Shurtleff nominated as New Hampshire House speaker
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The new Democratic majority in the New Hampshire House nominated longtime Rep. Steve Shurtleff as its next speaker Thursday but signaled a readiness to get rid of longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
Gardner, who has held the office for 42 years and is the nation’s longest serving secretary of state, is facing his first challenge in decades. Though he is revered for ensuring New Hampshire retains its place at the start of the presidential nominating calendar, he has faced harsh criticism from fellow Democrats for serving on President Donald Trump’s commission on election fraud and for supporting Republican legislation to tighten voter registration rules.
In a nonbinding vote Thursday, Democrats backed Colin Van Ostern, a Democrat and former gubernatorial candidate. According to news reporters, the vote was 179 for Van Ostern, 23 for Gardner, and 7 for former state Rep. Peter Sullivan. The 400-member House and 24-member Senate will make the final decision Dec. 5. Pending recounts, Democrats will hold a roughly 65-person advantage in the House and a 14-10 advantage in the Senate.
“In recent months I’ve heard from hundreds of legislators from both parties about how we need to modernize the Secretary of state’s office and bring new accountability & support for our voters and local officials alike,” Van Ostern said in a statement. “I’m grateful to see widespread support for that approach today and I look forward to sharing it with the Republican caucus as well in the coming weeks.
Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald urged lawmakers to re-elect Gardner, saying Van Ostern represents a significant threat to the first-in-the-nation primary “as well as a radical approach to election processes and procedures.”
Shurtleff, who is entering his eighth term representing the Penacook village of Concord, supports Van Ostern but said as in all matters, will not tell other Democrats how to vote. He defeated Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton by a vote of 183-42 to be the House speaker nominee.
“I’m very touched. As someone who grew up here in Concord, and was in the Statehouse so many times, to be the nominee for speaker is a great honor,” Shurtleff said after the closed-door vote.
Shurtleff previously served as minority leader when Republicans were in power. Democrats also won control of the Senate in this month’s elections, and have nominated Manchester Sen. Donna Soucy to be its president.
Shurtleff said his agenda includes mandatory training on sexual harassment for lawmakers and creating a human resource director position for the Statehouse to handle complaints.
“No more having those issues of sexual and workplace harassment dealt with either by the speaker’s office or the Senate president, they’ll be done by professionals and a bipartisan individual,” he said.
Republican Rep. Dick Hinch, who currently serves as House majority leader, congratulated Shurtleff but said Republicans won’t stand for new taxes, irresponsible spending or repeals of bills passed under GOP control.
“We’ve already seen some of their bill requests for next year, and it’s clear that the train is off the tracks,” said Hinch, of Merrimack. “Democrats have a track record of mismanaging the state’s finances, and we intend on making voters very aware of their follies. 2020 has already begun.”