By Phil Sletten
CONCORD, New Hampshire: State Senator Peter Bragdon (R) announced he would step down from the position of Senate President amid controversy regarding his new employment outside of his Senate work. Bragdon was hired by the Local Government Center (LGC), a group in the middle of a reorganization and under state regulator scrutiny for potential financial misconduct. Bragdon initially intended to remain the President of the Senate, but widespread criticism prompted him to step down.
The LGC has been in legal battles with state regulators over its handling of insurance pools for local governments. Alongside its lobbying and advocacy arm, the LGC operates insurance risk pools that provide municipalities with health, compensation, and property insurance. State regulators claimed that the LGC improperly diverted money between risk pools and retained surpluses that should have been returned to policyholders. The LGC was ordered to reorganize itself and repay municipalities $52 million. The LGC appealed, but the New Hampshire Supreme Court did not stay a lower court's agreement with regulators. In response, the LGC began a reorganization that will separate the lobbying arm and the insurance pools from each other, and the group made a strong effort to improve its image and transparency.
In this environment, the LGC made the surprise move of hiring Bragdon, potentially to help their standing with the state, as their executive director. Bragdon was hired to operate the insurance pools, and said he would remain completely separate from the lobbying arm. In his role as President of the Senate, Bragdon was the highest-ranking Republican in the state and the next-in-line after the governor. Bragdon said he would recuse himself from all votes affecting LGCs operations. According to The Concord Monitor, Bragdon said that his employment at the quasi-governmental LGC results in "no conflict above and beyond the typical conflicts you have with volunteer senators who are employed elsewhere." Bragdon's contract with the LGC, drafted in the month before the public announcement, calls for Bragdon to earn $180,000 per year. New Hampshire offers the lowest compensation of any state to its legislators; Bragdon has earned $125 per year as the President of the Senate since he first took office in 2010.
Bragdon's decision drew immediate criticism from the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which expressed concern over the timing of this hiring decision relative to a key committee appointment Bragdon had made in his Senate role. Criticism also came from less partisan sources, including editorials from the The Concord Monitor, The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, The Portsmouth Herald and The Nashua Telegraph. The office of Governor Maggie Hassan (D) issued a statement calling the hire likely to be "uncharted territory" and saying that all parties need to "carefully and thoroughly" address the concerns presented. Bragdon had not consulted with his whole caucus, and his Republican allies in the Senate did not rush to his defense, including Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R) and Finance Committee Chair Chuck Morse (R).
Bragdon, seeking to avoid the "perception of impropriety," announced his intention to step down from his position as President of the Senate on Friday, August 16, 2013, three days after he announced he would be working for the LGC. Bragdon plans to remain in the Senate, and called a session for September 3, 2013, to pick a new President of the Senate. Governor Hassan (D) expressed continuing concern over his dual roles, noting that this experience would likely "form" the discussion of a panel recently created to review legislative ethics codes.
Picking a new President of the Senate requires the votes of 13 senators, or a majority in the 24-member body. Finance Chair Morse (R) is the only candidate who has publicly expressed interest, and he has reportedly secured votes from 12 of the 13 Republicans in the Senate. Democratic senators typically do not vote for Republican candidates for Senate President, although they have as recently as 2005. Reportedly, Senator Andy Sanborn (R) is the holdout vote. Others have noted that Bragdon has not publicly endorsed Morse for Senate President. However, Senate Majority Leader Bradley (R) endorsed Morse quickly after Morse expressed interest. New Hampshire political observers consider both Bradley and Morse serious contenders for higher office. Many assumed that Bradley, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was eying a challenge to incumbent U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D), while Morse was seeking to challenge Governor Hassan (D). As Morse is now running for President of the Senate, he is reportedly urging Bradley to run for governor. Sanborn, the holdout vote for Morse, tried to challenge Bragdon for the Senate presidency in late 2012, but stopped his challenge after he failed to collect enough support. Sanborn has also expressed interest in running for governor in the past, and his intentions for the Senate presidency and the current election cycle reportedly have created considerable speculation.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Concord Monitor, "BREAKING: Bragdon to step down as N.H. Senate president amid controversy over LGC job," August 16, 2013
- ↑ The Concord Monitor, "Little trust between LGC, state regulators as legal battle heads to high court," December 2, 2012
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 The Concord Monitor, "LGC taps N.H. Senate president as executive director; Democrats: ‘blatant conflict of interest’," August 14, 2013
- ↑ WMUR, "Analysis: Bragdon, LGC question whether there are ’rules’ in NH politics," August 13, 2013
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 The Concord Monitor, "Capital Beat: Bragdon’s decision came after days of criticism, and silence," August 18, 2013
- ↑ NHDP, "NHDP Seeks LGC Records on Timeline of Questionable Bragdon Hiring," August 15, 2013
- ↑ The Concord Monitor, "Editorial: Bragdon must choose one job or the other," August 14, 2013
- ↑ The Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, "Sen. Bragdon’s new job is a cause for concern," August 14, 2013
- ↑ The Nashua Telegraph, "LGC deal with Bragdon lowers New Hampshire’s ethical bar," August 16, 2013
- ↑ The Portsmouth Herald, "Sen. Bragdon should resign if he works as LGC director," August 15, 2013
- ↑ The Concord Monitor, "Hassan’s office: Concerns about Bragdon’s LGC job should be ‘carefully and thoroughly addressed'," August 14, 2013
- ↑ WMUR, "Bragdon to resign Senate presidency amid new job controversy," August 16, 2013
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 13.2 The Nashua Telegraph, "Who will succeed Bragdon as NH Senate president?" August 26, 2013
- ↑ The Nashua Telegraph, "Hassan says Bragdon’s new job at LGC is uncharted territory for state," August 20, 2013
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 The Nashua Telegraph, "Source: Sanborn holding out on agreeing to pick Morse as Bragdon Senate president replacement," August 22, 2013
- ↑ WMUR, "Political Standing for Aug. 23, 2013," August 23, 2013
- ↑ WMUR, "Analysis: Why Jeb Bradley should obviously run for governor, not Senate," August 19, 2013
- ↑ WMUR, "Sen. Sanborn met with RGA on potential run for governor," August 19, 2013