Hope and Possibilities Come with New Year at State House

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Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.

By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome

The holiday season is a time of reflection and a time of renewal.

Renewal brings hope and possibilities that were just out of reach in the past and some so far out of reach they are almost impossible to imagine.

The New Hampshire political scene is rampant with many unknowns heading into the new year: some will be resolved, and some will not.

The biggest elephant in the room — or most obvious — is the status of the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Did President Biden and the Democratic National Committee’s Rules Committee strike a fatal blow to the treasured event that gives the state a crucial, but out-sized say in deciding who will be the next president?

State law says it must be first, and the Republican hierarchy is not about to change that status, putting the state and the DNC on a collision course in a scant two years.

Potential GOP candidates have already begun their pilgrimages to the Granite State and some potential Democrats have come with the off-chance Biden does not seek reelection.

The question will be how serious the DNC is about moving South Carolina to the front of the pack and conditioning New Hampshire second-in-line position — with Nevada — on the state changing its statute and the state party’s practice of charging candidates for voter lists.

If they just want to make a point, the DNC would only refuse to seat New Hampshire’s delegates at the national convention, but if they are serious about upending the presidential selection process, they could do other things like refuse to seat the delegates of candidates who participated in the New Hampshire primary and that could have a much more negative impact.

Those things need to be determined soon because the 2024 presidential primary has already begun.

A related item is whether Gov. Chris Sununu will run for the GOP presidential nomination.

He acts like he is, raising his profile with the national media including a recent piece on CNN, and running ads in Iowa and South Carolina, the two states with presidential selection events on either side of New Hampshire.

Sununu is positioning himself to be the Trump and Washington alternative with some claims many in New Hampshire would question.

The state’s current good fortune owes as much if not more to the massive amount of federal COVID and infrastructure money flowing into the state — like many other states — as it does to good management and efficient government.

Sununu flirting with national office is reminiscent of former Gov. Steve Merrill’s run for national GOP chair after he headed Bob Dole’s presidential campaign.

That did not end well as many of his state party’s members believed he abandoned the state to go “Hollywood.”

And the other consideration for Sununu is if he runs in the New Hampshire primary, who else will enter besides former President Donald Trump, which also would not be good for the overall health of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary.

If Sununu is considering a run for president, he is not going to want to have bills further restricting abortion or more outlawing critical race theory or vaccinations coming to his desk.

He will want a nice smooth 2023 session he can take on the road as an example of a governor who can accomplish things even with a slim majority.

But some in the legislature of both parties may not be willing to go along with a scenario like that.

Sununu has an Executive Council that is reluctant to approve long-standing state contracts that are now victims in the cultural wars like health care contracts for abortion providers and sex education for at-risk students.

That is not likely to change. However he controls the council’s agenda, but not the legislature’s until a bill reaches his desk.

The House will be a very interesting place with an almost evenly divided partisan makeup.

As they always say, attendance matters.

And for the next two years attendance is going to be crucial for both sides of the aisle.

Democrats need only a couple Republicans to join them to either pass or kill legislation. A few Democrats stay home and Republicans have an easier time passing legislation.

What that probably means is that not much with substance will make it through the House during the next two years unless there is at least a little bipartisan agreement, and that could be tricky for some bills like the budget package.

House Speaker Sherman Packard can only hope the nearly evenly divided House will be less confrontational and acrimonious than the one he oversaw the last two years.

That was the ugliest House many people have witnessed in their lifetimes.

If the first House session, Organization Day, was an indication, the partisanship is still very much alive.

One seat remains to be decided, because there was a tie vote for the Rochester Ward 4 seat.

The two candidates, incumbent Democrat Chuck Grassie and Republican David Walker had agreed to hold a special election to decide who would represent the ward.

But when the resolution was introduced to ask for a special election, some Republicans tried to table it and instead have a vote to seat Walker.

But other Republicans did not think that was a good thing to do and instead helped approve the resolution and the special election will be held at the beginning of February.

If you were looking for a more civil and respectful House, that was not what you wanted to see.

The Senate will have a new leader, Republican Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro is the Senate President after being Majority Leader for a number of terms.

However, he will be leading a more conservative Senate than the last two years with several new members more to the right than the people they replaced.

The partisan divide is the same as it was two years before with 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

The Senate served as a brake on some of the more outrageous things that passed the House during the last two years, the next two years it will be a different equation.

A new legislature is always refreshing and the next two years are bound to be interesting with all the moving parts in the state’s political landscape.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

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.

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