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Hennessey won’t seek a third term in N.H. Senate

  • Sen. Martha Hennessey Valley News file

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2020 3:27:44 PM

HANOVER — State Sen. Martha Hennessey, who spearheaded efforts to better protect children and New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens during her six years in the Legislature, will not seek reelection when her term ends in December.

The 66-year-old Hanover Democrat announced her decision on Monday, saying she intends to step back from state politics to spend more time with family and enjoy other pursuits.

“I’d like to travel more. I’d like to travel with my grandchildren and children. I actually like to write,” Hennessey said in a phone interview. “There are other things that I just don’t have the time and energy for when I’m in the Senate.”

The move could set up a primary for the District 5 Senate seat now held by Hennessey, who expects several people will be interested in the position.

The district is considered among New Hampshire’s most reliably Democratic and is comprised of Lyme, Hanover, Lebanon, Enfield, Canaan, Plainfield, Cornish, Claremont and Charlestown.

Hennessey said she was mulling whether to seek reelection for a while, thinking “there are other things that I wanted to be doing and it might be time for someone else to step in.”

Then, the youngest of her three adult children was hospitalized with COVID-19. Hennessey’s daughter recovered but the incident made her think hard about how politics have affected the family.

“All my kids’ families, they could all use some help from grandparents,” she said. “I would like to be able to have the flexibility to, at the drop of the hat, fly out to help them and to see them and spend more time with them.”

Hennessey’s legislative achievements include passage of a bill requiring health insurance to cover fertility care, including in vitro fertilization and fertility preservation for patients who are undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy that could affect their ability to have children.

She also pushed for passage of a measure forcing schools to provide feminine hygiene products to students, and has fought to prevent firearms from being allowed in school buildings.

“My whole life has sort of been about doing what’s best for the next generation, for young people and for young families,” said Hennessey, a retired developmental psychologist.

She also advocated for the victims of sexual assault, revealing two years ago that she was assaulted by a Dartmouth College classmate at a fraternity party in 1976. Hennessey, a member of the first fully coed class at Dartmouth, said she was not sexually assaulted, but believes the attack was “gender related.”

And as chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she said she sought solutions to criminal justice issues that rely less on heavy prison sentences and more on mental health and substance abuse counseling.

Often, those who find themselves in trouble with the law are “parents, children, they are people who need mental health protections and care,” Hennessey said. “I think that is a far better way of approaching these issues than throwing people in prison.”

Hennessey entered politics in 2015, joining three Democrats representing Hanover in the House for two years before deciding to run for the Senate.

In 2016, she defeated Marie Lozito, a nurse and Republican activist from Claremont, for the District 5 being vacated by then-Sen. David Pierce, D-Lebanon.

Hennessey’s colleagues described her as committed to Democratic and social justice issues, citing key votes to do away with New Hampshire’s death penalty, institute a paid family leave program and legalize marijuana.

“She was really dedicated,” said state Rep. John Cloutier, D-Claremont, adding he was “disappointed” by her decision.

State Rep. Sue Almy, D-Lebanon, also characterized Hennessey as an intelligent, good person who became skilled at influencing policy in Concord. Hennessey also took the time to visit and get to know the district’s towns, she added.

“I think she got along well with a lot of people and could judge where perhaps she could make a difference very well,” said Almy, a 12-term lawmaker.

Even those working on the other side of the aisle had kind words for the outgoing senator.

State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, recalled that Hennessey, on behalf of Senate Democrats, delivered flowers and a card when his wife, Christine, suffered an aneurysm several years ago. He said she came to the hospital to meet with them in person.

“I’ve never forgotten that nor will I,” Giuda said.

Giuda, who has sparred with Hennessey several times on the Senate floor, said they continued to have a cordial relationship.

“We agreed to disagree. Sometimes vigorously, sometimes mildly but always respectfully,” he said.

Hennessey said many of her ideals stem from her upbringing in a family of prominent Upper Valley progressives.

Her late father, John W. Hennessey Jr., was a former dean of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business who pushed for co-education in the 1960s. He also co-founded the Council on Opportunity in Graduate Management Education, a nonprofit that worked to bring minorities to the country’s top business schools, and was later married to former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat.

Meanwhile, her mother, Jean Hennessey, who died in 2004, was influential in Democratic politics in the Hanover area.

“I was educated very early on in my life by my parents about civil rights, gender equality and taking care of those that have the most difficulty among us,” she said. “That was always a very important part of out family discussion and it was with my own kids.”

Hennessey also said serving in the Legislature has been a humbling experience, teaching her to accept losses and bounce back.

“I took a lot of it personally, which was a gift and a curse in a lot of ways,” she said. “I would be extremely frustrated at the end of the day many days. But on the other hand, it also meant that that was what fed my passion for these issues.”

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