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School Starts Again For Thousands Of Students Displaced By Camp Fire

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Originally published on December 4, 2018 6:07 pm
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Bill Gardner has been running New Hampshire's elections and ensuring its front seat in the presidential contest since 1976. Gardner is the nation's longest-serving secretary of state. But this week, Gardner could lose that post in part because of an association with President Trump. Casey McDermott of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

CASEY MCDERMOTT, BYLINE: For the last four decades, the road to the White House has run through Bill Gardner's office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hi, Bill.

BILL GARDNER: Hi.

TRUMP: Wow.

MCDERMOTT: It's a mandatory stop for presidential hopefuls from both parties who parade through its lobby every four years to file their candidacy papers and put their name on the ballot for New Hampshire's presidential primary. Gardner has been a fierce protector of New Hampshire's first in the nation presidential primary. The emphasis on first in the nation is almost as storied as the primary itself. He's defended the state's spot against challenges from bigger states and party bosses of all stripes, often with a mix of diplomacy and defiance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARDNER: The tradition in New Hampshire is felt as strong as a tradition in New York to have the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. And New York wouldn't like someone wanting to tow it someplace else for a year or another year.

MCDERMOTT: Gardiner's a Democrat, but his success securing New Hampshire's standing in presidential politics has earned him glowing reviews from state lawmakers from both parties who've been responsible for reappointing him every two years. But this year, something's changed. Gardner's facing new questions about his legacy and whether he's done enough outside of his work on the primary to deserve another term.

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COLIN VAN OSTERN: Today in 2018, our democracy is under new attacks from corporate and political and even foreign interests.

MCDERMOTT: Another Democrat has thrown his hat into the ring. Colin Van Ostern says Gardner has let many of his other job responsibilities, like protecting voting rights and running business registrations, take a back seat.

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VAN OSTERN: And the best way that we can preserve the primary for another hundred years is to bring the new needed energy and commitment to this office's other and equally important roles...

MCDERMOTT: Van Ostern ran for governor in 2016, and his campaign has tapped into liberals' frustration over Gardner's recent support for Republican-backed election laws, like voter ID requirements. But there's another big reason Gardiner's on the ropes this year and that has to do with President Trump.

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TRUMP: This commission is tasked with the sacred duty of upholding the integrity of the ballot box.

MCDERMOTT: In 2017, Gardner accepted a seat on the president's Election Integrity Commission. He said he viewed it as a sincere attempt to study declining public trust in the voting process. But that decision got him more pushback than ever before. Hundreds of calls, letters and emails came flooding into his office. Other critics included Peter Burling, a prominent local Democrat. He said Trump's baseless claims about voter fraud in New Hampshire should have been enough for Gardner not to have joined.

PETER BURLING: Why give support to the utterly fake notion that there is, quote, "voter fraud" in New Hampshire systems?

MCDERMOTT: But Gardner didn't budge. Instead, he doubled down, inviting the panel to host a meeting in New Hampshire where he addressed his critics head on.

GARDNER: New Hampshire people aren't accustomed to walking away or stepping down from their civic duty. And I will not either.

MCDERMOTT: The commission ended up abruptly dissolving, but Gardner's still repairing the damage to his reputation. His fate is now in the hands of the state legislature, where Democrats flipped both chambers and brought in a lot of new faces. They'll vote Wednesday on whether it's time for a change in the secretary of state's office, too. For NPR News, I'm Casey McDermott in Concord.

(SOUNDBITE OF CURTIS JONES-THE NORGAARD JONES PROJECT'S "PICASSO'S DREAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.