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We have a very special Blue America guest today, a woman unique in so many ways I hardly know where to start. In fact, she seems as unique as the institution she runs. Terie Norelli is the first Democratic woman Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives– and the first Democrat, now in her seventh term in the legislature, ever to serve back to back terms as Speaker. With 400 members, it’s the third-largest legislative body in the English-speaking world. Only the U.S. Congress and the British Parliament are larger.

The members get $200 for a two year term (i.e., $100 per year plus travel expenses for the Tuesday-Thursday sessions that last from January through June. (The Speaker and the Senate President do a little better; each gets $250 for the two year term.) All of the members are, basically volunteers– the only volunteer legislature in the U.S.– and each member has approximately 3,700 constituents they represent. Each member gets a chair and a file drawer– but no desk. The Speaker has an office.

When Speaker Norelli was first elected (1996) there were only 135 Democrats. Today there are 224 Dems and 175 Republicans (and one empty seat). In 2006 Speaker Norelli helped flip the House from red to blue– the first time in 84 years New Hampshire could boast a Democratic House. It was also the first time New Hampshire had a Democratic governor, House and Senate at the same time since before the Civil War! It’s helped them accomplish a great deal for the state from an increase in the minimum wage to a smoking ban in bars and restaurants, a good deal of environmental regulations and New Hampshire even became the first state in the Union to pass a civil unions bill without court intervention. (They even managed to get 15 Republicans to vote for it!)

Mostly what the legislature has to deal with is balancing the budget– $10 billion every two years– with, predictably, the Republicans trying to cut services to the bone and the Democrats attempting to hold the line on essential services without enacting broad-based income or sales taxes.

A graduate of the University of New Hampshire in Mathematics Education, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, she worked as a high school math teacher at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton before running for the legislature. She is one of the representatives form Portsmouth and was the chair of the Clean Air Subcommittee (House Science, Technology and Energy Committee) and was deeply involved in the restructuring of the electric industry and reducing harmful air emissions.

She has co-chaired the Reproductive Rights Caucus for 10 years and has been a leader in fighting for reproductive rights and other women’s issues and attended the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in l995, and helped to organize follow-up conferences in New Hampshire in 1996 and 2000 that included components on Violence Against Women. Last year she was named chair of the Standing Committees of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Somehow she managed to get married and raise a family!