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April 21. 2014 10:28PM

NH House Speaker Norelli won’t seek reelection


TERIE NORELLI 

CONCORD — Describing her tenure as one of “decorum, respect and transparency,” House Speaker Terie Norelli on Monday announced that she would not seek re-election, setting the stage for a change of leadership among House Democrats.

Norelli, in her ninth term representing Portsmouth, is serving her third term as speaker, the only Democrat to serve in 84 years. She taught mathematics at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton before being elected to the House.

“Speaker Norelli brought dignity to the office, which we all appreciate,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said. “She led and oversaw tremendous legislative accomplishments, including Medicaid expansion, marriage equality and the in-state college tuition freeze.”

Republicans said Norelli’s decision was likely motivated by the possibility of a GOP majority winning election to the House in November.

“Speaker Norelli’s announcement today serves as an implicit admission that Democrats realize they will lose their majority in the New Hampshire House of Representatives,” Republican State Committee Chairman Jennifer Horn said.

Speaking at a news conference in the Legislative Office Building, Norelli said she expects a Democrat to succeed her as House Speaker.

“We have an election to win this fall,” she said. “Though I will not be running for the House myself, I am committed to work hard over the coming months to ensure that for the second time in New Hampshire history, Democrats will hold the majority in consecutive terms.”

Norelli is credited with helping to restore a sense of cooperation to a Legislature that was deeply divided along party lines when Republican Speaker Bill O’Brien wielded the gavel.

“Terie has been able to put the House back into a reasonable, collaborative atmosphere,” said two-term Rep. Susan Ford, D-Easton, who serves on the House Finance Committee. “She put us back into a group that could work together.”

Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative policy group, said Norelli had little choice but to reach across the aisle, given the narrow Democratic majority.

“When you have a 3-1 majority (as O’Brien did), your goal is to keep your caucus together,” he said. “With a very narrow Democratic majority, 213-174, there are times when she needed Republican votes to get things accomplished.”

He cited votes on medical marijuana and a “grow-your-own” provision for certified patients.

“Some of the marijuana votes would not have passed with only Democratic votes,” he said. “There is a libertarian block within the Republican caucus that is more than willing to support decriminalization, even legalization.”

Despite their policy differences, Moore complimented Norelli on her dedication to public service.

“She has put in 18 years of hard work for her constituents and has never lost sight of the commitment and passion that drove her into office,” he said. “We haven’t agreed on a lot of issues, but she’s been a true public servant.”

Norelli recalled the day 18 years ago, when state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth, then a representative, urged her to run for the House.

“I said I would try it for two years,” Norelli said. “Thank you for asking, Martha. I did give it a try. In fact, 18 years of trying to defend reproductive rights; to protect our state’s mountains, trees and lakes; to fight for working Granite Staters, their families and our communities; and to ensure economic and social justice for all our citizens.”

Norelli also cited the passage of civil unions and then gay marriage among the highlights of her tenure.

Gov. Maggie Hassan applauded Norelli for the recently enacted bipartisan budget compromise and the expansion of Medicaid to include an estimated 50,000 low-income residents, which the governor characterized as “the most significant piece of health care legislation that the state of New Hampshire has seen in decades.”

Norelli declined to speculate on the best candidate to replace her.

“I believe our Democratic caucus has some amazing talent waiting in the wings,” she said.dsolomon@unionleader.com


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