Bar Journal - March 1, 2000
A Discussion With Senate President Clesson J. Blaisdell
By: Attorney Anne Davidson
On August 4, 1999, I had the privilege of interviewing New Hampshire Senate President Clesson J. ("Junie") Blaisdell for this article. Unfortunately, Senator Blaisdell passed away on August 26, 1999 due to illness. With his passage, New Hampshire lost a dedicated public servant who believed that government could solve problems and practiced that belief. Senator Blaisdell served in the New Hampshire State Senate ("Senate") for 29 years. He was a longtime member and also a Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and he served at different times as a member and Chairman of the Senate Committees on Education, Ways and Means, and Fish and Game. In December 1998, he was sworn in by his Senate colleagues to be President of the New Hampshire Senate. Senator Blaisdell was the first Democrat to hold the position of Senate President in the New Hampshire State Senate since 1912 - the last time the Democrats had a majority in the Senate.
Senator Blaisdell was born in Keene, New Hampshire in 1926 and lived in Keene most of his life. A World War II veteran, he served in the United States Navy in the Asiatic/Pacific theatre from 1944-46. He was married for fifty-one years to his wife, Beverly - known to all as Peg, and raised three children - Peter, Lucinda and Michael. Three grandchildren also survive him. For 44 years he was the owner of Junie Blaisdell's Sport-O-Rama in Keene, New Hampshire. Senator Blaisdell was active in his community and an avid sports enthusiast. For 25 years he was an official (referee) for high school football and for both high school and collegiate basketball and baseball. Among his numerous community activities he served for many years as Keene's Little League Commissioner and as the New Hampshire Softball Commissioner.
Aside from his keen interest in youth sport activities, Senator Blaisdell kept a close personal eye on his constituents. For example, an August 5, 1999 Concord Monitor article by Damien Cave reported that Senator Blaisdell responded to the need of some constituents whose plight he read about in the Keene Sentinel.1 The two constituents were badly in need of dental care but could not afford the approximate $3,000 necessary to pay for the treatment. When Senator Blaisdell learned about his constituents' trouble, he contacted a local dentist who helped arrange that the dental care be provided.
As this interview and Senator Blaisdell's record reveal, he worked tirelessly for his constituents and for the people of New Hampshire. He faced challenges with personal courage and had no hesitation to speak his mind, to laugh or to tell a joke, or to use his quick wit and often spirited tongue. He was not concerned about being politically correct. He never took the tax pledge.
The following is an edited transcript of my discussion with Senator Blaisdell in August 1999.
- How did you first get involved in New Hampshire State ("State") politics?
One day the Chairman of the Democratic Cheshire County Committee came in to see me and asked me for ten dollars. I asked him why, and he said that they [the Democratic Cheshire County Committee] wanted to run me for State Senate because the Democratic ticket wasn't full. Of course, the Chairman told me, "you won't win, but just give me the ten dollars and we'll fill the ticket up." Lo and behold that was the year of the [President] Johnson landslide, and before I knew it I was a State Senator. That was back in 1965, I believe. It kind of surprised me a little bit. So, that's how it happened, anyway.
- Had you thought about getting involved in politics at all before you ran for State Senate?
On the local level, I did [get involved]. I was the Supervisor of the Checklist for the City of Keene. I ran for Mayor of Keene one time many years ago. I think I lost by 600 votes. But, I had thought of it [involvement in statewide politics]. Yes, I wanted to be a part of it. My father served in the House of Representatives here while I was overseas during World War II. I thought about it because my dad was involved in politics most of his life.
It was back in the late 50's that I started to get involved. In those days I was a referee in basketball, football and baseball. I guess a lot of people got to know me. I'd like to think that I might have "called some right." (Laughing here). I wanted to get involved because I wanted to give something back to that community that had been so good to me. I got a good education and had a successful business. So, you think you want to give something back and try to make things better.
- Have you noticed a difference between politics when you started out and politics today?
In the old days when you talked with someone and they gave you their word, it was pretty firm. I don't mean to be too harsh a critic on the new people, but I think that needs more emphasis each generation. I always tell the new people that come in here [to the New Hampshire State Legislature ("Legislature")] that all you have is your word. Once you go back on it, than it's time to go home. I like to see people take a stand and, once they make a decision, stick with it. A lot of times I've seen votes change on the floor that kind of surprised me. It's [the Senators'] right to do that. But, I'm sure it surprised all of the people that thought that they had that vote, and it didn't happen that way.
- Are the pressures on politicians any different today then when you started in politics?
There are big time pressures on politicians of today: mostly because of the criticism that is generated by the press, the media and ... just your constituency. You know, there are always two sides to an issue here in the Senate and in the House. People have to understand that. You try to do what's in the best interest of the people of the State of New Hampshire. With all that's gone on in Washington and other areas of politics, it seems that people have a mistrust [of government].
Anytime I meet with young children or young adults I always tell them that it's fine to have a constructive criticism of government. But, I tell them to make sure that it's constructive criticism and not just to tear the system down. I don't know of a better system of government then the one we have in this country, and the one we have in our own state. So, if you have a good idea and you think it's constructive, go ahead and propose it. But just don't go and tear the people apart.
- Can you say a little bit about some legislation on which you have worked and about which you are particularly proud?
Well, there is the creation of the Trust for New Hampshire Lands. That was a project for the preservation of land in the North Country for public use. We [the Legislature] preserved hundreds of thousands of acres in a land trust. I think we put 50 million dollars in it. It has worked well. Certainly, it will be good for your children and their children and mine to preserve that type of land for use by the people of this great state.
- Can you talk about another piece of legislation on which you worked, teacher retirement?
I had a touching experience with this. I found out that a teacher in my area, who had given 38 years of service to the State of New Hampshire, only had a $99/month pension. I found him in a rooming house at Christmas with pneumonia. He was dying, really, until I got him out of there and got him to the hospital. Then my wife and I took him into our home for the next two years. I took his cause on as a challenge. Just before he died, we [the legislators] had worked very hard to get his pension and other teachers' pensions up. He got his first check for $475. Many legislators worked hard on the retirement systems to get a little dignity into the teacher retirement.
In the last session  we finally got some health insurance for retired teachers. I've received numerous letters from retired teachers who are grateful for this assistance, which is a big problem for retired people.
- Do you have comments about any significant changes in the Legislature since you began your service in the Senate?
Well I see a lot more pieces of legislation then I ever thought we'd get. To tell you the truth, those of us who advocated having annual sessions thought that the second session would be for looking at problems with the budget process, or for some emergency pieces of legislation. I think that we [the legislators] should restrain ourselves in the second legislative session and just put in emergency legislation and examine the budget for any tweaking. I never thought it would get to the point where we would have so many pieces of legislation.
- Senator, what is the most difficult issue you have had to tackle?
Dealing with 23 other people's egos, I guess. (Laughing here). Being Senate President is a new thing for me, in a sense. I've always been in Senate Finance for the past fourteen - sixteen years. There I dealt with four or five people, sometimes only a couple. Now I'm dealing with things that I never realized - whether it be security, staffing, parking spaces, air conditioners, or water bottles in Senators' rooms.... Things like that that I'd never run into before. I was surprised, to tell you the truth, that the Senate Presidency has so much really to deal with. But, I'm tickled pink that I have such a great staff up here.
- What are the biggest legislative challenges you have faced this past session?
Well, one issue was the budget process. But I was pretty fortunate in that I had some hardworking dedicated, people that ... well you saw the result. It was unprecedented that the Senate budget was passed in the House of Representatives. In all the 29 years that I have been here, that has never happened. In my experience, the Senate budget has always gone to a Committee of Conference.
So, I have every reason to be proud as the Senate President. But, I have to say that Senator Hollingworth and Senator King and the other members of the Senate Finance Committee put in a lot of hard, dedicated work into it.
- Senator, do you have any words of advice for anyone who is interested in becoming involved in State politics?
Well, I like to think that you can serve and be your own person. Everyone wonders why I could get along with Republicans so well. It's because, I think, that I had a tremendous amount of respect for people on the other side of the aisle. They work just as hard as Democrats do - and have come up with some good ideas.
I'm very proud to be able to sit with the Republicans that have been in the Senate. I think that they are competent. They work very hard. They have different views than I do on some issues, of course. There's no question. I always feel that if I lose one today, then tomorrow I may need that Arthur Klemm. If he votes against me one day, then the next day maybe I can convince him to vote with me. Or, he can convince me to vote with him.
So, my advice, come over. Use good judgment. Put the State of New Hampshire first. Put the people of the State of New Hampshire and the children of the State first. Politics - put it second. Put it furthest out as far as I'm concerned. In the Senate, I think that you see bipartisan groups on both sides of the aisle working very hard to come up with a consensus. I think that we did that this last session. There are some good minds in the Senate today. I try to use every one of them.
- Anything else you would like to share?
I just hope that people will take an active interest in State government. Any of the groups I speak to, whether children or adults, I tell them to have an interest in government. If they have a position I tell them to work on it, but I ask them to be constructive and not to tear the government apart.
Damien Cave, Dentists Offer to Treat Needy Couple, The Concord Monitor, Aug. 5, 1999, at B3.
Attorney Anne Davidson lives in Menlo Park, California.