Critics: New Hampshire primary commission is unnecessary

Associated Press
Published: 4/24/2019 5:55:16 PM

An effort to promote and protect New Hampshire’s cherished first-in-the-nation presidential primary faced some unexpected opposition Wednesday.

A bill to create a commission to “celebrate and safeguard” New Hampshire’s tradition passed the state’s House in February, but one of its sponsors told a Senate committee that he now opposes the legislation.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, said it could lead to micro-managing the secretary of state, who has the sole authority to set the primary date. One of the commission’s duties would be to consider and advise the secretary of state “as it deems appropriate.”

“I think we’d be making big mistake to try to oversee something that’s not broken,” Baldasaro told the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner also spoke against the bill, calling it unnecessary. He quoted an old saying about a camel being a “horse created by a committee,” and said a similar commission had been created and disbanded in the past.

The New Hampshire primary is a time-honored tradition in politics. The state held its first presidential primary election in 1916 and has gone first every four years since 1920, despite repeated efforts by other states to jump ahead.

Many in New Hampshire credit Gardner with safeguarding the tradition, along with a state law that requires him to schedule the primary at least seven days ahead of any similar contest. The nation’s longest serving secretary of state, Gardner was first elected by the Legislature in 1976 and has been reelected every two years since, though he came close to being ousted last year.

Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing, the bill’s primary sponsor, wasn’t able to attend the hearing, where no one spoke in favor of the bill. He said in an interview later that nothing in the bill would interfere with the secretary of state’s role.

“That’s not in the bill and I don’t know where that came from. My intent was to simply lift up and celebrate the first-in-the-nation primary, and do ongoing public education,” he said. “It’s part of how you safeguard it. If you don’t explain to people why the first-in-the-nation primary is important, why it’s good for new Hampshire, you lose it.”

He said the bill was modeled on a temporary commission that was formed several years ago to celebrate the primary’s centennial.

Gardner isn’t expected to set the date for the 2020 primary until late fall.

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