The New Hampshire Union Leader
this column on May 11, 2012:
It’s been 10 years since a freshman state senator retired voluntarily after serving just one term in Concord, but this year, five first-termers — half the freshmen class — have announced they will not seek reelection.
All five worked hard to get to the Senate. Three defeated incumbents in 2010. The other two had to win primaries. One ran twice before winning. All were favored for reelection, some easily. Yet they are walking away, one and done.
These five senators, all Republicans, have something else in common: They are members of the self-employed, small-business majority elected in 2010. They tried to balance their businesses and family with a full-time public service job that pays $100 a year. They found it impossible to do all three well.
“For me, the Senate was not a positive experience. It was a business wrecker, a marriage wrecker, a family wrecker. All the people around me paid a great price for me doing this. It probably cost me $100,000. I don’t think there was one week I didn’t work at least 60 hours on the Senate alone, let alone trying to run my business, except when I was on vacation, when I probably only worked 30 hours or so on Senate stuff,” Bedford Sen. Ray White, owner of an employee benefits company, told me.
Sen. Jim Forsythe of Strafford candidly acknowledges that time spent campaigning was a contributing factor to his divorce. The father of two school-aged children saw his income cut in half since his election. The Senate’s only PhD, Forsythe teaches thermodynamics and physics at the University of New Hampshire and consults on research projects. Forsythe anticipates taking a full-time position with the Department of Defense after he completes his term and will spend much of his time in Maryland.
“Make sure your spouse is on board,” Forsythe advises people thinking about running for office. “It’s not worth it if they’re not.”
Manchester real estate developer Tom DeBlois once had 14 employees. Now he has two, which he attributes to a combination of Senate work and the economy. How much did serving in the state Senate cost him? “It’s over 100 grand this year. Well over. I like to think that if I’d been on the ground, paying attention…” He pauses, thinking. “But I made a commitment (to the voters) to put in the time to do the work I said I would.” DeBlois is leaving the Senate to run for an open Executive Council seat. DeBlois does not say this, but the Council is considered less time-consuming.
His advice to other small businesspeople thinking about running: “Be absolutely sure that you have someone on your staff who can handle your job.” DeBlois tries to focus on the people’s business three days a week and his business three days a week, but the two spheres overlap daily.
Rochester Sen. Fenton Groen replaced himself in his construction business so he could tend to Senate work 45-55 hours a week while the Legislature is in session. That meant hiring estimating and sales staff, costing him around $100,000 a year.
“I’m not complaining about this. I had my eyes wide open. I knew what I was getting into,” Groen says. The recession hit his industry hard. “I’ve had a number of people tell me they are disappointed I’m not running and I have to tell them, ‘So am I.’”
Nashua’s Gary Lambert runs a law practice and is returning to active status in the Marine Corps Reserve. “I could not do that, run my law firm, be a good father and husband along with my Senate duties for two more years. So, the Senate seat had to go. That said, I love being a senator and wish I could continue to serve, but there are only 24 hours in a day.” Lambert hopes to return to elected public service at the conclusion of his military career.
“It’s grueling,” Senate President Peter Bragdon, interrupted while working alone at the State House on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, says straight up. Legislation, study committees, campaigning and community events every day of the week take up huge amounts of time.
All this can be yours. The filing period opens in a couple of weeks.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.