CONCORD — Derry Republican Jim Rausch announced his retirement from the state Senate on Monday, bringing to three the number of Republican senators not seeking reelection this fall.
Sens. Bob O’Dell, R-Lempster, and Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, are also stepping down.
“After 14 years in the legislature, I have decided not to seek reelection this November in order to spend more time with my growing family,” Rausch said in a statement.
“As Lorinda and I look forward to welcoming our first grandchild this fall, I’ve decided to step aside in order to ensure I can fully enjoy this special time and the years ahead with my family, and also so that the residents of District 19 can continue to have a voice in the Senate who will give this job the time, energy and commitment it requires.”
The retired veterinarian, first elected to the Senate in 2010 to represent Hampstead, Windham and Derry, was re-elected in 2012. He had previously served five terms in the House of Representatives.
As chairman of the Transportation Committee, Rausch this year championed a 4.2-cent increase in the state gasoline tax to fund Interstate 93 widening and other highway projects. The gas tax increase, which had failed several times in the past, was approved without the provision for increases tied to inflation that Rausch initially proposed.
He has been active in the debate over education funding throughout his time in office, and has been called the father of the current adequacy formula used by the state to determine education aid to cities and towns.
Along with Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry, Rausch sponsored a bill to improve funding for career and technical education in the state, including $4 million for Pinkerton Academy’s technical education programs.
“Throughout my time in the legislature, my goal has been to try and solve problems in order to improve our state and the lives of my constituents,” he said. “I’ve been privileged to work with dedicated legislators of both parties to create a sustainable education funding formula, strengthen our career and technical education program, and most recently to pass a transportation funding bill that will ensure our infrastructure network is both safe and conducive to economic growth.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan praised Rausch as a bipartisan problem-solver.
“Sen. Jim Rausch’s 14-year legislative career is a terrific example of New Hampshire’s strong tradition of citizen engagement, public service and constructive problem-solving,” she said. “I am honored to have worked with him on bipartisan solutions to boost our economy, including this year’s bill to strengthen our transportation infrastructure and complete the expansion of Interstate 93.”
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, also issued statements praising Rausch for his demeanor and legislative accomplishments, as did the state Republican Party.
Rausch was already facing a primary challenge before announcing his decision to retire. State Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, announced in April that he would run against Rausch, whom he characterized as “basically a Democrat” because of his support for a Senate-sponsored Medicaid expansion plan and the gasoline tax.
Soon after Rausch’s announcement on Monday, two other Republican candidates considered likely to run made it official. Jim Foley, chairman of the Derry Town Republican Committee, said he is forming a Candidate’s Committee and plans to formally announce soon.
He praised Rausch and said he would not be running if not for Rausch’s retirement.
About an hour after Foley’s statement was released, State Rep. Regina Birdsell of Hampstead, Rockingham County GOP chair, announced her candidacy.
“In the past two terms in the Legislature, and as the head of the Rockingham County Republican Committee, I have often been impressed by the work done by the state Senate,” Birdsell said. “However, the will of the people in my district has not always been served by the body as a whole. District 19 is a fiscally conservative constituency that wants their elected officials to protect their wallets, advocate for transportation issues and expand the tax base.”
The three-way battle for the GOP nomination is likely to uncork tension between two GOP factions in Derry — a moderate faction that includes Foley, Rausch and former District 19 Sen. Bob Letourneau; and a more conservative group that includes County Commissioner Kevin Coyle, former state Rep. Howie Lund and Sapareto.
“There is some serious historical bad blood between the two groups,” said a longtime political operative. “It’s not pretty at all.”
No Democratic candidate has announced in District 19 so far.