By John Toole
---- — Speaker Terie Norelli is ending partisan segregation in New Hampshire House seating assignments.
Norelli, a Democrat, announced the change in Friday’s “House Record,” the calendar and journal of House business.
“I am particularly enthusiastic about the seating for this term because many of you had expressed interest in having House members of both parties sit among each other in the House Chamber rather than continue the long-held practice of being separated by party affiliation,” Norelli wrote.
“I enthusiastically support this idea and have devised a seating plan that will reflect this change,” Norelli said.
“It will allow everyone the opportunity to get to know members from both caucuses, as well as encourage us to discover some of the common goals we all share as state representatives,” she said.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, got in a quick partisan shot at Norelli over her decision.
“Speaker (William) O’Brien offered that a couple of years ago and she refused. She’s hypocritical,” Baldasaro said.
He characterized the Norelli move as a gimmick intended to show people she’s not partisan.
Baldasaro said the move won’t stop Republicans from talking about taxes and spending.
“This is not going to silence us,” he said.
The seating change could result in unintended consequences as Democrats listen to their Republican neighbors, Baldasaro predicted. “She’s going to lose control of her Democrats.”
But other area lawmakers thought there could be benefits to the move.
Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, said he had no problem sitting among Democrats.
“They don’t have leprosy,” Elliott said.
“There will be a little more interaction in the pews, so to speak. It might open up more communication,” he said. “My hope is we will make more friends with more Democrats and we’ll become more cordial as a consequence.”
Elliott isn’t sure it will change minds when it comes time to vote.
“I doubt it will have much effect on the final outcome,” he said.
Rep. Lisa Whittemore, D-Londonderry, one of three newly elected Democrats from Southern New Hampshire, was on board with Norelli’s decision.
“I support the new seating policy as well as other biparisan initiatives the speaker has taken,” Whittemore said.
Whittemore has held town offices in Londonderry that are nonpartisan, so she sees advantages to toning down partisanship.
“I believe integrating the seating is a healthy and positive arrangement,” Whittemore said.
Whittemore knows Republicans and Democrats have differences, but sees them both concerned with doing what’s best for the state.
“We’re not opponents. We’re members of the same team,” Whittemore said.