“People ask me what is the difference between being minority leader and majority leader, and I tell them that the jobs are the same, but with one you win and one you lose,” says new New Hampshire Senate President Peter Bragdon wryly, when asked about his new leadership role.
Elected to the NH Senate from Milford in 2004, Bragdon became the Minority Leader in 2008, and confessed to the feelings of frustration he and his caucus experienced with continually working hard on legislation, only to have it end in almost certain defeat on the Senate floor. However, the new Majority Leader has no intention of rubbing the Democrats’ noses in their resounding November losses; he states that NH voters elected a Republican legislature and a Democratic Governor as a clear indication that they expect to see a spirit of bipartisanship in state government.
A Fiscal Mandate
Bragdon sees a clear message from the Republican wave that left him with a 19-5 majority, but not a mandate to push often-divisive social issues. “Our mandate is to get back to the fiscally conservative roots of our state,” says Bragdon, “but there wouldn’t be a mandate if we hadn’t gone through four years of unbridled taxing and spending.”
To back up his interpretation of the election results, Bragdon offers some anecdotal evidence from the campaign trail: “When you go out knocking doors, only one or two out of 100 mention the social issues, maybe zero out of 100,” he says, “100 out of 100 care about jobs and the economy.” While Bradgon acknowledges that he suspects there will be bills presented in the House addressing top social issues, he intends them to take a backseat to economic concerns.
Leading By Example
When it comes to budget cuts, Bragdon is putting his money where his mouth is. During our conversation, he reveals that he has already cut $250,000 from the Senate budget, which comes out to 10-15 percent of the total. According to Bragdon, the Senate budget has been growing by an average of 10 percent per year. The majority of these cuts have been enacted by not filling positions of departing staff members.
When the conversation turns to the statewide budget, Bragdon cracks that a recent figure he saw estimated the budget deficit at $666 million – approximately 13% of the budget – “If you’re superstitious, you can make what you want of that.” Quickly turning solemn, he says that there is a clear imperative for the new legislature to reduce the size and scope of government, and that he plans to do so through both systemic and incremental cuts. When it comes to reducing the number of state employees, Bragdon expresses his hope that they will be able to make cuts through attrition – the 10-15 percent annual turnover in state employees – rather than layoffs, but says, “right now everything needs to be on the table because we are in a crisis.”
An Ambitious Agenda
Some other big-ticket items on Bragdon’s legislative agenda are a repeal of the Evergreen Law (see here for details) and a Constitutional amendment aimed at putting school funding decisions back in the hands of the state legislature. Bragdon has some experience with school budget issues, as he has served on the Milford School Board for over a decade, and is the current Chairman. He outlines the proposed amendment here:
Citing his methodical personality and measured approach, Bragdon expresses the hope that he will be a steadying hand and effective consensus-builder to his caucus and the Senate as a whole. His goal is to create an atmosphere of respect and openness, where all parties feel like they have a seat at the table, but also enables bold action when necessary. “We can’t kick the can down the road anymore, that’s how we got where we are. At some point someone’s got to pick up the can,” Bragdon concludes.
NH Journal’s Amelia Chassé contributed to this story