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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Call for bipartisan cooperation comes as NH Legislature meets for first time of 2013-14 session

CONCORD – The 2013-14 session of the Legislature opened Wednesday with goodwill wishes for bipartisan cooperation.

New House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portmouth, and re-elected Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, pledged to work with the other side of the aisle as they face a two-year state budget that looks tight particularly given a sluggish economy and near-flat revenue growth. ...

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CONCORD – The 2013-14 session of the Legislature opened Wednesday with goodwill wishes for bipartisan cooperation.

New House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portmouth, and re-elected Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, pledged to work with the other side of the aisle as they face a two-year state budget that looks tight particularly given a sluggish economy and near-flat revenue growth.

“The citizens of the great state of New Hampshire sent us here with a message – they want a Legislature that puts partisan politics aside and works, in a respectful way, on the issues that matter to Granite Staters. And that is exactly what we should all plan to do,” Norelli, 60, said after taking back the gavel she lost in 2010.

“We will not always agree, but we must move beyond the partisan divide and begin to work together on behalf of all of our constituents. We must keep our promises by focusing on jobs and the economy and delivering a responsible budget that meets the needs of the citizens and businesses of our state.’’

The new House has 219 Democrats and 179 Republicans, one of the biggest legislative shifts in the country after a 2010 election that gave Republicans a historic 3-to-1 supermajority.

Norelli is also president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the nonpartisan lobbying and research arm of lawmakers from the 50 states.

Dethroned House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, had the seat of his choosing in the rear of the chamber and left soon after Norelli took the gavel.

Senate boss Bragdon, 49, stressed the time for blame and finger-pointing from the election is over in the Senate that’s split 13-11 Republican after the GOP enjoyed a 19-5 advantage the past two years.

“Those who elected us expect the finger-pointing that was prevalent in the campaign to stop and they expect us to lead. They expect us to work together to identify our challenges and work together to craft solutions,” Bragdon said.

“They do not expect us to agree all the time, but they do expect us to discuss issues and possible solutions in a respectful manner, being willing to listen to our colleagues who hold opposing views and respecting their convictions.”

For the first time in state history, the minority leaders – Democrat Sylvia Larsen, 63, in the Senate and Republican Gene Chandler, 65, in the House – have been presiding officers and those in the top jobs, Bragdon and Norelli, once ran their own minority caucus.

“There will be many ideas and ways we can move the state forward, and I pledge to do that,” Chandler said in making Norelli’s election as speaker unanimous.

Larsen offered the same olive branch to Bragdon with the comfort of having a fellow Democrat and former colleague, onetime Senate Majority Leader Maggie Hassan the governor-elect of New Hampshire.

“The entire caucus is eager to get to work with our Republican colleagues in the Senate, both parties in the House, and Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan to tackle the important issues facing New Hampshire and move our great state forward,” Larsen said.

Hassan recalled her six years of working with senators from both parties before losing her seat in 2010.

“I look forward to again working with both of them, to listen to voices from both sides of the aisle and from across the state to build a stronger, more innovative New Hampshire and keep our state moving forward,” Hassan said.

Outgoing Gov. John Lynch told reporters he saw the different tone up close Wednesday as GOP and Democratic lawmakers alike hugged in Norelli’s new third-floor office.

“I do think there is going to be a real spirit of cooperation in the Statehouse,” Lynch said. “I think the spirit of civility will last during the session.”

Despite the familiar faces, there will be changes.

Concord Democrat Steve Shurtleff was promoted to be House majority leader under Norelli and his predecessor, 17-term Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, got named chairman of the House Finance Committee.

“We know our state is facing some tough times and difficult problems. These are not Democratic problems or Republican problems; these are New Hampshire’s problems,” Shurtleff said. “Now more then ever the New Hampshire House needs a special, needed effort to work across the aisle in the best interest of all our citizens.”

Norelli is expected to disband two policy committees O’Brien created, the Committees on Redress of Grievances along with Constitutional and Statutory Law Revision.

Bragdon combined four committees into two, joining the health and education panels as well as internal affairs and rules.

He named Republicans to chair the remaining committees.

In an interview, Norelli, a nine-term Democrat, confirmed she approached Chandler with the idea of breaking tradition and having all 400 House members seats together regardless of party.

“I am seriously considering we could build greater comprehensive party cooperation by having members in the House sitting together amongst each other,” Norell said.

Since 1994, Republicans and Democrats have been segregated in their own sections with the majority to the speaker’s right and the minority to the leader’s left.

The business session for lawmakers starts Jan. 2, and Hassan is to be sworn in Jan. 3.

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