January 06. 2013 1:06AM

Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Filling key positions on Hassan's to-do list

New Hampshire Union Leader

With Gov. Maggie Hassan's inauguration Thursday, she became the first Democrat to follow another Democrat, former Gov. John Lynch, into the Corner Office since the 19th century.

In more recent times, when the late Gov. John King was elected in 1963, he was the first Democrat to hold that office in 40 years.

He was followed by Republicans Walter Peterson and Meldrim Thomson before Democrat Hugh Gallen was elected in 1978.

Republicans John H. Sununu, Judd Gregg and Steve Merrill followed before Democrat Jeanne Shaheen was elected in 1996.

Republican Craig Benson served one term beginning in 2003 before Lynch was elected in 2004.

Hassan's election means she will inherit her predecessor's department heads, which is true of any new governor. Understandably, in the past, Democrats would look to make sweeping changes from the previous Republican administration and vice versa, but that scenario is much less likely under current circumstances.

Some department heads have four or five more years left before their terms expire, and they may not want to move on.

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JOB OPPORTUNITIES: In his final six months in office, Lynch filled all vacant court positions. The first opportunity Hassan would have to name someone to the Supreme Court would be July 10, 2017 - assuming she were reelected to a third term - when Associate Justice Carol Ann Conboy reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

In his eight years in office, Lynch appointed four of the five justices to the court. The only justice Lynch didn't appoint is Chief Justice Linda Dalianis, who was appointed by Shaheen.

Hassan would not have to wait quite so long to name a new judge to the superior court. Judge Kenneth McHugh reaches the mandatory retirement age on May 2, 2016, which would be in Hassan's second term were she to be reelected.

The terms of department heads are a mixed bag, but the new governor will need to move quickly to fill a couple of key posts.

Most notably, Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner George Bald left office in November, and an acting commissioner has held the position since.

This high-profile position can do the governor a great deal of good when events like the reopening of the Gorham paper mill occur or another new business moves to the state, as did Albany International in Rochester.

Hassan will also need to find a new labor commissioner because George Copadis is now Department of Employment Security commissioner and Dave Wihby is acting commissioner at Labor.

Copadis' term does not expire at the DES until April 1, 2014.

Chris Pope resigned as director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, so Hassan will need to find a replacement for that key position.

There is a vacancy on the three-member Liquor Commission, as well, but Hassan may wait to see what lawmakers want to do with the leadership of the lucrative revenue producer. Some want to replace the trio with a commissioner and a deputy commissioner.

Current commission Chairman Joseph Mollica's term will not end until July 1, 2017, and Commissioner Michael Milligan's term will not end until July 1, 2015.

The new governor will have to decide whether she wants to reappoint Lorraine Merrill, Department of Agriculture commissioner. Her term expired in October.

Also, Hassan will have to make a decision soon about the post of attorney general. Michael Delaney's term ends March 31.

Other agency heads whose terms are up this year are Ronald Wilber at Banking, Bill Wrenn at Corrections, Virginia Barry at Education and Michael Harrington at the Public Utilities Commission.

Thomas Burack's term as Department of Environmental Services commissioner ends in 2014, while the terms of Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes and Public Utilities Commission Chairman Amy Ignatius expire in 2015.

Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon's term does not expire until 2016. The same is true for Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas, Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny, Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau and state Fire Marshal Bill Degnan.

Hassan could be waiting a long time to make those appointments.

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TRADITION LIVES ON: Traditionally, a new governor's inauguration is attended by former governors. Last Thursday's ceremony attracted its fair share of former chief executives or their family members.

Gov. John Lynch and his wife, Susan, attended. Prior to the noontime ceremony, the first lady was honored for her work overseeing the restoration of the Bridges House.

Former Gov. Craig Benson and his wife, Denise, attended, as did former Govs . Steve Merrill and John H. Sununu.

Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen's husband, Bill, and her daughter Stefany, and former Gov. Walter Peterson's widow, Dorothy, and his son Andy attended the ceremony, too.

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NOT REALLY GONE: Former House Speaker Bill O'Brien isn't in charge, but that doesn't mean he can't take charge on occasion.

O'Brien gave the "parliamentary inquiry" before the vote on the new House rule banning weapons from Representatives Hall, its anteroom and the House Gallery.

In his speech, O'Brien said his constitutional right to self- protection could not be denied by a rule, and he asserted that those who wish to harm lawmakers would know they have a "gun-free killing zone" because of the ban.

He also took aim at Speaker Terie Norelli, saying the weapons ban was "radical gun control legislation" and meant Democrats were not living up to their promises to focus on jobs and the economy. That was ironic because the first act of the O'Brien-led Legislature two years ago was to lift the weapons ban that had been in place for 40 years.

But O'Brien did not stop. Later Wednesday night, he posted on Facebook the names of the six Republicans who voted with all but four Democrats to approve the ban on a 196 to 153 vote.

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BUDGET, BUDGET: The House and Senate Finance and Ways and Means committees will meet jointly Monday to hear reports on the "fiscal cliff," the state budget, the state and regional economies and the state's changing demographic. (We are getting older.)

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee will hear from economists and number crunchers, and on Wednesday, the House Finance Committee will begin hearing state agencies' presentations.

Everyone from Hassan to Norelli and Senate President Peter Bragdon acknowledge the upcoming budget work is going to be very difficult, made more so by what has gone on in Washington.

Lawmakers here already knew they had to deal with several potential lawsuits, including those by the state's largest hospitals, mental health advocates and women prisoners. They'll also have to cope with at least two settlements with the federal government over how the state spent its money.

The uncertainty over the federal government's fiscal situation makes budget writers' work here and in every other state that much more difficult.

There is too much shifting sand to make anyone involved comfortable.

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MORE OPTIONS: As if the good people of Manchester did not have enough entertainment with Manchester TV airing school board sessions and aldermen's meetings, Manchester TV this year will also air live streams from House sessions.

I wonder how many city residents will be loyal viewers if future sessions resemble last week's House debate on guns in Representatives Hall or the elimination of two committees.

Those debates were not the House's finest hour, as evidenced by emails taking lawmakers to task for dragging out arguments long after it had become apparent how the votes would turn out.

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Garry Rayno may be reached at grayno@unionleader.com.