The New Hampshire House of Representatives' new Democratic speaker is pledging "common sense" following two years of Tea Party control of the chamber.
House Speaker Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth) said that voters this year demanded "common sense" at the polls. The House of Representatives saw 50 percent of its 400-member body turn over in the 2012 elections. The change and new Democratic control comes after a two-year period of a Tea Party-dominated Republican majority, which saw debates over evolution, a ban on United Nations Agenda 21 and birther issues.
"I am optimistic that the members elected to the New Hampshire House heard what I believe is the message of the voters -- and that is common sense," Norelli told The Huffington Post.
Norelli said she expects budget issues to dominate the legislative agenda going forward for the next two years. Tax cuts implemented over the past two years have lowered state revenues, she added, putting lawmakers and Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan (D) in a tough position when crafting a spending plan. Norelli credited Hassan with setting the "right tone" for bipartisanship in the weeks leading up to her inauguration on Thursday. Legislators were sworn in earlier this month.
"If our revenues are flat, our expenses are going to need to be flat," Norelli said. "That will take Democrats and Republicans working together, finding areas of common ground and looking towards compromise in other areas."
While the governorship and state House will be controlled by Democrats, Republicans maintain a narrow majority in New Hampshire's Senate. However, Democrats will control a majority of the seats on the five-member Executive Council, an oversight body that confirms gubernatorial appointments, approves state contracts and federal funds for the state, and crafts the state's highway plan.
The last two years marked a series of bitter partisan battles between Tea Party legislators and outgoing Gov. John Lynch (D), with lawmakers routinely overriding Lynch's vetoes. The two years of Tea Party control included a moderate Republican lawmaker offering a Nazi salute to former Speaker William O'Brien (R-Mont Vernon) on the floor when O'Brien refused to allow the lawmaker to bring up items not included in a report during a debate over voter identification.
Norelli, who was the minority leader for the last two years and served as speaker prior to that, said that she will not be controlling the House in the same way as O'Brien, who became a lightening rod in the state.
"That is not my style," she said. "Members are elected by the voters in their districts. While I may try to persuade them, it is their voters to whom they are responsible."
Norelli, the president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, did promise that New Hampshire lawmakers will continue to debate a range of issues, including many of the Tea Party favorites that dominated the last two years. Under state legislative rules, all bills receive committee hearings and floor votes.
"The upside of that is good ideas from the minority cannot be squashed," Norelli said of the rule on voting for all bills. "The downside is the distraction of bills, and it takes time away from the important issues. I believe that the House members elected in 2012, many of whom did a lot of door-to-door, heard from constituents that they are not interested in extreme social issues."