Column: A senator’s view from Organization Day
Organization Day, held on the first Wednesday in December in election years, is the opportunity for the new Senate and House to meet for the first time. It is an occasion for legislators to share a special day with family and friends.
In the Senate, the longtime clerk, Tammy Wright, called the Senate to order and read the roll of the members. The Sergeant at Arms announced “the honorable Executive Council,” and the Senate chamber entry door swung open as the five executive councilors paraded in and stood on the dais.
Governor Lynch was then announced into the room. He went to the podium on the dais and offered congratulations to the newly elected senators. And then the special moment arrived and he swore in the senators. Together the governor and councilors went to each senator’s desk to personally congratulate him or her.
With the senators sworn in, the clerk oversaw the election of a temporary Senate President. I was chosen to preside over the Senate for the election of the Senate President. It took about five minutes. There was one nominating speech by the Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (Wolfeboro) and a second by the Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen (Concord) for Senator Peter Bragdon (Milford). The vote was unanimous for Senator Bragdon, reflecting the 13-11 Republican majority that had chosen him as its candidate.
Most important in the election was the respect senators expressed for the style of leadership that Senator Bragdon has exhibited over the last two years and similarly by his predecessor, Senator Larsen, over the prior four years, when Democrats held the majority. Two words, I think, indicate the Bragdon-Larsen approach to leadership: respect, for each senator and for the legislative process; collegiality, between leadership and senators and among the senators themselves.
The Senate is fortunate and New Hampshire benefits from the Bragdon-Larsen leadership pattern that makes it possible for the Senate to work collaboratively, while having differences among us, to do our best work for the people of the state.
Senators introduced their guests and shortly a message arrived telling us that the House was prepared to meet with the Senate in a joint convention for the purpose of electing a State Treasurer and Secretary of State. The 24 Senators lined up and walked next door to be greeted with applause and a few cheers from the nearly 400 members of the House and their guests in a packed gallery.
In what is a bit of tradition, Senator Lou D’Allesandro (Manchester) nominated Bill Gardner for Secretary of State. Bill is already the country’s longest-serving Secretary of State, who every four years gets plenty of national attention as the defender and advocate for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.
Senator D’Allesandro, who had a legendary career as a teacher and athletic coach, always reminds us that Bill Gardner was a civics class student of his many years ago and served with him when both of them were members of the House. Bill is one of the most popular figures around the State House and was re-elected enthusiastically. Bill’s proud dad, at age 90, was there to watch.
State Treasurer Catherine Provencher was re-elected State Treasurer without opposition. The general sense is that we are fortunate to have these two outstanding public servants who face re-election every two years on the first Wednesday in December by the Legislature. These are the only officials in state government that the House and Senate elect.
With the joint meeting adjourned, it was off to a luncheon for senators and their guests. The Senate will not meet again until January 2.
Committee assignments, including chairmanships, were announced late last week by Senate President Bragdon. I was with a new senator on Friday afternoon when I received the press release on the appointments. There was clear disappointment when I told the senator about his assignments. Which committee you sit on is important on a personal basis, as you want to sit on committees that deal with subjects and policies in which you have an interest and possibly personal experience.
With his swearing in on Wednesday, Senator David Pierce (Etna) becomes the senator representing District 5, which now includes Claremont and Charlestown. Senator Pierce will be a member of the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee and the Commerce Committee. Assignment to the Commerce Committee is considered a significant appointment.
I am pleased with my assignments. I will serve on three committees that I have served on since I was elected to the Senate. First, the Finance Committee is the most important Senate committee, as it determines what the Senate version of the state’s biennial budget will be.
Secondly, I will again serve as chair of the Ways and Means Committee. This will be my fourth term chairing the committee, the first two terms under the Democrat majority and now two terms under Republican majorities. This committee’s work is critical in producing revenue projections for the next budget, which will determine the overall amount of money the state can spend.
Third, I will be vice chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. This committee deals with everything from the Fish and Game Department to regulation of utilities along with environment and other natural resources concerns.
Senator Bragdon also named me to the honorary position of Senate President Pro Tem.
Bob Odell is the New Hampshire senator representing Antrim, Bennington and Francestown, among other towns.