A week into the new year, having heard the governor’s inaugural address and witnessed more than a little squabbling on the House floor, an interesting question to address would be—just who is the most important person in that state.
The very fact that I’m posing the question should lead you to believe that I have an answer, and if you know me, you certainly realize it’s not the person most people might gravitate to immediately.
In New Hampshire, the governor is among the weakest in all 50 states; even though Maggie Hassan can propose ideas and use her office as a bully pulpit, she really can’t do much except sign or reject what comes to her from the House and Senate.
That was a vital role for John Lynch when it came to vetoing bills passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate, but it’s not likely to come into play much this year.
Similarly, while I see Speaker Terie Norelli and Senate President Peter Bragdon as important, they’re not at the top of my list.
One thing we’ve already learned is that Republicans in the House are split to the point of being virtually irrelevant. The House Republican Alliance, that conservative group, represents a minority of a minority which appears destined to tangle with Gene Chandler’s leadership.
In that milieu, it won’t take dynamic leadership for Democrats to control the agenda. On any given vote, such as last week’s vote on committees and on guns in the State House, you can expect more Republicans to vote with Democrats than the other way around.
In other words, House Democrats will get pretty much whatever they want as long as they stick together, and I don’t see them fracturing.
That brings us back to the question we began with, and the Concord Monitor provided us with indications of the power center in its excellent editorial Sunday, “All eyes on state Senate.”
Indeed, all eyes will be on the State Senate. Nothing the House does will mean anything unless it can survive in the Senate, and nothing can pass the Senate, even if all Democrats stick together, without two Republican votes.
We’re getting close to my pick for most important—or most powerful—person in the state.
The Monitor lists six potentially swing Republican senators, and with all due respect to that very fine newspaper, I will narrow it down to two and then to one.
The most important person in the state in my humble opinion (I’ve been reading David Copperfield so maybe I should use the word umble) is the Republican Senator from the last district numerically, number 24.
That would be Hampton’s Nancy Stiles who sprung an upset to gain the seat in 2010 and then managed to win rather handily against old war horse Bev Hollingworth in a gerrymandered district this year. In fact, Senator Stiles won every town in the district, and most likely would have prevailed even had redistricting not proven such a boon to her chances.
Nancy Stiles is my type of Republican, and I take great solace that she will be the swing vote on any number of issues including the many important ones noted in the Monitor editorial (death penalty; education tax credit; minimum wage; medical marijuana; voter ID; stand your ground).
As noted, it will take two Republicans to join Democrats on any given issue, but it seems to me that without getting Nancy Stiles as one of them, it’ll be tough for Democrats to prevail.
Of the six mentioned by the Monitor, Bob Odell of District 8 would most certainly seem to be the second most likely swing vote. Remember it was Odell whom Governor Lynch went to two sessions ago to get his budget passed when Manchester Democrats Lou D’Allesandro and Betsi DeVries abandoned their governor (for lack of a gambling component to the budget).
President Peter Bragdon is important, for sure, but only to the extent he can keep Republicans together. I sense he’ll have very little problem with the four other senators mentioned by the Monitor (David Boutin of District 16; Andy Sanborn of District 19; John Reagan of District 17; and I fail to see why Jeanie Forrester of District 2 is even on the Monitor list—she’s about as conservative as they come).
Boutin, Sanborn, Reagan, and Forrester are not likely to stray from the Republican reservation.
Stiles and Odell just might. Take the education tax credit, for example. On Constitutional grounds, I strongly oppose it (and am co-sponsoring the bill for its repeal). I know I’m off the Republican reservation on this issue, but then I’m often off and I’m not the one who really matters.
Stiles and Odell certainly matter. If they join 11 Democrats in voting to repeal this terrible idea, it most certainly will be repealed.
That’s just one example.
We could go on down the list, but suffice it to say that time and again, Democrats in need of two votes will look to Nancy Stiles and Bob Odell.
To repeat, I feel very good about that.
As I was driving away for the New Years break, Mark Steyn, who lives way up north in New Hampshire, was filling in for Rush Limbaugh. He received a call from New Hampshire, and was dead wrong about two things. (On a minor point, he noted that Pat Leahy was the first Democrat to be elected statewide in Vermont. Having grown up in that state in the 60s, I recall Democrat Phil Hoff as governor…long before Leahy came onto the scene).
Stein was also wrong about New Hampshire. He stated that from the Executive Council to the State House, Democrats have taken control.
Not quite Mr. Steyn.
Thanks to the joys of gerrymandered Senate redistricting (come on; admit it; it’s true; and perfectly legal), Democrats have control, but will only total control if two Republican senators join them on any given issue.
All hail Nancy Stiles, the most important political force in New Hampshire these days.
I tried to google a photo; here's what I came up with.
Senator Nancy Stiles was elected to the Senate in 2010. She previously served three terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives where she served on the House Education Committee. Currently, she Chairs the Senate Education Committee and is a member of Public & Municipal Affairs and Transportation as well.
Stiles represents District 24 which includes the scenic Seacoast communities of Greenland, Hampton Falls, New Castle, Newington, North Hampton, Portsmouth, Rye and her hometown of Hampton.
In 2011, Sen. Stiles was the driving force behind reforming how New Hampshire funds public education. Her Senate Bill 183 was successfully absorbed by House Bill 337 during a committee of conference and signed in to law. The new law maintains the current education adequacy funding level, making only slight changes in order to establish a calculation better focused on the student. Under the legislation, cities and towns will receive the same level of funding for their coming budget as last year. Going forward, the bill creates a predictable funding methodology that provides stability to state and school district budgets while eliminating donor towns and reducing town-versus-town tensions over funding.
Prior to entering politics, Sen. Stiles served as the School Nutrition Director for the Hampton School District for 30 years, retiring in 2004. She has a bachelor of business degree from the University System of New Hampshire (now called Granite Sate College) and is credentialed through the National School Nutrition Association.
In 2010, she was recognized with a Legislative Award from the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and was named Legislator of the Year in 2008 by the Council on Developmental Disabilities.
She has served on numerous legislative committees, including the Oversight for Charter Schools 2005-2006 and the Oversight for SAU's in 2008-2010.
Nancy is married to Howard and they have three grown children; Howard, Ken, and Greg. They were blessed with three wonderful daughters-in-law and five perfect grandchildren.