New Hampshire’s Secretary of State is elected every two years, not by voters but by the Legislature – meaning that to win, Van Ostern will have to persuade enough state lawmakers that he’s better suited for the job than the man who’s held the seat for four decades and counting.
To that end, he launched a political committee last fall meant to “support state issues and candidates who are moving New Hampshire forward.” It was originally called “NH Forward” but was recently rebranded as “Free and Fair NH.” As of its most recent filing, in December, it’s raised more than $45,000 to pour into upcoming legislative races.
Van Ostern says he will not require legislators to support his candidacy in exchange for support from his political committee, but he will ask them to support his agenda.
That agenda, as outlined at Van Ostern’s press conference, is wide-reaching — covering both well-known aspects of the Secretary of State’s job (protecting New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary) and lesser-known responsibilities (overseeing corporate filings and acting as a resource for local election officials).
His stated priorities include advocating for an independent redistricting commission, modernizing business registration procedures and campaign finance reform, specifically a prohibition on “all corporate and business donations” in New Hampshire political campaigns. Van Ostern also pledged to follow that last rule in his own campaign moving forward….
Gardner’s 42-year tenure as Secretary of State makes him the longest-serving state elections chief in the country. Those deep roots in the position, coupled with his loyal defense of New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary, has made Gardner something of a Granite State icon, known nationwide.
But critics — including his newly announced rival — have also found fault with Gardner’s involvement in the Trump administration’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, his support for stricter voter eligibility requirements and, as recently as this week, his insistence that his office hold the final authority over the scheduling of even town-level elections.