New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner was a stickler for the rules from the start. In 1976, after the state Legislature chose him to oversee state elections, the Republican speaker of the House moved to swear in Gardner, just 28, immediately, but the young Democrat asked whether that was proper procedure. Without realizing the microphone in front of them was on, the speaker sneered, “Do you want the job, kid, or not?”
Gardner did and, 35 years later, he still does. He’s the nation’s longest-serving secretary of state, and every four years his influence in election matters extends far beyond New Hampshire. State law requires that New Hampshire’s presidential primary be held at least seven days ahead of any other state, and it gives the secretary of state exclusive authority to select a date.
For the 2012 election Florida and then Nevada jumped ahead of the dates national GOP leaders had promoted. Gardner responded with a challenge, announcing last week that he was prepared to schedule New Hampshire’s primary in early December to avoid squeezing it between the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and Nevada’s Jan. 14 date.
Nevada officials initially scoffed at Gardner’s threat, but by Thursday they said they were reconsidering. A vote on setting the date is expected Saturday in Reno. Gardner appears to have won the standoff — again.
Similar scenarios with other states have played out for decades. The perception that the bookish, bald Gardner is, at 62, some kind of political supreme sparked a series of tongue-in-cheek Tweets about his supposed powers.