CONCORD— Newly elected Senate President Chuck Morse pledged to operate the Senate in its traditional "honest and collegial manner" Tuesday as he took the gavel as its new leader.
Morse won the support of nearly all his colleagues, who voted 23-1 to make him their leader for the remainder of the 2013-2014 term.
Morse, 52, replaces Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, who stepped down after becoming Local Government Center executive director. When he was hired at the KLGC, Bragdon initially said he would retain the Senate residency, but after three days of controversy, he decided to step down to avoid any appearance of impropriety, he said at the time. He will remain a senator.
Morse won the backing of all 12 Republican colleagues and all but one of 11 Democrats. Sen. David Pierce, D-Hanover, said he could not vote for Morse because he declined to commit to rescind a rule barring House resolutions, but said he believes Morse will do a good job as president.
Later, Morse said he never had a problem debating any issue in the Senate, and said it would be up to the senators if they want to change the rule before or during the 2014 session.
After he was elected president in the 30-minute session, Morse said he has always had an open door as Senate finance chairman and tried to be honest and transparent. He said that would not change as Senate president.
But he warned serious issues and passionate debate lie ahead, and he urged his colleagues to discuss those issues with a sincere desire to make sound public policy.
"The people of New Hampshire look to their elected leaders to do what is right and to make tough decisions so that they and their families can live, happy, healthy and productive lives," Morse said. "As president, it is my intention to see that we live up to those expectations."
Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, seconded Morse's nomination and she has been given assurances Morse will oversee fair and open processes on the most important issues, including Medicaid expansion.
She said later he assured her the issue would be debated during a special session if there is a bill with details outlining a New Hampshire solution.
Medicaid expansion has divided Republicans and Democrats as Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Democratically-controlled House support expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, while the Republican-controlled Senate believes more time is needed to review its effect on the state.
The two sides compromised and created a commission to study the issue and make recommendations by Oct. 15, with a special session of the Legislature planned to deal with the recommendations before the first of the year.
Morse said the debate has to be two-sided, and called expansion a major step for the state. "The debate needs to occur," he said.
Larsen who was Senate President when Democrats controlled the Senate from 2006 to 2010, said she has worked well with Morse as a member of Senate Finance.
"I supported the nomination of Chuck Morse as Senate President, because I expect Senator Morse will wield the gavel with a sense that he is a leader among equals," Larsen said. "Just because one political party holds a majority does not mean the other political party is irrelevant — in fact, each of our votes matter just as much."
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro nominated Morse, saying he would carry on the tradition of both Bragdon and Larsen as a open, fair-minded and transparent. He said he learned a lot from Larsen about how to be a gracious leader with a light touch.
Bradley said both of Morse's predecessors maintained Senates where people could disagree without being disagreeable and Morse would carry on that tradition.
Hassan said she believes Morse will work with all lawmakers in the best interest of the state.
"Both during my time in the Senate and as governor, I have appreciated Senator Morse's constructive approach to addressing our challenges, as evidenced by this year's unprecedented bipartisan budget," Hassan said.
"Throughout the years, the Senate has demonstrated time and again that leaders in Concord can rise above ideology, listen to the people of New Hampshire, and work together to solve problems."
House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, also said he looks forward to working with Morse to advance a legislative agenda that focuses on jobs, the economy and preserving the New Hampshire advantage.
"(Morse) knows the importance of keeping taxes low and keeping government accountable to its citizens," Chandler said. "We stand ready to work with Senate Leadership to find solutions that will make New Hampshire an even better place for families and businesses to grow and thrive."
Morse is serving his fourth term in the Senate and third as Senate finance committee chairman. Morse served two terms in the House and ran unsuccessfully for Executive Council in 2006. He has served as Salem town moderator and as selectman.
Morse is president of Freshwater Farms & Garden Center in Atkinson and Granite Creek Farms of Brentwood. He earned his bachelor's degree from Plymouth State University.
He lives in Salem with his wife, Susan, and their daughter Emma, who were at Tuesday's session.
Morse is the third Senate president from Salem in the last 30 years following Vesta Roy from 1982 to 1986, and Joe Delahunty from 1994 to 1998.