Lawmakers elect Packard as House speaker, Scanlan as secretary of state

By: - December 7, 2022 6:37 pm

New Hampshire lawmakers gathered at the State House on Wednesday for “Organization Day.” (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated on Dec. 14 at 9:06 a.m.

Rep. Amanda Toll, a Keene Democrat, sat nursing her one-week-old baby as a roll call vote that normally takes 30 seconds stretched on for nearly 30 minutes.

Members of the New Hampshire House voted the old-fashioned way during “Organization Day” Wednesday, foregoing electronic voting as each of the 380 House members still present instead cast their vote out loud.

Speaker Sherman Packard during “Organization Day” on Wednesday. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

“Just think, this is how they used to do it not too long ago,” said Rep. Sherman Packard, who lawmakers elected as speaker by secret ballot earlier that morning.

The Republican pick for secretary of state, Dave Scanlan, also prevailed when New Hampshire’s newly elected lawmakers met for the first time this session. Scanlan took over the role when his predecessor, Bill Gardner, retired in January after serving in the role for more than 40 years.

As with Scanlan, it was the first time Packard was elected to a full term, although he served as speaker for two years after then-Speaker Dick Hinch died just one week after his 2020 election.

In his pitch to fellow lawmakers, Packard promised to build consensus and work across the aisle given the “never before seen balance in partisan makeup” of the House, where Republicans currently hold 201 seats and Democrats 198, with a tied race undecided.

“We may disagree on policy approaches,” he told lawmakers Wednesday, “but we’re united in the belief that New Hampshire is one of the best places to live, work, raise a family, start a business, and so much more.”

At least five Democrats joined Republicans in electing him as speaker by secret ballot in a 205 to 184 vote. He defeated Democratic challenger Matt Wilhelm of Manchester.

The speaker serves in a leadership position for the House, which includes making committee appointments – such as for chair and vice chair – and also decides when the full House will vote on a bill.

“The leadership of the committee really makes a difference,” said Donna Sytek, who served as a Republican speaker from 1996 to 2000, so deciding who gets to fill those roles is a significant power.

The speaker also decides what day the full House will take up a bill. Some speakers use that power strategically – scheduling a vote on a controversial item during a day when they will have the votes they need to pass it.

Packard’s impatience was visible last session, Sytek said, when the 400-member House found creative ways to keep meeting during the pandemic, such as using various sports complexes or meeting by car. She expects decorum, respect, and efficiency to improve now that lawmakers are back at the State House.

Secretary of state

Scanlan won in a bipartisan 237 to 175 vote, which included both senators and representatives, against Democratic challenger Melanie Levesque, a former state senator who lost her bid to return to the state senate in November.

He thanked lawmakers afterwards for the bipartisan vote and recognized Gardner’s legacy.

Sen. Lou D’Allessandro, a Manchester Democrat, had joined Republicans in nominating him. “Dave is in the image and likeness of his precursors,” he told lawmakers.

In addition to the office’s responsibility for running elections, the duties of the Secretary of State’s Office are far-reaching. The office holds archives of important state documents and vital records, handles business registrations, and is involved in regulating securities and corporations.

Rochester tie to go to special election

There’s still one empty seat at the State House, after a race to represent Rochester resulted in a tie. Lawmakers Wednesday decided to let voters in the district determine the outcome of that race, by passing a resolution to allow for a special run-off election.

A motion to delay voting on that resolution failed, 187-193.

Allegations of stalking

Democratic leaders called for Rep. Stacie Laughton, a Nashua Democrat, to resign. She was arrested on Nov. 12 and is currently in jail on stalking charges, the Associated Press reported.

Democratic leader Wilhelm put out a statement early Wednesday. “We had hoped that Representative-Elect Laughton would make the decision to not be seated ahead of Organization Day today,” he said. He called the allegations against her reprehensible. Her attorney has said she will be unable to participate in the Legislature for a few months. 

“I call on her to issue a formal resignation and allow the citizens of Nashua to elect a new representative in a special election,” Wilhelm said.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.