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John DiStaso's Granite Status: Salem's Morse unanimous choice of NH Senate Republicans for new president

By John DiStaso, Senior Political Reporter
August 27. 2013 2:50PM

TUESDAY, AUG. 27: UNANIMOUS CHOICE. After much speculation about a possible challenge, all apparently went according to the Senate GOP leadership's plan behind closed doors on the third floor of the State House Tuesday.

At a shorter-than-expected, hour-long caucus, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, was the unanimous choice of the 13-member GOP Senate majority to take over as Senate President when current president Peter Bragdon formally steps aside next Tuesday.

Bragdon has taken the $180,000-a-year job as executive director of the New Hampshire Local Government Center, a post that presented potential conflicts of interest with his role as leader of the Senate. He will remain as a rank-and-file senator and says he will recuse himself from issues related to the LGC.

Morse, currently in his fourth Senate term, was viewed as the heir apparent to the post, but the prospect of a rocky road loomed as Bragdon himself and Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, held out their support until Tuesday morning.

But after the relatively brief caucus, senators emerged to say that Morse, a 52-year-old owner of a popular garden centers in Salem and Brentwood, had been selected in a single, unanimous vote.

With Republicans holding a 13-11 majority in the Senate, the caucus vote virtually assures Morse of being elected Senate President when the full Senate meets next Tuesday, Sept. 3, to formally accept Bragdon's resignation as Senate President and elect a new leader.

The 11 Senate Democrats are slated to caucus Wednesday afternoon and if they decide to nominate a candidate, it is certain to be their current leader, Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord.

Morse said after the GOP meeting that 11 senators had attended. He said Bragdon did not attend and instead was at his new job at the LGC, but had committed to supporting him in a telephone call earlier in the day. Sen. Sam Cataldo, R-Farmington, attended via speaker phone while recovering from knee replacement surgery.

Sanborn after the meeting he had "never made a public statement" about mounting a bid to challenge Morse. But he did not say whether he privately was interested in a challenge.

"Do I have concerns about making sure that we operate in an open and transparent manner and everyone has the opportunity to be heard? Absolutely," said Sanborn.

"But that's what caucuses are all about. It gets people together to have a frank conversation," he said.

He said Morse "has truly proven his ability to manage budgets and make it work and I was proud to support him."

"We had a great, meaningful conversation and we came together and we move forward together," said Sanborn.

Morse said, "We had unanimous support of the Republican caucus. I don't think there was any more discussion than a family has around the dinner table of how they are going to move forward."

He said Bragdon "made it clear he supports me 100 percent and will be there to support me on the floor next Tuesday."

Morse would not discuss leadership posts or committee chairmanships, but it is expected that Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, will remain majority leader.

"I need to be elected Senate President next week in order to represent the whole Senate and then I'll announce" those posts, said Morse.

Bradley called Morse " a great leader and a man of integrity. He will bring people together the way that Peter brought people together."

(Our earlier report on the Senate Presidency follows.)

MONDAY, AUG. 26. We're back after a three-week vacation to report that the 13-member state Senate Republican majority will caucus privately Tuesday morning to try to choose a GOP candidate for the next Senate President to succeed Peter Bragdon, according to Republican sources.

Bragdon is stepping down as Senate President after taking on the post of executive director of the New Hampshire Local Government Center, although he is remaining as a rank-and-file member of the Senate.

The 11 Senate Democrats are slated to caucus on Wednesday afternoon.

The full Senate is scheduled to meet on Sept. 3. At that session, Bragdon will officially step down as Senate President and a new president is expected to be formally elected.

Republican Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse of Salem at the moment has 11 solid Republican votes.

Bragdon, though, has not yet given his blessing to Morse, who has long been an ally of his. Still, it would be a political shocker if, at the Tuesday caucus, Bragdon refuses to support Morse -- perhaps by recusing himself from the vote.

Conservative Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, is a true wild card in the mix. He has also so far held out from backing Morse.

Democratic state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester told the Granite Status that while Sanborn has not reached out to him personally, Sanborn has reached out to other Democratic senators.

D'Allesandro said he has asked his fellow Democrats "not to do anything" in terms of making commitments to anyone "until we get together" on Wednesday.

Sanborn, however, said he has "not initiated any phone calls with my friends across the aisle with regard to the Senate Presidency race. But, I, like every single Republican senator, communicate with our (Democratic) friends on a regular basis."

Sanborn noted that on Monday, for instance, he "worked on" a joint visit to the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center with Democratic Sen. Jeff Woodburn.

"I remain steadfastly committed to insuring that the New Hampshire Senate operates in an open and transparent basis and recognizes there are 24 senators who all have an obligation to represent their constituents equally," said Sanborn.

He added, "I haven't committed to anyone yet because we have yet to caucus to discuss the issues facing the Senate."

Morse told the Status, "We're going into a caucus on Tuesday where I know I have a lot of votes." He said the GOP caucus "has always chosen its own candidate to represent the Senate. Obviously, I'm looking for their support."

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, backed Morse immediately after Morse announced his candidacy.

"I committed to Chuck right away because it is vitally important that the Senate stay in the hands of someone who is capable of leading the Senate, someone who can bring people together and work with the parties, as Peter did, and someone who, like Peter, has integrity," said Bradley.

"I think Chuck is that person," Bradley said.

Bradley said he is putting his own political plans on hold for a while to "make sure I can help Chuck make the transition as seamless as possible, focusing on protecting taxpayers, growing jobs and setting a growth and opportunity agenda."

See earlier Granite Status reports elsewhere on this page or by clicking on "Granite Status" above.

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