CONCORD — For the third straight midterm election, control of the New Hampshire House of Representatives flipped Tuesday, this time back to the Democrats.
And among the GOP casualties were House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who lost the North Country seat he held for 36 years to Democrat Anita Burroughs by 207 votes.
Chandler had already said he would not be seeking another term as House leader.
He had only taken the assignment again to replace Hudson Republican Shawn Jasper who Gov. Chris Sununu named as his commissioner of agriculture.
Unofficially it looks as if the Democrats won about 234 seats to roughly 166 for Republicans.
Before Tuesday, the GOP held the majority with 211 seats to 168 Democratic seats with 21 vacancies.
Embattled, seven-term State Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, was another GOP casualty as he finished 14th in the race to choose 10 to represent his town.
The Democratic gains were historic on several levels.
Safiya Wazir of Concord became the first former Afghan refugee to ever serve in the New Hampshire Legislature. She had unseated lifelong resident and Rep. Dick Patten in the Democratic primary.
Gerri Cannon, a Somersworth Democrat and Lisa Bunker of Exeter became the first transgender legislators to ever be elected to the Legislature.
According to the Washington Blade, the New Hampshire pair join Virginia State Delegate Danica Roem as the only openly transgender members of a state legislature in the country.
Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said Garrett Muscatel of Hanover at 20 will become the youngest LGBTQ individual elected to the Legislature in the country.
“This fight for an even stronger Granite State is not over until all individuals have access to quality education, healthcare is treated like a basic human right, and climate changes is treated like the imminent threat to our future that it actually is,” Buckley said.
“When we have diverse voices and experiences represented in the Legislature stronger results are delivered to our communities.”
Buckley said the showing here was connected to the record 388 Democrats who filed for seats in the House.
Nashua Democrats ran the table winning all 27 seats in the city after spending the last two years with 17.
Manchester Democrats added four more to their ranks.
In the traditional GOP town of Merrimack Democrats took four of 8 seats and they won two in Amherst.
And there’s Sue Mullen, a longtime Bedford educator who not only became the first Democrat to win in that GOP town since 1935 but she topped the ticket.
House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff of Concord quickly emerged as the candidate to beat for speaker of the House when the members organize next month.
“We now have a duty to work for the people who elected us to push for an end to the opioid crisis, expand access to affordable health care, and create the paid family and medical leave program Granite Staters need,” Shurtleff said in an Election Night statement.
“Tonight is not just a good night for Democrats. It’s a good night for the people of New Hampshire.”
Shurtleff could receive some competition within his own caucus for the gavel. Portsmouth Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing is among those who have said they’d consider such a bid should Democrats take over.
Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald warned Democrats not to celebrate for too long because their gains could be short-lived.
“The New Hampshire House seems to be heading towards a slight Democrat majority,” MacDonald said.
“Over the next two years, Granite Staters will witness the lack of serious policy proposals presented by the New Hampshire Democrats.”
Several outside groups took turns claiming at least some credit for the Democratic sweep but the New Hampshire Young Democrats might have had the strongest argument.
Their members won 36 seats with 22 first-time candidates breaking through.
Among those first-timers, 14 took a House seat that had been held by a Republican.
“Youth power is growing in New Hampshire. By electing young, next generation leaders, we can take meaningful steps this coming session to create the change young people are looking for,” said NHYD President Lucas Meyer.
“This election saw huge numbers of young people stepping up, organizing and getting ready to lead our state into a more modern, equitable, and just state,” said NHYD President Lucas Meyer. “
This outcome also throws into the unknown the election of secretary of state.
Bill Gardner, the nation’s longest-serving leading state election official, has confirmed he’s seeking a 22nd term in office but focused now on recounts of which there are likely to be more than 10.
A Manchester Democrat, Gardner angered the all-Democratic congressional delegation when he agreed to serve on President Trump’s voter integrity commission prior to its collapse.
But leaders of both political parties have tried before to take out Gardner and failed.
This time former Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern helped recruit and support many of the new Democrats who won Tuesday.
He’s seeking Gardner’s job when the Legislature elects the next secretary of state as is former Manchester Democratic State Rep. Peter Sulllivan.
“Good people won and good people lost last night. I’ve been through both and it took me awhile to realize this, but I think the same advice holds true for both situations: to those who were on the ballot, never forget why you put yourself forward for public service,” Van Ostern said in a message to candidates on Facebook. “That hope is what powers our democracy.”