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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Election makes waves in New Hampshire once again

Kevin Landrigan

Once again after an election, New Hampshire politics stands out in so many ways.

Gender equality: New Hampshire became the first state with all women in its congressional delegation. ...

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Once again after an election, New Hampshire politics stands out in so many ways.

Gender equality: New Hampshire became the first state with all women in its congressional delegation.

This became the fourth election in a row in which women broke a barrier at the polls in New Hampshire, with the first member of Congress in 2006, the first member of the Senate in 2008, the first Republican woman elected to major office in 2010 and now completing the D.C. quartet.

Teutonic plate: For the third election out of four, we’ve seen a big wave that has tossed one majority out and replaced it with the other party. This would be notable enough, but remember that when Democrats won the House in 2006, it was the first time they had done so in 90 years.

Voters elected 115 more House Democrats, which is stunning all by itself until you consider that despite the re-election of President Barack Obama, his party had a net gain of only 170 legislative seats nationally.

Divided government: We’ve certainly had that before. Remember when Democrats held the state Senate in 1998 and Republicans were in charge of the House?

Speaking of gender, it was also a time when the state had a woman governor, speaker of the House and president of the Senate.

With the dust settled across the country, New Hampshire is one of only three states – Iowa and Kentucky are the other ones – in which both parties are not in control of their entire Legislature.

Awaiting final numbers

The final numbers won’t be out until later this week, but it sure looks as if Secretary of State Bill Gardner was a tad too generous in his turnout forecast prior to the election.

Gardner had predicted that a record 722,000 people would show up at the polls, which would exceed the 719,403 who cast ballots in 2008.

The final numbers of those who cast ballots and the percentage turnout will take a back seat to the priority work of Gardner’s office right now, which is to complete the nearly dozen recounts from the election.

An election law passed in 2010 gives Gardner little time to complete all the recounting that’s requested.

The number of those who voted for president was 710,928. The total ballots will be slightly higher; believe it or not, there are some who go into the booth and don’t vote for the president, but fill in other offices.

A less than record turnout would surprise many who saw long lines, late counts and quite a few examples of automatic voting machines that malfunctioned.

Well, that’s exactly what is seen every 10 years, when by law, Gardner has to purge the rolls of registered voters down to only those who took part in the last two elections.

Those long lines of new registered voters weren’t filled with young voters new to the political process. These were folks who only vote in presidential elections and for whatever reason – they had just moved in or had been out of state – they didn’t cast a ballot in 2008.

The reality is we all have shorter memories, particularly when it comes to hardships we’ve endured in the past. They always seem much worse to us in the present.

Rank statistics

By all accounts, it appears House Speaker William O’Brien and the House GOP’s political action committee miscalculated how this election would affect their ranks on Nov. 6.

Who can blame them? None of the pre-election polls showed Obama stretching his victory margin to six points or giving Democrat Maggie Hassan a victory for governor that was double the margin over GOP nominee Ovide Lamontagne.

O’Brien and his forces fully expected a margin of error race at the top.

Thus, they devoted nearly all of their financial resources to House races that were in swing districts or in which party affiliation was close.

This was because a tight race at the top would mean House incumbent Republicans would hold onto those seats where they held a clear partisan edge in voter registration.

Well as we all know by now, that isn’t how this one went.

Hassan won every single county, and Obama won all of them except Rockingham County, which he lost narrowly to Republican Mitt Romney.

Meanwhile, Democrats farther down the ballot, riding this Democratic coattail, were able to pick off seats they typically wouldn’t have a chance at winning.

Examples were two seats in Derry, one in Londonderry, one in Merrimack, five in the Lakes Region, one in Deerfield and Northwood, one in New Castle and Rye, and one in Hampton/Hampton Falls.

What was also clear was the redistricting plan in the House for which O’Brien had fought so hard proved to be less partisan than advertised.

One reason was by nearly doubling the number of districts from 103 to 200, this made it easier for Democrats to campaign for an upset – particularly the 85 or so who lost in 2010 but agreed to give it another try.

Tucker draws support

In less than a day, House Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker, R-Greenfield, established herself as the candidate to beat to be the next House Republican leader when the GOP caucus meets Thursday.

At the end of last week, Tucker released her list of more than 70 elected GOP members who were backing her over former House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartllett, to be the chief spokesman for the loyal opposition.

O’Brien made clear right after results of his devastating loss of the GOP majority that he had no interest in remaining in the top GOP slot.

O’Brien is backing Tucker, along with a host of other members of the House GOP leadership team that had been place for two years.

“I am humbled and honored to receive the support of so many of my fellow representatives from all over the state in such a short period of time,” Tucker said.

“Together, we can create a strong Republican caucus that focuses on keeping New Hampshire affordable to all residents by balancing the budget and seeing that the state government lives within its means and keeps our commitment to creating new jobs by lower taxes and reducing burdensome regulation.”

Hassan tabs Walsh

Gov.-elect Hassan’s first personnel move came as no surprise.

She tapped Democratic Party adviser Pam Walsh, of Concord, to head her transition.

It’s no coincidence that Hassan’s trajectory as a candidate in the general election campaign grew soon after the primary when Walsh began to take on a day-to-day role in helping to guide it.

Walsh learned the hard way how to cope with an avalanche of attack ads when she had managed Gov. John Lynch’s last re-election campaign in 2010.

“I am honored that Governor-elect Hassan has entrusted me with the responsibility of helping implement her vision for keeping New Hampshire moving forward,” Walsh said in a statement. “I know her commitment to bringing people together to solve problems will serve our state well, and I look forward to being a part of that process.”

‘The transition team will work out of 33 Hazen Drive in the State Office Park South complex and be open for business Wednesday.

Casino friendly

What do the changes in the makeup in Concord do to the prospects for expanded gambling?

Well, let’s start with the punch line. It isn’t a done deal. There is no disputing that with a governor in support of a single casino, the gambling lobby will start the legislative session with more reason for optimism than it has ever had.

Hassan has been restrained in her support for the concept, and also made it clear she would want to see a robust regulatory regime that would manage gambling in place before the casino were to open.

But casino backers have something they have always lacked: a friend in the corner office.

Even some past opponents concede this is the direction in which the state appears to be heading.

“I’ve been a past opponent of the concept, but if I were a betting man, I would wager there will be a casino bill that makes it to the desk of Governor Hassan in our next session,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.

But hold on just a minute. The big unanswered question for this issue is just who will become speaker of the House.

Former Speaker Terie Norelli is a longtime opponent of casinos, while her Democratic foe, Rep. David Campbell, is a strong advocate.

The House has never backed an expanded gambling bill, and the only way one may ever pass is if it gets a speaker who is no longer opposed – or, as was the case the last two years, an agnostic on the subject.

So these battles for House leadership should help set the odds for a casino – or not – in our future.

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