By Alex Lippa
---- — The New Hampshire State Senate will have a new leader when its next session begins as Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, announced yesterday he is stepping down after three years.
That leader could be Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, who said yesterday that he is interested in replacing Bragdon.
Bragdon took a job this week as executive director of New Hampshire’s Local Government Center, prompting calls for his resignation due to potential conflicts of interest. The LGC is an umbrella organization overseeing a health care trust, a worker compensation trust and a liability and property trust in which many municipalities participate.
Morse said yesterday he already has the support of at least 10 senators as he vies for the top position in the 24-member chamber.
“I’m going to announce to the caucus that I’m interested next week,” Morse said. “I feel like I’ve proven myself with passing budgets that I can lead in the state of New Hampshire.”
Morse has been a senator since 2002 and serves on the Transportation, Capital Budget and Public Affairs committees. He is the president of Freshwater Farms Nursery and Garden Center in Atkinson.
Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said that she would support Morse as the new president.
“ I think he would be an excellent Senate president, he’s been in the Senate for a number of years,” she said. “He has the respect of our caucus and the respect of the Democrats as well. I think he’d be an great choice to pick up the reins where (Bragdon) left off.”
Morse said Bragdon made the right decision in choosing to step down.
“He believed he could develop a process to manage through this, but I think the potential for conflict was just too great,” he said.
Bragdon said he initially thought he would be able to manage the two responsibilities, but ultimately changed his mind out of concern his dual role might cause some to question “the openness and integrity” of the Senate.
“Though I initially presumed that any potential conflicts I might face due to my employment would be similar to those of any other senator or representative, given New Hampshire’s volunteer legislature, I have come to see the merit in arguments that the position of Senate president presents many greater challenges,” Bragdon said.
“Though I have promised to recuse myself from even the most seemingly mundane administrative tasks if a conflict arose, I do realize the perception of impropriety could still exist and could tarnish the reputation of the Senate.”
Bragdon’s decision was applauded by Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.
“I believe that Senator Bragdon has taken an appropriate step in resigning as Senate President,” she said. “I greatly appreciate his service in that role and have enjoyed working with him to constructively address our challenges.”
Harrell Kirstein, communications director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party and one of the more vocal critics of Bragdon, also weighed in on the senator’s decision.
“We are pleased he has finally taken this first initial step,” he said. “But many serious questions remain about the process of Bragdon’s hiring, decisions he made while Senate president relating to the LGC, and how as a state senator he will be directing registered lobbyists while legally barred from being one himself.”
Bragdon said he plans to call the Senate back into session after Labor Day to elect the next president. He expected the date to be set by the end of next week.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.