Franklin Republican Karen Testerman suffered yet another political defeat last week when she was voted out of her job as Merrimack County Republican Committee (MCRC) chair by the state GOP Executive Board. Not a single member voted in favor of keeping Testerman in her position, though five did abstain.
The 28-0 committee vote came in the wake of Testerman’s failed attempt to force the state GOP and the Secretary of State’s office to close the First in the Nation GOP primary to independent voters. Her lawsuit failed, but Testerman vows to continue to fight.
“The effort to remove the chair and vice chair — they can’t do, that’s illegal, we’re elected by our (county) committee members,” Testerman told NH Journal.
The drama began when Testerman and her husband, state Rep. David Testerman (R-Franklin), filed an emergency injunction in federal court on the day before the Jan. 23 GOP primary in an attempt to bar non-Republican voters from participating.
The injunction failed. The first-in-the-nation primary went on as scheduled, and with record turnout as more than 320,000 Granite Staters took GOP ballots.
Multiple New Hampshire Republican sources told NH Journal that Testerman’s undoing began in earnest when she included state GOP Chairman Chris Ager in the lawsuit. She also managed to convince a narrow majority of the MCRC to vote in favor of making the lawsuit an official committee action.
Secretary of State David Scanlan was also named as a defendant.
Three MCRC officers resigned in protest over Testerman’s actions. And, several Republicans pointed out, her lawsuits against the party mean money that could be spent on campaigns against Democrats will instead go to court costs.
“She’s gone from being a three-time loser to just a loser,” one Republican told NHJournal on background, a reference to Testerman’s record as a candidate for office.
In 2020 she failed to break double-digits with her primary challenge of Gov. Chris Sununu, and she was turned out of her Franklin city council seat by the voters in 2021. She received 10 percent of the vote in her 2022 gubernatorial primary defeat.
In an interview, Testerman insisted the lawsuit she engineered from the MCRC against Ager does not involve the New Hampshire GOP, despite a summons delivered last month to the party’s Concord headquarters and naming Ager “c/o the New Hampshire Republican Party.”
“This is where the confusion comes in,” Testerman said. “It’s been sold that we’re suing the state committee. We’re not. We’re going after Scanlan and Ager. That’s different than suing the committee.” But given the lawsuit targets Ager’s actions as party chairman, lawyers tell NHJournal, Testerman’s argument is a distinction without a difference.
MCRC Vice Chair Patricia Jorgensen is also listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The Executive Committee voted Monday to remove Jorgensen in addition to Testerman.
“It’s a disaster,” said Rep. José Cambrils (R-Loudon), who served as MCRC treasurer for seven years before resigning in protest. “They (Testerman and Jorgensen) decided to do this on their own.”
Cambrils said he was ill the night of the MCRC meeting and unable to attend when Testerman pushed for a committee vote to authorize the lawsuit against Scanlan and Ager. Testerman was opposed in her efforts by Finance Chair Yury Polozov and Secretary Alyssa Ehl.
Cambrils said the topic of the lawsuit was not even on the agenda issued for the Jan. 17 meeting.
“She’s been a good friend of mine for years but I’ve heard zero from her since all this started,” Cambrils said of Testerman. “Even after I announced to her my resignation.”
Ironically, Cambrils supports the idea of moving to a closed primary, and he backed a resolution, passed at the GOP’s 2023 annual meeting, calling for the party to do just that.
The resolution was then sent to Scanlan, but as a non-binding resolution with no force of law, it had no impact on the conduct of the primary.
Testerman and Cambrils have said they initially wanted the party to adopt the policy as a bylaw amendment. The bylaw amendment introduced at the 2023 annual meeting, however, didn’t include any specific language to adopt into the bylaws, and they were instructed by party leaders to reintroduce with language at a subsequent meeting.
Cambrils said he and others were upset and believed state party leadership may have intentionally set them up to fail, but when Testerman went forward with her latest legal action targeting Ager and the party, “that was over the line.”
In his MCRC resignation letter, Cambrils wrote that his “biggest regret is that I was too sick to attend the meeting last night to offer you (committee members) the opposing details.”
“Suing your own family members is always a bad idea unless it is a last resort,” he added. “And this was not the case for this issue.”
In her resignation letter, Secretary Alyssa Ehl wrote that Testerman’s efforts “undermine all efforts of the purpose of the Committee which is to get Republicans elected.”
“It saddens me to see the hard-earned funds and donations made to the MCRC to be used to fund spiteful lawsuits instead of funding the campaigns of fellow Republicans,” wrote Ehl.
Meanwhile, court documents show that Ager’s attorney, Bryan Gould, became more and more frustrated with Testerman as correspondence between the two continued.
In a Jan. 29 letter, Gould wrote Testerman “maligned Mr. Ager and caused the NHRSC to incur substantial defense fees and costs, all based on a misreading of the statutes.”
“Accordingly, and given your representation that this action was authorized by the MCRC, please notify the MCRC treasurer immediately that we assert a claim against the MCRC for the NHRSC’s attorney’s fees and costs and the treasurer should not transfer any funds or other assets of the MCRC until that claim is resolved,” Gould added.
The next MCRC meeting is scheduled for Feb. 21. Cambrils said he declined a request from Ager to chair the county committee on an interim basis. State Rep. JR Hoell (R-Dunbarton) will reportedly be presiding over the meeting as interim chair.
Cambrils said it could get interesting if Testerman shows up and tries to run the meeting.
“They’ll need to find five new officers,” Cambrils said about the current status of the MCRC before adding that several candidates have already stepped forward.
Reached by phone, Ager said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.
“Her foolishness has only united the GOP against her,” Ager said about Testerman. “Even Joe Biden hasn’t been able to do this.”