Morse rallies support to be next Senate president after Bragdon steps aside
CONCORD - Senate President Peter Bragdon will relinquish that post in light of criticism that his new job as director of the Local Government Center (LGC) created a perception of conflict of interest, he told UnionLeader.com today.
Bragdon said he will be contacting the 23 other senators to set up a time when they can all meet to choose a new president, which he hopes will happen soon after Labor Day.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Morse, R-Salem, announced this afternoon he will seek the presidency.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said after Bragdon"s announcement "I think Sen. Bragdon is doing the right thing. He is protecting the integrity of the Senate and public officials throughout New Hampshire." Bradley said he will back Morse for the senate presidency if he announces he will run.
"I hope Sen. Morse announces this afternoon he is running for Senate president," Bradley said. "Chuck is highly qualified and has proven that time and time again, particularly with the 24-0 budget vote. He is a great leader and someone Republicans and Democrats can work with."
Bradley said Bragdon did not discuss the LGC position with him before Tuesday's announcement.
Bragdon, R-Milford, is serving his fifth term in the Senate and will retain his District 11 seat, but said he would step down as president because he was concerned about public perception of a lack of transparency or integrity in Senate dealings if he remained.
"I worked real hard the last three years as Senate President to bring openness and integrity to the Senate," Bragdon told UnionLeader.com, "and this would damage that and I did not want that to happen."
Bragdon said he made the decision sometime on Thursday. He had scheduled a meeting late that afternoon with Morse and Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Odell, R-Lempster, to discuss the situation, but told them when they sat down that he was resigning.
Bragdon said, he talked to Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, earlier Friday about possibly asking the Legislative Ethics Committee for an opinion.
Several former Senate Republicans had said Bragdon should resign as president if he took the LGC position. Democratic Party spokesmen were vocal in their criticism of Bragdon.
As president, Bragdon controls the Senate agenda, appoints committees, and controls the flow of proposed legislation and that could have a direct effect on the LGC organization, critics said.
Bragdon said Friday he first approached the new position, which was announced Monday, as any other senator or representative in a volunteer legislature who is employed in the private sector or in state government: he would recuse himself from issues with a potential conflict of interest.
"After hearing some of the rationale of those who raised concerns," Bragdon said Friday morning, "I realized there are other responsibilities and other challenges the Senate president has that raise the perception of (problems)."
He said he was not concerned about the public relations problems that taking the position caused, noting he has been in politics long enough to be able to take the heat.
"At some point yesterday I realized I should step aside," Bragdon said. "When you know it's the right thing to do, you had better do it."
The LGC has been in a protracted battle with state regulators over its handling of its self-insured risk pools for health, property liability and workers compensation insurance that covers many cities, towns, school districts and counties.
The organization is under a 2012 Bureau of Securities Regulations order to return $50 million in excess earnings to its member communities.
The organization is contesting the order, appealing it to the Supreme Court.
The bureau also found the LGC improperly organized under Delaware law. It has agreed to separate the New Hampshire Municipal Association from its insurance pools Sept. 1.
The NHMA is a major lobbying organization before the legislature, which had some question how Bragdon would take the position and be Senate president.
Bragdon, who began his new post Wednesday, said he has no oversight over the NHMA, which will be a separate entity beginning next month.
Bragdon replaces former Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner George Bald, who agreed to head the LGC for six months on an interim basis.