This story is part of a NH Journal interview series with freshman state legislators
“It’s better than I expected, certainly more fun,” says freshman Senator Gary Lambert, looking remarkably at home in his anything-but-spacious office at the State House, which he shares with two of his Republican colleagues.
Lambert is a New England, although not New Hampshire, native, growing up in Rhode Island and enlisting in the Marines following his high school graduation. Through the Marines he attended college and later law school, eventually settling in Boston, where he opened his own law firm. When his active duty was completed, including deployment to Iraq in 2005-2006, Lambert remained in the Marine reserves, only recently leaving after 30 years of service.
When asked how he wound up in New Hampshire, Lambert had an unexpected response: a blind date. A mutual friend set him up with his now-wife, who was a Granite State native. They eventually married and moved to Nashua, where they now live with their two daughters. When he is not legislating, Lambert continues to practice law and is active in the Nashua Rotary.
It was his decision to retire from the Marine reserves that made Lambert decide to foray into politics, which had long been an interest of his. “It’s something I always thought about doing,” he says, “[after leaving the Marine corps] I felt this emptiness and just wanted to do something else service-related.” While many former legislators and politically active individuals that he consulted told him he was “crazy” to run, Lambert tells us that he actually enjoyed campaign trail activities like going door-to-door and chatting with voters on the phone. His hard work paid off – in a predictably close race, Lambert became the first Republican to represent the 13th district since 1916.
If Lambert had been apprehensive about getting accustomed to his new role, he shows no signs of it now. He says that serving in the Senate is better than he anticipated, and that while the schedule may be challenging for someone with a career and family, his wife helps him keep things in perspective by reminding him that “It can’t be worse than going away to Iraq.’”
Lambert is quick to express how pleasantly surprised he is by the amount of influence a single senator can have on the legislative process, “If you take right-to-work, which was a 16 to 8 vote, and all it took was one senator not to vote for it and we wouldn’t have had a veto-proof majority.” He exerts that influence in his position on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, an assignment he relishes due to his love of New Hampshire’s great outdoors and interest in energy policy. “I think energy is one of the most pressing issues before us all,” says Lambert.
It is in this arena that Lambert has been the target of criticism from some of his more conservative fellow Republicans, namely for his support of New Hampshire’s continued participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). “I broke away from the majority of my party on RGGI…I still don’t understand why it was so important to that conservative activist element, but it was, and they put a lot of pressure on me,” he says, reminding us that his constituents are known for being anything but conservative. “I would not have won without Democrats,” he says, crediting the ‘Democrats for Lambert’ coalition and the many Democratic or Independent voters who held signs, stuffed envelopes, and made phone calls for him with providing significant momentum to his campaign. Lambert knows that he needs to maintain the support of voters across the political spectrum in his district in order to be re-elected.
As Lambert’s first legislative session nears a close, the question on observers’ minds is what the Senate will do with the budget; namely whether they will maintain the deep spending cuts enacted by the House. “One thing I’ve learned [during the budget process] is that [Senate Finance Committee Chair] Chuck Morse is one of the brightest guys here,” he states, expressing his belief that the Senate will be able to work within the constraints set by the House to come up with an effective solution.
For his part, Lambert takes a remarkably even-keeled approach to the controversies and internal politics that go hand and hand with his new position. He tells us that rather than worrying about which way the political winds are blowing, he is eager to get some direct feedback from the voters of his district as he hits the campaign trail in support of the upcoming Nashua mayoral election, and that as far as he’s concerned their opinions are the ones that really matter.
Check out some video footage of our interview with Sen. Lambert: