By JOHN DiSTASO, Editor
CONCORD — House speaker Terie Norelli, surrounded by top members of her Democratic leadership team, announced Monday that after 18 years in the House and six as speaker, she intends this to be her last.
The 61-year-old Portsmouth resident said she has no plans to return to politics after she finishes the current session and works to retain a Democratic majority in the House in November. But she left the door open a crack, saying that while she wants to “take a breath,” the House “sometimes has a way of drawing people back in.”
She also expressed no interest in running for higher office or joining the staff of National Conference of State Legislatures, where she formerly served as president.
Still, as Norelli steps aside after three terms as speaker and nine in the House later this year, her name will undoubtedly come up in the future as possible candidate for higher office, perhaps even governor if Gov. Maggie Hassan wins reelection this years and decides in 2016 to try to win a U.S. Senate seat.
And next year, as the first-in-the-nation primary campaign begins to heat up, it would not be a surprise to see Norelli with a key role on Hillary Clinton’s campaign should the former Secretary of State decide to run, as is expected. Norelli endorsed Clinton several months before Clinton won the 2008 first-in-the-nation primary over Barack Obama.
Norelli Monday said she entered the current legislative session knowing it would be her last, but after word surfaced in recent days that she had confided in some of her closest House allies, she quickly ended the speculation, first with a brief statement and then with a news conference.
Norelli recounted for reporters what she viewed as progress made in the House during her time as speaker and over the longer period, as a state representative. She cited reproductive rights, “environmental protection” and passage of the state’s civil unions law an then under her watch, the same-sex marriage equality law.
She said that during her tenure the Claremont school funding lawsuit ended, statewide public kindergarten was established, the high school drop-out rate was lowered and this year, there were bipartisan agreements on the budget and Medicaid expansion.
Norelli became the first Democratic Speaker of the House in 84 years when she first was elected to the post in 2006. When Democrats retained control of the House in 2008, she was the first speaker to preside over back-to-back Democratic House majorities in the history of the state.
Republicans won a super-majority of nearly 300 members in 2010 – and Norelli became minority leader. She was elected to her third and current term as speaker when the Democrats easily reclaimed control of the House during the big Democratic bounce-back year in 2012.
Norelli said she will work through the summer and fall “to ensure that for the second time in New Hampshire’s history Democrats have back-to-back majorities. We know unfortunately what the alternative brings.”
Also during her tenure the House has refused to pass legislation to expand legalized gambling. She insisted that she is and has been neutral on the issue and said it is one of the key issues on which “our caucus is not in 100 percent agreement.” She downplayed any role she may have played, noting that the House has never passed expanded gambling under any speaker.
While the House will vote still again on the issue – this time a Senate-passed two-casino bill – in the coming weeks, Norelli said her role has been to provide an “open, fair process.”
House Public Works and Highways Chairman David Campbell, D-Nashua who lost twice to Norelli as caucus leader – and in effect, speaker – is viewed as among the leading contenders to succeed her.
“Even though I ran for speaker twice against her,” he said, “I think they were dignified and respectful campaigns and the caucus came out more united because of it.”
Other Democrats viewed as potential candidates include the post are current Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, House Majority Whip Gary Richardson and House Finance Division chair Dan Eaton.
On the Republican side, House Minority Leader and former speaker Gene Chandler is viewed as a likely candidate. State Rep. Pam Tucker, R-Greenfield, has also expressed interest in the post in the past and is likely to strongly consider it again.
Republican state chairman Jennifer Horn thanked Norelli for her service, but then charged that her stepping aside is “an implicit admission that Democrats realize they will lose their majority in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Granite Staters are fed up with the tax and spend policies proposed by Governor Hassan and her allies in the Democrat-controlled House.”
But state Democratic chair Raymond Buckley said Norelli’s election three times as speaker and as president of NCSL “speaks for itself. She has brought great dignity to the House.”
In a statement, Buckley said:
“Speaker Terie Norelli has served the New Hampshire House of Representatives with distinction during her three terms as Speaker. Since her election to the House in 1996, Terie Norelli has represented Portsmouth and all of New Hampshire with her professionalism, her sense of fairness, and her respect to the institution and members of the House. Speaker Norelli brought dignity to the office, which we all appreciate.
“She has had a tremendous and historic career as a representative, Democratic Leader, and as the first Democratic Speaker in 84 years. She lead and oversaw tremendous legislative accomplishments, including Medicaid Expansion, marriage equality, and the in-state college tuition freeze. New Hampshire families are better off because of my friend Terie. Her legacy will continue on and serve as an example for the next Democratic speaker, which we look forward to welcoming to the floor next session.”
Former New Hampshire House Democratic Leader Peter Burling said:
“From the moment she entered the legislature in 1996, Terie Norelli has demonstrated all the best qualities of a legislative leader: integrity, commitment to hard work, and a concern for the best interests to the state of New Hampshire. All of us who worked with her felt it was a privilege to do so.”