Democratic House Minority Leader Robert Renny Cushing is dead, less than a week after announcing he was stepping away from politics due to cancer.
Monday afternoon’s announcement that Cushing died, after months of being treated for stage four prostate cancer, hit New Hampshire politics hard.
“I will never have the right words to summarize Renny’s life of service,” said Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy (D-Manchester). “His kindness, his humor, the way he would break into song when greeting you, the respect he commanded from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, his love of his family, and his unwavering belief in the place he called home. He truly was one of a kind.”
Even his political opponents praised Cushing’s public service.
“Although Rep. Renny Cushing and I were on the opposite sides of most public issues and policies, without exception I found him to be a person of remarkable courtesy and honor,” said former House Speaker Bill O’Brien. “He always accepted the integrity of those with opposing views. Rep. Cushing has left all of us who worked with him in the legislature – and indeed, all of New Hampshire – with an enduring example of how we can disagree in politics without being disagreeable. He will be missed, but he will be remembered.”
Cushing represented Hampton and had been a part of New Hampshire politics for decades. He got his start as an activist founding the Clamshell Alliance, the environmental group opposed to the Seabrook nuclear power plant. A progressive pioneer in the Live Free or Die state, Cushing championed the environment, criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, and ending the death penalty.
Cushing was against the death penalty before his father was murdered by a neighbor in 1988, and Cushing remained an active death penalty opponent despite that tragedy. He helped secure a major victory in 2019 when the legislature passed a death penalty repeal with a veto-proof majority.
Cushing becomes the second party leader to die since the start of the pandemic. Speaker of the House Rep. Dick Hinch, (R-Merrimack) died in the spring of 2020 after becoming infected with COVID-19. In fact, Cushing filed a lawsuit against Packard, Hinch’s successor, over the legislature’s COVID protocols. Cushing wanted more remote access for legislators like himself, who have serious health concerns.
Packard has so far prevailed in court, though a ruling in Cushing’s appeal before the federal First Circuit Court of Appeals is pending. Cushing was seeking an expedited ruling in the case ahead of the planned return of lawmakers to Representatives Hall.
As news spread of Cushing’s passing, tributes poured in.
“The House, the Democratic Caucus and the people of New Hampshire today suffered an incalculable loss with the death of House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing,” said acting Democratic House Leader David Cote, (D-Nashua.) “He cannot be replaced. He was my friend before my Leader and became family to me. I will miss him every day.”
Gov. Chris Sununu released a statement saying Cushing “made a lasting impact on the issues he cared deeply about. My thoughts are with the Cushing family during this unimaginable time.” The governor also ordered state flags in the Town of Hampton to fly at half-staff on the day of interment.
Democratic State Party Chair Raymond Buckley said Cushing spent his life “fighting the good fight.”
“His sense of justice never wavered or compromised. His epic determination and strength led to impressive victories both inside the legislature and out,” Buckley said. “All New Hampshire Democrats are feeling an immense loss and mourn the passing of Leader Cushing. Our heartfelt condolences go to his wife Kristie Conrad and his three daughters, Marie, Elizabeth and Grace.”
House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) said he was honored to work with Cushing.
“He was a passionate and dedicated public servant – never afraid to take on controversial issues for the sake of bettering this great state. It was an honor to serve alongside Leader Cushing, and his presence will be greatly missed by all who had the opportunity to know and work with him,” Packard said.
NH House Dems Victory Committee Chair Representative Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester) said Cushing continued to provide leadership during the pandemic while he received cancer treatments.
“Even during his battle with cancer, Leader Cushing led our caucus with courage and conviction, all while inspiring House Democrats with his trademark charm, wit, and genuine kindness,” Wilhelm said.
Rep. Tony Labranche (I-Amherst), who quit the Democratic Party over leadership concerns, has repeatedly called Cushing an inspiration.
“He was such an inspiration to so many, including myself. He was a true leader and man of the people,” Labranche said.
Sara Persechino, Campaigns and Communications Director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said Cushing leaves a lasting legacy on New Hampshire.
“From his efforts to make New Hampshire’s Constitution gender neutral to his modern-day work to increase the gender diversity of our state’s leaders honored in State House portraits, the Honorable Renny Cushing fought every day to advance equity in our state. Few have impacted the trajectory of the Legislature and our state as strongly as Renny; we are honored to continue the fight for equality for all in his memory – no matter what,” Persechino said.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) said Cushing will be remembered for his constant efforts for his constituents, and his strong advocacy for his beliefs.
“Leader Cushing never gave up fighting for what he believed was right, even when the odds were stacked against him, and was well-respected by those who worked with him over the years. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Cushing family, his friends, and the Democratic caucus during this difficult time,” Osborne said.