Cook On Concord: Welcome to a new political world

If you blink or take your eye off current events for a second, the whole political world can change. Just when everyone thought the players were known in New Hampshire politics for the foreseeable future (i.e., the rest of the two-year political cycle), a lot has changed.

As everyone knows by now, on Feb. 3, President Obama selected Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican, to be his commerce secretary, creating a delicate political situation, since New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch would be able to name Gregg’s replacement until the 2010 election. Normally not earth-shaking, this was made important, since a Democratic replacement potentially would constitute the 60th Democratic member of the Senate, making the Senate “filibuster-proof.”

After apparently negotiating a delicate agreement, Lynch indicated his intention to name J. Bonnie Newman of North Hampton, a Republican, as Gregg’s replacement.

The two nominations show great political finesse and quality.

Gregg, who has served with distinction as executive councilor, congressman, governor and senator, will bring all of that experience to the cabinet. He also brings a perspective of a mainline conservative Republican in an assumedly liberal Democratic administration. How comfortable he will be with that role is yet to be seen, but the appointment reinforces President Obama’s expressed wish to have a bipartisan administration, and in Gregg he has found someone who can reach out to Republicans in the Congress with credibility.

Having Gregg in the Cabinet also will help New Hampshire, as such appointments have been in the past. During the Eisenhower administration, Sinclair Weeks of Lancaster served as secretary of commerce, and Sherman Adams was White House chief of staff, and John H. Sununu served that role under President George H.W. Bush. So this is not a unique experience for the state.

In Bonnie Newman, Governor Lynch made a masterful choice for the Senate under these unusual circumstances.

Like Lynch, I first met Bonnie Newman as an undergraduate student at the University of New Hampshire, when she arrived there as the new assistant dean of students in the late 1960s. Newman went on to be chief of staff for Congressman Gregg, president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, head of the New England Council in Boston, personnel director in the Reagan White House and head of administration in the first Bush administration under Sununu.

After leaving government, she started an FM radio station known as “Seacoast 102 FM,” which she ran and later sold. She served as administrative dean at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and was interim president of the University of New Hampshire. This impressive and extensive résumé is augmented by several corporate directorships and a score of not-for-profit board positions.

With her understanding of the workings of a congressional office, workings of the White House and the federal government, Newman will arrive in Washington as prepared as anyone who has not actually served in the Congress could be. Also, her ability to work with those from both parties is well known, as she is not a particularly partisan person.

Undoubtedly, this appealed to Lynch as he sought someone who would not be a thorn in the Obama administration’s side, although some right wing Republicans undoubtedly will whine about her not being a “real Republican.”

So, things in New Hampshire politics have changed. Specifically, there will be an open Senate seat in 2010, assuming Newman sticks to her stated intent not to seek the seat, a safe assumption as she has always proven to be a woman of her word and is unlikely to relish the prospect of having to raise money and run a tough campaign.

Congressman Paul Hodes, never a shrinking violet, announced his intention to seek the seat on the very day the appointments were announced. Assumedly, Hodes’ announcement was to pre-empt the field. Lynch announced in January that he would not be seeking the seat, but commentators wondered whether that included the intention not to seek it if it was an open seat as opposed to one that would involve running against the incumbent.

Assuming Hodes or Lynch were nominated, one of the other major offices would open up and maneuvering has already begun on the basis of all of those possibilities.

On the Republican side, speculation already is rampant about the intentions of former Senator John E. Sununu, among many others.

So just when we thought everything was calm for the moment, the political pot began to boil again.


New Hampshire recently lost several prominent elders.

Edwin Chertok, the former mayor of Laconia and a well-known businessman and UNH alumnus, passed away at age 93.

Marshall Cobleigh, former speaker of the House and noted political operative in the Thomson administration and elsewhere, died after a long illness.

Among non-political losses, CPA William Ford, a true gentleman and fixture at his residence across from Southern New Hampshire University on the Manchester-Hooksett line, died at the age of 91.

Three losses, all of whom will be missed.

Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association.