By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
Some lawmakers spend decades at the State House, do a good job for their constituents but do not really leave a mark on the state’s legacy.
Others may not spend decades in the State House but when they leave, state government is reimagined and institutions changed to benefit the state and its people.
Ed Dupont of Durham, who left this earth last week, was one who left a legacy and had a profound effect on the state he loved at a crucial time.
He didn’t plan a politician career as a Rochester business owner who supported Republican candidates.
When former Gov. John H. Sununu appointed then District 6 state Senator Louis Bergeron to be his new Insurance Commissioner in 1983, the governor urged Dupont to run for the vacant seat in a special election. He did and won beginning a decade in the upper chamber that would end as Senate President from 1990 to 1992.
During his time in the Senate, Dupont delved into areas that interested him such as banks, technology and utilities, all of which would be useful when the state faced its biggest crisis in decades near the end of his tenure in the Senate and later when he established The Dupont Group, one of the state’s most powerful lobbying firms.
Politics were one part of his life. He was “a motorhead” from an early age. His father owned a garage where he worked after dropping out of the University of New Hampshire after three years and before he bought an oil delivery truck at the age of 23 and went into business.
Dupont loved cars and auto racing from NASCAR to Formula 1, and was the lobbyist for the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for many years.
He was a pilot and owned an airplane parked at Skyhaven Airport in Rochester, a competitive water skier, and a surfer and snow skier as well.
And he was on the Board of Trustees of the University System of New Hampshire, serving as chair for several terms.
But he spent about half of his life in Concord as a legislator or a lobbyist influencing both legislation and government activities.
He put his mark on the state’s history between 1989 and 1992 when he was the Senate Majority Leader under Senate President Bill Bartlett and when he served as Senate President.
While most expected he would be the next Senate President when Bartlett retired, the 1990 election tightened the partisan divide in the Senate to 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats, who were joined by Republicans Charlie Bass and Susan McLane, to complicate the picture.
Democrat Clesson “Junie” Blaisdell joined with the Republicans creating a 12-12 tie that meant an all day into an all night session to pick the Senate President on Organization Day. Eventually Dupont won and before the two-year term was over, most meaningful votes were 21-3 as he put together a Senate that worked well together.
The state needed a unified Senate with the problems it faced beginning with the state’s largest electric utility’s bankruptcy.
And the state’s five largest banks were collapsing under the weight of ill-begotten investments in real estate, a business sector too dependent on defense spending was contracting and it all combined to put the state’s economy in a near death spiral.
The poor economy meant state revenues were falling with no bottom in sight and that resulted in massive reductions to a state budget passed just months ago.
They were dark days in the State House when Dupont was Senate Majority Leader and later Senate President but he believed the government needed to act when business was incapacitated and unable to access the capital needed to begin turning the corner toward daylight.
Government programs were not in place to deal with the magnitude of the human and economic problems the state faced in 1989 through the next three or four years.
State government would need to do things it had not done before and people needed to leave old beliefs behind, which was not easy and some never did.
The bankruptcy of Public Service of New Hampshire was brought on by the company’s desire to build two nuclear reactors in Seabrook when it could not afford to build one.
The company turned to junk bonds that eventually led to its demise and then a dance with other electric utilities to put the utility on its feet again, but at considerable costs to the state’s ratepayers.
As Senate Majority Leader, Dupont needed to ensure the legislature passed what was needed to allow Northeast Utilities — now Eversource — to take the company out of bankruptcy. It did pass by just enough votes.
As Senate President he established the Senate Economic Development Committee and served as chair.
Under Dupont, the committee developed plans for the state to provide the capital the state’s banks no longer could, and establish tax incentives for research and development, job creation and capital investment.
The plan also included a separate business court, which was quickly shot down by the court system and Gov. Judd Gregg, but was established years later by former Chief Justice John Broderick.
The lawmakers approved the capital plan administered by the newly created Business Finance Authority, which continues to exist today.
Gregg and House Speaker Donna Sytek did not go along with the tax credits for the research and development, job creation nor capital investment, but two years later after Dupont had left the Senate the credits were included in the bill that created the business enterprise tax that Gov. Steve Merrill wanted so the state could end a suit over the business profits tax.
Dupont was also Senate President when the state passed its Mediscam plan to use hospital receipts to match federal money to help erase a $200 million revenue deficit.
There were three competing plans, one from the Senate, one from the House and one from Gregg’s office.
When it came time to sign off on the agreement for the program, Dupont was not in Concord, but walking with his wife Andrea who was about to give birth to their first child.
Eventually he signed off and eventually Andrea had their baby.
Dupont left the Senate in 1992 to run for the Republican nomination for governor along with Merrill and Liz Hager, losing to Merrill. During the campaign, Dupont refused to take “The Pledge” and drew the wrath of The Union Leader, when it had some influence over state elections.
Dupont established The Dupont Group in 1993 which helped influence the deregulation of the electric industry, worked with the mental health centers and represented the town of Bethlehem when a department of Environmental Services Commissioner declared a landfill in the community a pollution control facility and therefore tax exempt.
Dupont was co-chair of a joint Senate and House committee that reorganized state government leading to the consolidation of several agencies and creating the Department of Environmental Services.
He was also kind to a youngish reporter covering state government for the first time, arranging meetings with the Senate President and House Speaker and showing me around the State House.
I first met Ed when I was Rochester Bureau Chief for Fosters’ Daily Democrat and he was running for re-election to the Senate and found we shared a lot of interests.
I last saw Ed Dupont when the State House was celebrating its bicentennial in 2019 when all the living Senate Presidents and House Speakers were invited to a celebration.
The longer people are away from the spotlight the more they are forgotten.
Ed Dupont should be remembered for the work he did to make New Hampshire a better place, the kindness he showed people, and the love he had for his family, friends, colleagues and the Granite State.
Rest in Peace Ed. We miss you.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.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.