By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome
In another week the election recounts will be decided, the Ballot Law Commission will have made its decisions and the 424 newly elected members of the General Court will gather in Concord for the first time.
Organization Day, the first Wednesday in December, is the day the House and Senate elect their leaders, as well as the Secretary of State and the State Treasurer.
They will also pass rules to operate the august bodies and the newbies will begin learning how the process works or how to gum it up.
The Senate election for its president will be pro forma with Republicans holding a 14-10 advantage although more than 6,000 voters cast ballots for Democrats than Republicans. Ah the joys of gerrymandering for the party drawing the lines.
Long-time legislator and former Congressman Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro will be the next Senate President, while former Senate President and long-time legislator Donna Soucy will be the Minority Leader.
The New Hampshire House — like the US House — will be a very narrowly divided body. But the New Hampshire House is likely to be able to resolve its leadership decisions more quickly than the US House, where long-time House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wants to be the new House Speaker with a slim four or five vote advantage for Republicans.
The problem is more Republicans than the slim majority are saying they will not vote for him, which means no one will be chosen on the first vote, if their word is good, which may be an issue these days.
Without a first round victory, determining who will be the US House Speaker will be a long and highly contentious process and will give the now minority Democrats more leverage than they would have had if McCarthy wins the first vote.
That fight is another month or more away, while in another week the New Hampshire House will have to decide who their leader will be.
In the New Hampshire House, it now appears Republicans will hold a two or three vote majority.
The question becomes are there enough Republicans who are unhappy with the shenanigans that occurred the last two years under the leadership of House Speaker Sherman Packard to want to send a message on the first round of voting denying him a majority.
One way of placating that segment of Republicans would be to find a new majority leader to replace Free Stater Jason Osborne, who many believe drove the Libertarian agenda the last two years making New Hampshire more like the Texas or Florida of the Northeast and making the majority of the state uncomfortable if not embarrassed.
Those with institutional memories will remember the 2014 Organization Day when the Republican’s caucus’s choice, former Speaker Bill O’Brien, failed to receive enough votes on the first round to be Speaker.
Democrats joined with enough moderate Republicans to make Shawn Jasper the House Speaker instead.
The same scenario may not happen on the 7th, but the possibility exists to have some serious chaos for a while before just who will lead the House for the next two years is settled.
The Democrats chose Matt Wilhelm along with Alexis Simpson to be their leaders for the next two years.
So the sides are set and the voting begins after the nominating speeches the first Wednesday in December.
Another interesting race will be for the Secretary of State’s position which is decided by the House and Senate members or the 424 lawmakers elected earlier this month.
This election for the Secretary of State will be the first since 1976 or in 46 years Bill Gardner’s name will not be on the ballot.
Gardner, then the longest serving Secretary of State in the country, stepped down earlier this year making his deputy David Scanlan the Secretary of State.
Gardner, a Democrat, was replaced by Scanlan, a Republican, at a time when the MAGA crowd sought to put people of like mind into those positions around the country.
However, all of the MAGA-backed candidates who stood for election this month failed to win the office.
In New Hampshire where legislators decide who will hold the position, Gardner has had few serious challenges over the years, although former House Speaker Donna Sytek ran against him at one point when she was a House member, and four years ago Democrat Colin Van Ostern came within a vote or two of defeating Gardner, but ultimately failed to knock off “King Bill,” his nickname.
Next month, Scanlan faces a challenge from former state Sen. Melanie Levesque who lost her state Senate bid for District 11.
The race will be interesting because Scanlan ran afoul of Democrats during the recounting process particularly over the Hillsborough District 16 race for two representatives for Ward 6 in Manchester.
The recount gave Democrat Maxine Mosley a one-vote victory over Larry Gagne, but Scanlan wanted to continue the recount after announcing Mosley the winner when a concern arose over the possibility a mistake put about 25 ballots in the wrong pile during the recount.
After Democrats and Mosley sued to block the “continuation” of the recount which is not allowed under state statutes, a superior court judge sided with the Democrat’s argument, but said a higher bar exists citing a 1970 state Supreme Court decision that voters should be the final determination and ordered a second recount.
After the second recount, Gagne won by about 20 votes.
The issue now goes to the Ballot Law Commission Monday for a final determination.
But it is unlikely Democrats will be voting for Scanlan on Organization Day.
Scanlan should have enough Republican votes to win, but this is the first election in 46 years without Gardner’s name on the ballot, so who knows.
To date there have not been any issues raised concerning State Treasurer Monica Mezzapelle and no one has said they intend to run against her.
Once the decisions are made on Organization Day, the leadership will be named for the majorities and minorities of the House and Senate, and then committee assignments will be made.
But the real work begins in the House with seat and parking assignments, which are always a very touchy proposition.
Let the games begin for the 2023-2024 legislative session.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.