There’s no chance Republican senators will challenge the credentials of newly elected Democrat Jon Morgan, according to Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, who will serve as Republican minority leader when the Senate reconvenes for the new year.
As far as Republicans are concerned, the matter was settled when Morgan’s opponent, Republican incumbent Bill Gannon of Sandown, withdrew his complaint to the Ballot Law Commission just before its Monday meeting, Morse said.
Gannon’s challenge, based on constitutional residency requirements, conjured memories among some longtime political observers of a case involving Gov. Sununu — not the incumbent, but his father, Gov. John H. Sununu, who served from 1983 to 1989.
The Exeter-area Senate District 23 race was called for Morgan after a Nov. 22 recount put him ahead of Gannon by a mere 105 votes out of 26,000.
Gannon initially challenged Morgan on the basis of a constitutional requirement that candidates must be residents of the state for seven years prior to the Senate election. On the eve of the Ballot Law Commission hearings, Morgan produced documents that satisfied Gannon and the complaint was withdrawn.
That would have been the end of the matter, if not for the fact that conservative citizen activist Susan Olsen of Warner had filed a separate complaint and did not withdraw.
Acting on that complaint, the BLC punted the matter to the state Senate, ruling that only that body can rule on the residency qualifications of incoming senators.
The case involving John H. Sununu didn’t even get that far.
After serving in the House in the early 1970s, Sununu wanted to run for state Senate in 1974 and knew he would not meet the seven-year residency requirement.
“I had only lived in Salem four years at that time, but the party wanted me to run,” the elder Sununu said.
So he challenged the seven-year residency requirement in a lawsuit, claiming that a large percentage of residents in the district bordering Massachusetts, like him, were recent arrivals to New Hampshire.
“Therefore a significant percentage of my district would be ineligible to run, and I thought we all needed equal representation,” he said.
The case, Sununu v. Stark, pitted the popular governor against long-serving Secretary of State Bob Stark, who preceded Bill Gardner.
With future state Supreme Court Justices David Brock and Chuck Douglas as his attorneys, Sununu took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost 8-0.
“It’s the classic U.S. Supreme Court residency case,” Sununu said.
But that’s not the end of the story. The general election that year, 1974, featured the closest U.S. Senate race in history, when Republican U.S. Rep. Louis C. Wyman defeated former state Insurance Commissioner John A. Durkin, a Democrat, by two votes.
Durkin petitioned the U.S. Senate to take up questionable ballots that had been shipped to Washington. Unable to settle the matter, the two parties agreed to a Senate proposal for a new election, which Durkin won.
Having been denied a place on the ballot, Sununu ran a write-in campaign for state Senate that year that may have inadvertently siphoned votes away from fellow Republican Wyman.
“I got a ton of write-in votes, but a lot of people put my write-in vote in the wrong place, on the U.S. Senate side,” he recalls.
All of which goes to show that close elections are nothing new, and there are always unintended consequences.
Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, has been relentlessly pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and pro-deregulation during his tenure on the council, and will be honored as Tom Thomson Conservative of the Year by the grassroots conservative policy group Americans for Prosperity-NH.
“David Wheeler’s tremendous stewardship of taxpayer money and commitment to upholding the New Hampshire Advantage has benefited New Hampshire greatly,” said Greg Moore, AFP-NH State Director.
Wheeler will receive the award at AFP-NH’s annual Christmas Party, Dec. 11, at the Backyard Brewery in Manchester.