CONCORD — Progressive topics like paid family and medical leave, a minimum wage hike and legalizing recreational marijuana will get a new lease on life with Democrats taking control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade.
This election marked another historic milestone, with Brookline Democrat Melanie Levesque, a former House member, becoming the first African-American to win a Senate seat in the state.
She narrowly upset Nashua Republican Sen. Kevin Avard by less than 200 votes.
“Tracy and I are so very grateful for all of your support. The honor to serve you was one of the greatest pleasure of my life,” Avard said in a statement early Wednesday.
“I hope to serve the people of NH again in some other future capacity GOD willing. Congratulations Melanie for a hard-fought win.”
An unprecedented amount of outside money in a midterm, a new crop of candidates and no coattails for a reelected Gov. Chris Sununu combined to turn a 14-10 Republican Senate to a 14-10 Democratic one for the next two years.
Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy of Manchester is the odds-on favorite to replace Salem Republican Chuck Morse as Senate president when the newly elected senators meet to organize next month.
“New Hampshire voted for a state Senate dedicated to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to be successful,” Soucy said in a statement.
“They voted for paid family and medical leave, access to affordable health care, resources to combat the opioid crisis, and to continue supporting our local public schools. Congratulations to the Senators-elect, welcome to the Senate, and thank you for answering the call to serve your district.”
Governor Sununu still remains a major obstacle to some of this agenda as he’s vowed to oppose legalizing marijuana and a mandatory paid leave program he has warned could bankrupt the state.
Sununu also pushed back on Democratic candidate Molly Kelly’s call to repeal the 2017 tax cut on corporate profits and earmark the additional revenue for education and services for troubled and abused children.
“The next two years are going to be different, but that’s OK. That’s New Hampshire,” Sununu said at his victory party. “Anybody who has good ideas is welcome at the table.”
Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald vowed this will be a temporary setback.
“Republican Senators Ruth Ward, Bob Giuda, and Harold French won races which saw hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside money flowing in support of their opponents, and other Republican state senators fell short due to this heavy out-of-state influence,” MacDonald said Wednesday.
“We were competitive in many seats, while being extremely outspent by candidates and third-party groups. New Hampshire Republicans have two years to build an organization in the state of New Hampshire that will retake the seats we lost last night and more.”
A full quarter of seats in the 24-member body changed hands as Democrats picked up five seats that Republicans had. Embattled former Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield lost his seat to unknown Franconia Republican David Starr.
Woodburn faces an upcoming trial next month on domestic violence charges brought by his former fiancee, who was also a former Coos County Democratic leader.
He’s said he was only guilty of self-defense.
“This has been a challenging campaign to say the least, however I trust the collective wisdom of the people. I’ve reached out to congratulate David Starr and will assist him in any way I can,” Woodburn posted on Facebook early Wednesday morning.
It’s likely at least one race will remain contested into next week.
Brentwood Democrat Jon Morgan upset first-term Sandown Republican Sen. Bill Gannon by under 100 votes in District 23. Gannon’s son and campaign manager said they were planning to request a recount.
Morgan said he was gratified his progressive agenda was a winning one.
“We had a message that resonated with Republicans, Libertarians, independents and Democrats alike, and that is we are offering a different vision for New Hampshire where we all play by the same rules and we put the working people of this state first before the wealthiest corporations. That’s the path we have all chose,” Morgan said.
Other Democratic winners in GOP seats were state Rep. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, in District 11, Peterborough Democrat Jeanne Dietsch in District 9 and former Rye State Rep. Tom Sherman in District 24.
Chandley defeated Senate Finance Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford, to win a seat Democrats haven’t held since 2000.
Sherman, a physician, edged New Castle Republican Sen. Dan Innis in a rematch after raising close to $250,000 on this race for the Senate post, which pays $100 a year.
Sherman vowed to press for reforms in Concord.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, along with Morse held GOP safe seats and survived but said these results must be a wake-up call to Sununu and Republican leaders.
“Governor Sununu had no coattails and didn’t campaign with House and Senate members. He is going to pay a price for that certainly,” Bradley said.
“He won, but Sununu under-performed; there’s no question about it. We did fine with in-state fundraising but we’re going to have to address the out-of-state interests and get ourselves on the map the way Democrats did and again that starts with our governor.”