State Senate District 11: Gary Daniels

Gary Daniels is one of four Republicans vying for the nomination in District 11. This is an open seat, most recently held by Sen. Peter Bragdon (R-Milford). 

Gary Daniels (from garydaniels.org)
Gary Daniels (from garydaniels.org)

At various times, Milford voters have entrusted Gary Daniels with the offices of selectman, school board member, school district moderator, and – for eighteen years – state representative. What have we here? A career politician?

“I’ve been called a career politician. I guess if $1800 before taxes is a career, then I’m probably not very good at choosing careers.”  What Daniels could have said, but didn’t, is that the voters seem to have chosen the work for him. He’ll be on the ballot again in September, this time for state Senate in a district spanning Wilton, Milford, Amherst and Merrimack.

Let me also mention that he has a pro-life voting record going back years. I served with him a some years ago on the board of the state’s oldest pro-life organization.

Deciding to run, and what “establishment” means

Why the Senate?  Gary told me he decided to explore the race when retiring Sen. Peter Bragdon had to recuse himself from this year’s Medicaid expansion vote, citing a conflict of interest arising from his job with HealthTrust. “There was uncertainty over whether this district would have representation when it came to Medicaid expansion. That’s when I seriously started thinking about it. I jumped in when Peter announced he wasn’t going to run [for re-election].”

One of his opponents in the primary recently called Gary an “establishment” candidate. I asked Gary about that. “Before you go calling people ‘establishment,’ don’t just look at how long they’ve been there. Look at their voting record. Mine has been consistent for eighteen years. My first year up there, I got dragged into the back room by the [GOP] majority whip, and he started in on ‘you have one of the worst voting records among Republicans for supporting leadership.’ I simply said ‘when leadership starts acting like Republicans, then you’ll have my vote.’ That mindset has continued for eighteen years.”

New Hampshire House GOP leadership eventually got the message. When Republicans last held the House majority, Gary was named chairman of the Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services committee. (With Democrats in charge, he’s the ranking Republican.) That’s a high-profile, high-pressure job, with right-to-work legislation drawing large crowds and controversy whenever it’s introduced. Gary’s temperament and attitude in the role earned him respect  “I had [the head of a prominent New Hampshire union] come up to me and say ‘we’re never going to agree on this, but I do respect the way you run the hearing. You’re very fair, you give people a chance to talk.'” Gary paused for a moment before adding, “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

He knows how to work on a team where not everyone has his kind of temperament. I asked him about former Speaker Bill O’Brien, who led the GOP majority in 2011-12. “People criticized him for being harsh. I don’t see that he was any harsher than Terie Norelli has been. Remember, we had an $800,000,000 [budget] hole going into 2011-2012, and you’re not going to make friends when you’re filling that hole. But the thing is, we filled that hole and we didn’t raise your taxes.”

Representing more than one town would not be new to him. His House seat is a floterial district, covering the towns of Hollis, Milford, Mont Vernon & New Boston. “Really, what I’m doing [if I win] is changing from Rt. 13 to Rt. 101.” A testimonial on the campaign web site from a Mont Vernon resident notes that even though Mont Vernon is the smallest town in Gary’s House district, Gary “gave Mont Vernon the same attention he gave the largest towns.”

On life

Gary was pro-life long before he was elected to office, and he has a long pro-life voting record. Most recently, he opposed the buffer zone and supported Griffin’s Law.

Referring to Maureen Mooney, the other district 11 candidate with a state voting record, “Maureen’s and my pro-life vote is probably the same. I think she’s been pretty staunch on that. I think the biggest thing that separates us is experience. I hope that people can see the value.”

Has he seen any shift over the years in how representatives treat the life issues?  Yes. “We will fight for social issues on constitutional grounds, as in pro-life. We’re talking about a human being here, and government’s purpose is to protect people. And we’ve actually made progress on that front. When you think back to my early days in the legislature, we were fighting about whether [the preborn child] was a human being or not. We don’t hear so much of that these days.”

If there’s a shift in House and Senate membership after this year’s election, will the buffer zone law be repealed, if it’s not tossed out by the courts? Probably, said Gary. “Constitutional grounds. That would be something I would highly expect to pass.” What about parental notification? Is that safe, or will someone try to repeal it? “Anyone can put in a bill. If Republicans are in a majority, I’d say that any attempts [at parental-notification repeal] would probably fail.”

Where has the local pro-life movement missed some opportunities? Gary described a recent email he received from a pro-life activist.  “Yes. I was former chair of New Hampshire Right to Life. That’s why I got a little bit perturbed this year when I got an email, saying something like ‘you have been identified as being someone who is not pro-life.'” Gary traced the accusation back through a Facebook post to a blog post to a comment on that blog. “You run into something like that once in awhile.” He shook his head and said of the commenter who sparked the email, “You don’t stop to think that you’re insulting the people who have stood by you for years and years.” He knows less-experienced colleagues who have voted pro-life on bills but then received criticism from pro-life activists anyway. “If you don’t have a strong person there, and they might have put themselves out to support a bill and then they get a thing that says ‘I understand you’re not pro-life,’ they say ‘you know what? If that’s what you think, forget you.'”

“Sometimes it takes time to pass a bill,” he said, acknowledging that this can be frustrating for activists eager for progress.

Other Senate issues

Where does Gary think the state has unfinished business? Jobs. “If you don’t have work, then a lot of these other things like affordable health care don’t mean a whole lot, because it’s not a high enough priority and people go without.” He mentioned a recent survey on how children are faring in various states, and said that New Hampshire’s rank has dropped sharply year-over-year, “primarily because of children in poverty. If we have jobs for people, then maybe the children wouldn’t be living in poverty. But we can’t produce jobs when you have a mindset that business is evil. ”

He described a successful project from his time as chair of the Labor committee. “We were having people [come to the committee] who were facing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fines because they didn’t do something right with worker’s compensation or something like that.” He suggested to the state’s commissioner of Labor that  a “welcome packet” be created for owners of new businesses, with the state’s labor laws included on a CD. Business owners would have all the relevant information in one place, rather than having to figure out the law piecemeal. Since that program began, he said, “We haven’t had one person come back after with the same issues of non-compliance. It’s things like that where you can look back and say ‘I made a difference,’ whether it’s working with people or just helping with businesses.”

What else? “We need to come up with a New Hampshire solution for health care. That was one of the original intents in running for the seat, feeling that people needed a voice. And I felt it was a big enough issue that it needed to have attention. Education – this whole Common Core thing has to go away. I’m trying to bring education into the 21st century, and a lot of it ties into jobs and the economy.” He cited the state’s Building Aid program to school districts. “Enrollments are going down. Is there an opportunity to give building aid money to putting schools together with fiberoptic, creating virtual classrooms with students from around the state? Let the state start building the infrastructure that will make a 21st century classroom.”

His proudest legislative accomplishment is a Lyme disease law that he sponsored, passed without former Gov. John Lynch’s signature in 2011. “This was a segment of society that had been forgotten by the legislature, and in many ways are still forgotten by Health and Human Services. People were having to go out of state [for long-term antibiotic treatment] because one doctor would say ‘there’s no such thing as chronic Lyme disease,’ while another would say ‘chronic Lyme DOES exist and MAY be treatable with long-term antibiotics.’ The problem was that doctors around the country treating with long-term antibiotic therapy were being reported to their [state] boards of medicine, and having their license pulled, and people with Lyme would lose a doctor. So we were trying to be proactive.” Passing the New Hampshire law was painstaking, gradual work. “This is where legislative experience comes in. It was a process. A lot of constituent work. I worked with people who had Lyme disease. I let the Lyme patients be the advocates. Two hundred of them showed up at the House hearing. No way could anyone walk out of that hearing thinking there’s no such thing as chronic Lyme.”

“If I get elected, something that should not be too confrontational is to take the educational requirements that a nurse must go through, and make at least an hour or two of those about Lyme disease. We have one of the highest concentrations of the disease right here in New Hampshire.”

“If I’m not up there, then maybe there won’t be someone up there to represent my views. So at least while I’m up there, I can fight for the things that I feel are right, the things that my constituents elected me to fight for.”

His campaign web site: garydaniels.org