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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Today’s the day for Salem’s Chuck Morse to take over as Senate boss

CONCORD – The state Senate is fully expected to elect its new leader today, someone from a familiar town with a similar political profile.

Four-term Republican Sen. Chuck Morse’s promotion to Senate president will continue a long line of legislative leaders from Salem, a border town next to Massachusetts that has spawned many GOP political heavyweights over the years. ...

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CONCORD – The state Senate is fully expected to elect its new leader today, someone from a familiar town with a similar political profile.

Four-term Republican Sen. Chuck Morse’s promotion to Senate president will continue a long line of legislative leaders from Salem, a border town next to Massachusetts that has spawned many GOP political heavyweights over the years.

Morse will become the fourth Senate president in 30 years from the district.

Former Lottery Commissioner Arthur Klemm, of Windham, is the only one who didn’t live in Salem.

The late Senate President Vesta Roy was the first woman to lead the Senate in New Hampshire history from 1982-86. And for a period of weeks, Roy served as the first woman acting governor after the death of Democratic Gov. Hugh Gallen, who had lost his re-election bid.

Like Morse, Joe Delahunty came from the landscaping and gardening business before going on to lead the Senate from 1994-98.

The two have remained close over the years, raising money for their favorite civic group, the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem.

Then there was Donna Sytek, the Salem Republican who chaired the state GOP and went on in December 1996 to become the first woman ever elected speaker of the 400-person House.

All of the above had one person in common.

They either were first recruited by or politically came of age at the same time that an ex-MIT engineering executive named John H. Sununu became governor in 1982.

Sununu’s children didn’t remain in Salem, but they used the town as a political power base for John E. Sununu to eventually become a U.S. senator and his brother Chris to win a seat on the state Executive Council.

It was appropriate, then, that the first press release promoting Morse’s candidacy for Senate president would come straight from the elder Sununu himself.

Like many of those to come to power before him, Morse, 52, started in local politics, serving on the town’s Board of Selectmen.

While there, senior GOP figures such as Sununu, Sytek and company took notice of Morse’s financial skills and his political drive.

Like the elder Sununu, Morse started in Statehouse politics as a House member.

Again, like Sununu’s own past experience, Morse right away in Concord earned a reputation as a quick study, yet someone who immersed himself in the numbers to understand the byzantine document that is the 1,600-page state budget.

While Morse publicly still pays respects to those local power brokers who came before him, there’s no doubt about who is the top dog back home.

A year ago this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was visibly blown away, arriving at Morse’s Bittersweet Farms business in Salem for a Republican campaign rally to find several hundred GOP activists there.

“Boy, you’ve sure got a lot of friends,” Christie told Morse.

While Morse doesn’t spend all that much time doing it, he has proven to be a very capable fundraiser.

This is another asset Morse brings to the table for the other 12 Senate Republicans, who clearly want to stay in the majority past November 2014.

Last Tuesday, Morse locked up the presidency by winning support of all 13 GOP senators.

After a few anxious days of uncertainty, the group emerged from a closed-door one-hour caucus proclaiming that they were all behind Morse.

In typical low-key fashion, Morse spent the rest of last week in private meetings with colleagues and issue advocates, insisting he’d make no decisions until his promotion became official.

The only mild suspense today is whether the 11 Senate Democrats will vote for Morse or cast symbolic votes for Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, of Concord.

Senate Democrats met privately Thursday and Friday, and late signs were pointing to all of them getting behind Morse in hopes of starting this new relationship on a bipartisan tone.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a one-term Democrat, likely will find that Morse has a different style than Senate president than Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, who is stepping down as the Senate boss because he has become the CEO of the Local Government Center.

As a presiding officer, the soft-spoken Bragdon openly sought bipartisan support on initiatives, kept his counsel with governors and other legislative leaders private, and rarely publicly criticized the two Democrats who were governors while he ran the Senate, John Lynch and Hassan.

By contrast, friends and adversaries alike describe Morse as someone who’s direct, often blunt, doesn’t shy away from public or private confrontation, and demands in any negotiation that he be treated like an equal.

Some GOP senators privately admitted that given continued questions about just how Bragdon will handle his role as senator and LGC boss, Morse’s personality makes him the perfect choice to replace him.

That’s because they view Morse as someone who not only can keep all GOP senators unified but will project an image of unapologetic strength and resolve while representing the upper chamber.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).