August 17. 2013 9:21PM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Senate's change in leadership


What had been considered a relatively stable Senate turned upside down last week when the Local Government Center announced Senate President Peter Bragdon would be its next executive director.

Under pressure from many angles over potential conflicts of interest between the two jobs, Bragdon announced he would give up the Senate's top spot. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse announced he would seek to take it over.

While Republicans hold a 13-11 majority in the Senate, members of the Republican caucus stretch across the political spectrum, and there certainly could have been plenty of room for Democratic mischief.

After the 1992 elections, Republicans Ralph Hough and Susan McLane joined with the 11 Democrats to make Hough the Senate president. A similar scenario could have been possible this time, but it appears Republicans will hold together behind Morse.

It does not take much imagination to envision Bragdon's exit and Morse's entrance orchestrated in the Thursday afternoon meeting between the two and Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Odell, who some believed would be interested in the top post if Bragdon resigned.

If the deal was cut, it had to be done with the blessings of Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and several others, including Sens. Sharon Carson and Jim Rausch.

The political atmosphere will likely be different with Morse at the helm.

Republicans moved in lock step this session to block some key Democratic initiatives, such as repealing the business tax credit scholarship program, although a superior court judge ruled a key component unconstitutional; the stand-your-ground law; and Medicaid expansion, which is still an ongoing battle with the House and Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Some of those votes may come back to haunt Republicans in districts where Democrats and Republicans are fairly evenly divided.

Will Republican Sens. Nancy Stiles of Hampton, Odell of Lempster and several others continue to be willing to fall on the sword over Medicaid expansion after what happened last week? That bears watching.

Bragdon was very good at keeping members heading in the same direction. There weren't many Senate bills this year, and most were not key legislation that had to pass, so the House could hold them hostage.

Without have-to-have legislation from the Senate, the House was left holding fewer cards to bargain with than the Senate. As a result, the Senate called most of the shots and certainly did during budget negotiations.

In the Senate this year, there was little debate on the floor, many bills had large majorities and senators spent very few late nights in Concord. The trains generally ran on time under Bragdon's leadership.

When asked what he wanted to be remembered for, he said, "I want to be remembered as someone who treated people fairly, who was transparent and gave everyone a chance to have their say and make their vote and then could move on without retribution."

Few members know what to expect from Morse. Those on the Senate Finance Committee like him, but they know it will be his show, and there will be little time to waste on things he views as trivial.

The next session should be an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to put together coalitions. Coming into an election year with several key senators eyeing higher office, everyone is going to want something they can show their constituents.

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REVOLVING DOOR: Being Senate president is not all it is cracked up to be; in fact, most of the recent office holders have come and gone rather quickly.

The next Senate president will be the eighth since 1998; Clesson "Junie" Blaisdell, Beverly Hollingworth, Arthur Klemm, Thomas Eaton, Ted Gatsas, Sylvia Larsen and Bragdon have come and gone in that period.

In contrast, House speakers during the same time span include Donna Sytek, Gene Chandler, Doug Scamman, Terie Norelli and Bill O'Brien.

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Medicaid Expansion: A little of the Republicans' frustration over the Medicaid expansion commission spilled over at the end of the body's meeting last week.

Republican members, such as Sen. Andy Sanborn, Rep. Neal Kurk and Charlie Arlinghaus, have felt the anti-expansion side has had little voice in the meetings to date.

So far, the commission has heard from Health and Human Services; the Insurance Department; the National Governors Association; the National Conference of State Legislators; and, last week, one group opposed to expansion, two in favor and one neutral.

After the meeting, Sanborn said the commission looked more and more like a kangaroo court. "It's not fair and balanced, and we're frustrated," Sanborn said.

But other members believe everyone will have an opportunity to participate before the process is completed, by Oct. 15.

The commission is not meeting this week, but will hear from health care providers Aug. 27.

As one member said, there is a long way to go before the committee begins deciding what to recommend to lawmakers.

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Flying machine: First District Executive Councilor Raymond Burton will take his nearly annual trip Friday to all the airports, or more accurately airstrips, in his council district.

Burton's 10-stop tour will begin at 8 a.m. at Laconia Airport and end at the same spot 12 hours later.

Does Burton get frequent flier miles for this?