Adding to a year filled with ‘firsts,’ New Hampshire government’s Organization Day is going to be outdoors for the first time due to the risk posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Representative Dick Hinch and Senator Chuck Morse announced the change in a joint statement released Sunday:
“It is our responsibility to conduct Organization Day according to the constitutional requirement that it be held on the first Wednesday of December. But it is also our responsibility to conduct it as safely as possible during the Covid pandemic. An outdoor venue will lower the risk for all members and staff. We thank UNH for accommodating this request.”
They might also want to thank the weatherman. The forecast calls for sunshine, though the high temperature will only be in the low 40s.
Organization Day is always held on the first Wednesday of December.
“Great to see this development,” said Rep. Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester) on Twitter. “One big question remains: will GOP Reps wear masks on Wed?”
“I’m glad to see they are finally taking our health and safety into consideration,” said Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough), who had previously written in an op-ed, “I don’t think I will be attending Organization Day next week. I’ve already been exposed by volunteering to help at orientation. I don’t want to take a chance again.”
Keith Ammon, a former and incoming State Representative from New Boston, was not as agreeable to the change in circumstance. “This portends ‘government by Zoom’ for at least the first year of the upcoming biennium,” he said. “Keith is not happy about this.”
As required by the State Constitution, legislators will be sworn-in on Wednesday by Governor Chris Sununu in the presence of the Executive Council. The House will then elect a Speaker — Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack) is the all-but-certain choice — and other officers. The Senate will elect a President, Chuck Morse (R-Salem,) and its officers. Representative Hinch and Senator Morse are the presumptive winners as heads of their respective chambers.
As reported first by NHJournal, Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) is likely to ascend to the role of Majority Leader after Hinch is officially elected Speaker for the upcoming biennium. The Democrats elected Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) as their caucus leader in a ranked-choice vote — another NH legislature first — during their caucus on November 19.
A joint session of both chambers will follow to elect the Secretary of State. Bill Gardner is running for re-election as the state’s chief election official, a position he has held for the last 44 years. There are no other contenders for the position, unlike 2018. Former candidate for governor, Colin Van Ostern, ran a serious challenge against the country’s longest-tenured Secretary but fell short by just one vote.
Prior to this change, the rules did not allow for guests to watch Organization Day proceedings. NHJournal could not confirm if the outdoor proceedings will have the same ‘no guests’ policy.