(The Center Square) – New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the nation's longest serving state election official, has announced plans to retire from the job he has held since President Jimmy Carter occupied the White House.
Gardner, a Democrat, sent shockwaves through the state's political establishment on Monday when he told reporters that he won't be seeking another two-year term in the November elections, ending a 45-year storied tenure as secretary of state. He said Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan would be sworn in to replace him.
"I will be forever grateful for the adventure of serving the people of our state in our State House," Gardner, 73, said at a press conference. "I know the office which I leave will be in good hands."
The announcement drew immediate praise from both sides of the political aisle, with Republican and Democratic leaders crediting Gardner for his efforts to defend New Hampshire's status in the presidential election calendar.
Gov. Chris Sununu said Granite Staters owe Gardner "a tremendous debt of gratitude" for his work to preserve the state's "first-in-the-nation" primary during his long tenure.
"For decades, Bill Gardner has fiercely protected New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary and overseen our elections that are truly a point of pride for our state - always open, fair, accessible, and accurate," Sununu said in a statement. "We will miss Bill and his vast institutional knowledge of New Hampshire people, politics, and government."
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Gardner has "played an important and historic role" in preserving New Hampshire's "first in the nation" presidential primary status and his leadership will be missed.
"Bill Gardner’s record-making length of service has seen dramatic changes in our elections but the one constant has been the exemplary quality of the elections in New Hampshire,'' Buckley said. "We must continue this tradition with the next Secretary of State."
New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Stephen Stepanek said Gardner's work has "made an indescribable and long-lasting impact" on the state and country.
"His steadfast commitment to putting his state first and partisanship last is admirable, and I wish him great fortune on a well-deserved retirement," Stepanek said.
Republicans praised Gardner for bucking his own party over a Democratic-led plan in Congress to expand voter registration, improve election integrity and security, allow expanded mail voting and tighten federal campaign finance laws.
In April, Gardner testified before a congressional committee in opposition to the proposal – known as H.R. 1, or the For the People Act – and ripped it as an "unjustified federal intrusion" into the way individual states conduct elections.
He also opposed a bipartisan plan in the state Legislature to move the state primary date, which is one of the latest in the nation, arguing that it would cause confusion for voters and dampen turnout.
Several years ago, Gardner drew criticism when he was tapped to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a panel created by then-President Donald Trump to investigate claims of alleged voter fraud in the 2016 presidential elections. The controversial panel later disbanded after finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
The widely discredited probe included false claimed that Massachusetts Democrats illegally voted in New Hampshire during the 2016 general election, helping tip the Granite State vote to Democrat presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Gardner defended his role on the commission, but pushed back against Trump's claims that Massachusetts voters were bused up to the state to cast ballots in the election.