Democrats claimed control of the New Hampshire House in Tuesday’s election, ending the controversial reign of Speaker William O’Brien.
O’Brien is heading to the back bench as a member of the Republican minority.
House Democratic leader Terie Norelli said yesterday preliminary results showed Democrats holding a 217-177 majority, with six races in doubt.
Norelli said Democrats listened to voters, including Republicans and independents.
“They told us they wanted the Legislature to put partisan politics aside and work on the issues that mattered to Granite Staters, in a civilized way,” Norelli said.
O’Brien won’t serve in GOP leadership, but will stay in the Legislature. He will refocus on his law practice.
“We are a citizen Legislature and every representative balances the responsibility of serving the people with his or her professional and civic duties,” O’Brien said.
Republicans held a 13-11 majority in the Senate. Democrats control the Executive Council, which acts on state contracts and Gov.-elect Hassan’s nominees for state posts, 3-2.
But most of the political talk yesterday was over the stunning House reversal of two years ago, the fate of O’Brien and the succession game to come in House leadership.
Norelli and Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, have previously announced a desire to serve as speaker.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, and Rep. David Kidder, R-New London, acknowledged yesterday they would have an interest in the GOP leader post.
“You’re going to get fresh faces with new ideas,” predicted David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire.
“I think the voters in New Hampshire – in one of the largest turnouts we’ve seen – said it was time to change direction,” Lang said.
The number of Free Staters, Tea Party and Libertarian leaning lawmakers was reduced and issues such as the state pension system will get a new look, Lang said.
“We’re looking at this as a very promising change,” he said. “It’s a new day in New Hampshire.”
Democrats read the results as a case of voters rebuffing the rightward shift led by Republicans.
“I think it was a repudiation or rejection of the extreme political agenda we saw the last couple of years,” Campbell said.
The challenge going forward for political leaders in Concord will be how to connect with the middle, Campbell said.
“We can solve a lot of problems by working cooperatively,” he said.
That centrist tone will be appealing to moderate Republicans, who could play a key role in deciding who becomes speaker.
“David has a lot of friends on the Republican side. Terie was pretty partisan,” Kidder said.
Campbell, he said, would be a Speaker for the whole House.
But Norelli said her door was always open to Republicans as speaker, Republicans would thank her for fair treatment and supported her when she ran for speaker previously.
“I’ve always worked across the aisle,” Norelli said.
For her, getting back to a more civil House where there is mutual respect for each other’s ideas is key.
“I think that’s the most important thing we have to look forward to,” Norelli said.
Kidder saw the election moving the House toward middle ground.
“I don’t care whose party is in charge, so long as we can work together to solve problems,” Kidder said. “This ideological straightjacket is crazy.”
One thing can be taken away from the election for sure, he said. The moment is over for representatives like O’Brien, Baldasaro and David Bates of Windham.
“They have had their day and people rejected it,” Kidder said.
Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, said she wasn’t thinking about leadership opportunities yesterday, but taking time to thank her supporters and volunteers.
She saw this election as one where people were more focused on the presidential race.
“It’s not quite a mandate for one party,” Garcia said.
Her intention is to continue focusing on preserving the “New Hampshire advantage” and block a sales or income tax.
“Without being the ones holding the reins, much of what we do will have to be in response to the Democratic Party,” Garcia said.
Citizens may find they don’t like what they get with the Democrats and Republicans will have another chance at the mid-term election two years from now with more committed voters, she said.
Rep. Sherm Packard of Londonderry said the name of former Speaker Gene Chandler likely will come up for GOP leader.
“I think he might have an interest. Gene would be good,” Packard said.
Baldaraso said he would be interested.
“I wouldn’t take it off the table,” he said of the possibility.
Baldasaro wouldn’t back down from the conservative agenda favored by O’Brien.
“I’m outspoken. I’m not a politician. I’m not bashful,” Baldasaro said.
Kidder didn’t dismiss the idea of pursuing the GOP leader post.
“Potentially, I might,” Kidder said.
Appealing to him in the session to come is working with a more moderate group of lawmakers on the big issues.
“It will be interesting as we move forward to figure out the new folks,” he said. “My guess is it will be a more moderate group than we’ve had the last two years.”