’m very touched. As someone who grew up here in Concord, and was in the State House so many times, to be the nominee for speaker is a great honor,” Shurtleff said after the closed-door vote.

Shurtleff previously served as minority leader when Republicans were in power. Democrats also won control of the Senate in this month’s elections, and have nominated Manchester Sen. Donna Soucy to be its president.

Shurtleff said his agenda includes mandatory training on sexual harassment for lawmakers and creating a human resource director position for the State House to handle complaints.

“No more having those issues of sexual and workplace harassment dealt with either by the speaker’s office or the Senate president, they’ll be done by professionals and a bipartisan individual,” he said.

Though Shurtleff has said he hopes lawmakers will pass legislation related to mental health resources and paid family medical leave, he said he doesn’t intend to impose his will either in proposing legislation or telling members how to vote.

“We are a bottom-up type organization and we have strong faith in the committee system,” Shurtleff said. “It won’t be the role of the speaker to talk down to the caucus, into the body, to say what he or she wants passed. It will be up to the committees to tell the leadership what they want to see as laws.”

Republican Rep. Dick Hinch, who currently serves as House majority leader, congratulated Shurtleff but said Republicans won’t stand for new taxes, irresponsible spending or repeals of bills passed under GOP control.

“We’ve already seen some of their bill requests for next year, and it’s clear that the train is off the tracks,” said Hinch, of Merrimack. “Democrats have a track record of mismanaging the state’s finances, and we intend on making voters very aware of their follies. 2020 has already begun.”

The caucus also took a straw vote on secretary of state candidates. Gardner, who has held the office for 42 years and is the nation’s longest-serving secretary of state, faces challenges, from Van Ostern and Peter Sullivan. Gardner is known for ensuring New Hampshire retains its place at the start of the presidential nominating calendar, but he has faced harsh criticism from fellow Democrats for serving on President Donald Trump’s commission on election fraud and for supporting Republican legislation to tighten voter registration rules.

In a nonbinding vote Thursday, Democrats overwhelmingly picked Van Ostern over Gardner 179-23, with 7 votes for Sullivan.

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