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New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner announces retirement after 45 years as the state’s top election official

By Dan Merica, CNN

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner announced Monday that he will be retiring, ending his 45-year run as the state’s top election official and the most vocal proponent of New Hampshire’s status as the first in the nation primary state.

“In the coming days, I will be stepping down as secretary of state,” he told reporters on Monday. “I will do so after arrangements have been made for the constitutional deputy Dave Scanlan to take the oath of office.”

Gardner has served as New Hampshire’s secretary of state since 1976 and has been kept in his position under both Democratic and Republican legislatures. Gardner faced a notably tough challenge in 2018, when Democrat Colin Van Ostern, who ran for governor two years earlier, challenged his hold on the job, but the longtime secretary of state held on to narrowly win.

While Gardner handled all issues around elections as secretary of state, the role that earned him a level of notoriety was his work around the state’s presidential primary and his repeated defense of the Granite State being the first state to hold a primary in the presidential nomination process.

Gardner defended the first in the nation primary as part of New Hampshire “culture” on Monday, arguing that it is part of the small state’s history — an argument he has made for decades.

“We’re not smarter than anybody, any others. It’s just part of the DNA of the state,” Gardner told NPR in 2016. “It’s part of our political heritage, our culture.”

Stephen Stepanek, chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, said Gardner “made an indescribable and long-lasting impact on the State of New Hampshire and our country as a whole.”

“His steadfast commitment to putting his state first and partisanship last is admirable,” said Stepanek.

Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Gardner has “played an important and historic role with not only NH’s Elections but the nation’s.”

“Bill Gardner’s 44 year diligence in preserving the state’s status as the First in the Nation Primary has been laudable and has served the nation well,” Buckley said.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, also recognized Gardner’s legacy: “Granite Staters owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Secretary of State Bill Gardner.”

“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,” he said.

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