Peter Bragdon, of Milford, will resign from state Senate at end of regular session in June
CONCORD – Former state Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, cemented his new career as head of the former Local Government Center while confirming his 12-year stint in Statehouse politics soon will end.
During a telephone interview Tuesday, Bragdon, 51, said he’ll resign from the Senate on June 6, the day after the regular business of the 2014 session is scheduled to end.
“I’m getting a little bit nostalgic already. I certainly enjoyed working in the Senate and will miss that,” Bragdon said.
“I believe I’m leaving behind a record of accomplishment and particularly one as Senate president where we continued the tradition of low taxes and efficient government.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan, a first-term Democrat, saluted Bragdon as a honest broker in her role as chief executive and before when Hassan was Senate majority leader.
“As both a state senator and state representative, Peter Bragdon has been a dedicated advocate for his constituents,” Hassan said in a statement. “It has been an honor to serve with him and to work together on numerous bipartisan efforts to strengthen the well-being of Granite Staters, and I thank him for his service to the people of New Hampshire.”
The move opens up a wild scramble for the District 11 state Senate seat, whose party registration clearly favors the Republican nominee.
Within minutes of Bragdon’s permanent career move becoming public, nine-term state Rep. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, confirmed he was running and praised Bragdon’s leadership.
“Peter has done a great job. I helped him get elected in 2004 and I think I could carry on good representation in District 11,” said Daniels who ran against Bragdon in a tight, three-way 2002 GOP primary won by Andrew Peterson, R-Peterborough. “I believe my 18 years experience on the House Labor committee make me uniquely qualified to work on jobs and the economy and doing something about this federal health care reform law that is turning the lives of our constituents upside down.”
Daniels should have company in the GOP primary; Merrimack Town Councilor Dan Dwyer beat Bragdon in his hometown during a 2012 challenge and hasn’t ruled out seeking the seat again.
Former state Rep. Maureen Mooney, of Merrimack, a longtime GOP activist, is also considering running as well.
The district includes the towns of Merrimack, Milford, Amherst and Wilton.
Bragdon, 51, signed a contract Tuesday to remain as the $185,000-a-year executive director with New Hampshire HealthTrust, the state’s dominant player in the management of health care insurance plans for local and county governments.
The pact is for two years with an additional, two-year extension as long as the HealthTrust board does not terminate him in the meantime.
Under the deal, Bradgon must be given six months notice if the board ever wanted to terminate the arrangement.
Bragdon said he and the board agreed that he could keep the Senate post for the past year, but once this job became permanent, he had to end his political career.
“In the short term, it was pretty much clear I could do both,” Bragdon said. “For a longer-term position, it was just not practical.”
Bragdon noted during the past year, ethics guidelines prevented him from giving the board or agency staff advice on legislative or regulatory matters.
“A lot of those things come up in the context of this job. Now, I can be involved in those in depth,” Bragdon said.
Chuck Morse, R-Salem, replaced Bragdon and praised his predecessor.
“On behalf of the Senate, I want to express my sincere thanks to Senator Bragdon for his service to the state and to this institution,” Morse said in a statement. “His principled and balanced leadership as Senate president for more than three years was exemplary, and I have appreciated his friendship, guidance and support throughout our time together in the Senate and most particularly during the recent months.”
Last July, the LGC turned to Bragdon to be a calming, politically connected CEO as the group faced an organizational and financial upheaval.
The LGC was breaking up into separate, independent nonprofits serving municipalities while dealing with a state hearing officer’s ruling that it had to return more than $50 million to member cities and towns.
At that time, Bragdon insisted he could stay as Senate boss and do his new job. After three days of harsh criticism from his political adversaries, Bragdon changed his mind and engineered his return as a rank-and-file senator.
Many saw that first contract as a trial run for the ex-LGC board to determine if Bragdon could be permanent CEO material.
HealthTrust Chairman of the Board Peter Curro said Bragdon more than passed the test.
“We are delighted to have Peter continue on as executive director of HealthTrust,” Curro said. “He has done an outstanding job in the past year leading the organization through continued change. His knowledge of the needs of our cities, towns, school districts and counties, his understanding of the workings of a pooled risk management program, and his extensive business background make him the right fit to lead HealthTrust into the future.”
Bragdon said this new contract is a vote of confidence, and he views the job now as a permanent career that could extend well past the next four years.
“The big thing I want to do is get the focus on the long term, the strategic, long-term planning of the organization,” Bragdon said.
“We have had the courts and regulatory issues dominate so much of what went on here. Now let’s seriously look at where do we want to be and how do we want to get there.”
For example, Bragdon said the Affordable Care Act soon will define many health care insurances as “Cadillac plans” subject to a new tax.
“We need to look at how can we make those plans more affordable and help communities avoid that whole new burden,” Bragdon said.
As for looking back, Bragdon said he’s proud at having helped the Statehouse guide through the recession during three years as Senate leader.
“We had two very difficult budgets. We didn’t raise taxes in either one, and in the first, we actually reduced state spending to historic levels,” Bragdon said.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said Bragdon didn’t get the easy calls.
“Senator Bragdon’s leadership of the Senate following the 2010 elections was instrumental in passing a budget that closed an $800 million deficit, enacting overdue retirement reform to protect our pension system, and a passing host of other measures that have helped the New Hampshire economy grow,” Bradley said.
Closer to home, Bragdon points to saving Temple Mountain with state support and politically the removal of turnpike toll exit ramps as crowing achievements.
“We talk about this grand goals, but it’s really satisfying to be able to deliver for your constituents and I’ve been fortunate enough to do that,” Bragdon said.
The chairmen of the Democratic and Republican Party offered good wishes to Bragdon.
“For over 20 years, Peter Bragdon served the people of his community, district, and state with honor and a tireless work ethic,” Democratic Chairman Raymond Buckley said. “Senator Bragdon sacrificed much in the name of public service and earned the respect of all those with whom he worked. I wish him success and all the best in the next chapter of his life.”
Bragdon has served 15 years on the Milford School Board including more than a decade as its chairman.
GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn, of Nashua, said Bragdon will be difficult to replace.
“Peter Bragdon served with distinction and honor as the president of the New Hampshire Senate, and his principled voice in Concord will be missed,” Horn echoed in a statement.
Last December, Bragdon agreed to sign a letter of caution from the Legislative Ethics Committee reminding him to studiously avoid lawmaking business conflicts with his job.
The panel dismissed three of the five charges that state Rep. Rick Watrous, D-Concord, had brought against him including that his salary at HealthTrust amounted to an illegal gift.
In recent weeks, Watrous has brought his complaint back to the ethics panel accusing Bragdon of voting on legislation linked to former LGC matters.
Bragdon has responded he’s acted in concert with the agreement he reached.
The imminent resignation from Bragdon will likely make moot that new ethics complaint Watrous has brought.
Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).