Howard Dean's Advice to N.H.: "You Guys Need a New Secretary of State"

Oct 15, 2015

It’s unclear when Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and second-place finisher in the 2004 New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, is planning to return to the Granite State. But it's probably safe to assume he won’t be swinging by Bill Gardner’s office anytime soon.

“You guys need a new Secretary of State,” Dean told WKXL Concord News Radio Wednesday, when asked about the future the New Hampshire primary in light of comments from top leaders on the Republican and Democratic side calling for re-evaluation of the presidential nominating calendar.

The primary itself is a worthy tradition, Dean said, but he placed the blame for others’ skepticism toward New Hampshire squarely on Gardner, the state's long-time secretary of state and self-appointed defender of the First-in-the-Nation primary.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner speaks in his office in 2011.
Credit Josh Rogers, NHPR

Among other gripes, Dean complained that Gardner has “been there too long” and has “become autocratic.” (Gardner’s 40 years in the position make him the longest-serving Secretary of State in New Hampshire history.)

“You’ve got to not make people mad at you all the time, and my own view is that you need a new Secretary of State who’s perceived as more fair, less autocratic, more reasonable,” Dean told WKXL. “But I think he’s the only person that’s jeopardizing the New Hampshire primary.”

The last month has seen a revival of a long-running debate over the sanctity of the state's lead-off status. A few weeks back, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus attracted the ire of some Granite Staters for suggesting the party might switch up its nominating calendar for future elections. Then, earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid faced pushback over claims that New Hampshire lacked the diversity or population size to kick off the presidential campaign every four years. 

Gardner, for his part, didn’t respond directly to Dean’s comments when reached by phone Thursday afternoon. He did, however, make a point of noting the former candidate’s past attempts to reshuffle the primary calendar.

“When he was chairman of the DNC he did everything he could to diminish the role of the New Hampshire presidential primary,” Gardner said.

As reported by the New York Times in 2006, Dean as DNC chairman backed efforts to rearrange the party’s primary calendar in the years following the 2004 election. At the time, according to the Times, Dean suggested that rearranging the nomination process would better position the party to elect a candidate that represents the “racial, regional, and economic diversity of the Democratic Party.” 

Gardner, referring to his role defending the state’s primary, said he stood as a “stumbling block” for Dean and others who sought to alter New Hampshire’s role.

“He wanted to diminish the role of New Hampshire, and he never wanted to come out and say that but that was his position and that was the position of Harry Reid back then, too,” Gardner said.

The full interview with Dean is available via WKXL, and the clip with his comments on the primary can be found here