Former Claremont mayor switches parties for NH Senate run


Valley News Correspondent

Published: 06-04-2022 12:55 AM

CLAREMONT — Disenchanted with the direction of the Republican Party under Donald Trump and appalled by the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, former Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett has switched her party affiliation and is seeking the Democratic nomination for state Senate in the newly drawn District 8.

Lovett said it was Trump’s 2016 victory that first had her thinking of switching parties.

“Some of the direction the party was going wasn’t where I wanted to be,” Lovett said. “The party of my earlier years is not the party of today, and there were a lot of the decisions made on the national level by the Republican Party that I did not agree with.”

Ultimately, it was the violence at the Capitol by Trump loyalists trying to disrupt the electoral process that decided it for Lovett.

“When Jan. 6 happened, my only words for that: It is an abomination,” she said. “Having served my country for 22 years, I never thought I would see what I saw on the Capitol steps in the United States. That scene will be branded in my memory and it is not what I expect of our country.”

(Lovett spent 22 years in the Army, retiring in 2003 as a chief warrant officer.)

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Lovett’s decision to run as a Democrat because of Trump’s influence on the GOP mirrors that of Sue Prentiss, the first-term state Senator in District 5 from Lebanon. Like Lovett, who served as Claremont’s mayor from 2016 to 2021, Prentiss is a former mayor and a former Republican.

Trump’s election was the tipping point for Prentiss.

“He was acting in a way completely opposite of how I behave,” she said of her role on the Lebanon City Council and in the Statehouse. “It made me uncomfortable. That was not the Republican Party I know.”

Whether Lovett’s move means other disaffected Republicans are headed for the exits remains to be seen.

Sullivan County Republican Chairman Michael Aron said he sees no reason for concern.

Asked whether Lovett’s move will lead to more Republicans deciding a Trump-influenced party is not to their liking, Aron was succinct: “No, I don’t.”

Aron did not elaborate but added that Republicans expect to have a full slate of House candidates for Sullivan County races in the general election in November.

If Lovett, who served one term in the New Hampshire House as a Republican in the Obama era, ends up without a primary challenger, she likely would face incumbent Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, in November’s general election.

The newly redrawn district includes 19 towns and the city of Claremont spread across Cheshire, Merrimack, Hillsborough and Sullivan counties. Charlestown, Newport, Croydon and Sunapee are the other Upper Valley towns in the district.

Lebanon City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who changed from Republican to Democrat in the early 2000s, said she believes there are more Republicans — voters who supported Mitt Romney, George W. Bush and the late John McCain — who sympathize with Lovett.

“I do think that moderate Republicans during the Trump years were wondering whether they fit in the Trump Republican party,” Liot Hill said. “They are asking, ‘Is there really room for me?’ ”

Trump has teased his supporters with a possible run to regain the White House in 2024. Liot Hill said it would be interesting to see what impact Trump’s decision will have on Republicans.

“The jury is still out on that,” she said.

Prior to Trump’s political rise, Claremont had been a reliably Democratic stronghold.

John Streeter, a Charlestown Democrat who is the chairman of the Sullivan County Democrats, said Lovett’s defection shouldn’t be seen as a sign that the city is headed back into the Democratic column.

“I just have not seen enough to say,” said Streeter, who made unsuccessful bids for the New Hampshire House in 2018 and 2020.

From his perspective, the Democrats “will make room under their tent for former Republicans and others who can rationally have conversations (on the issue). I welcome Charlene to the Democrats.

“I have never had a problem with Republicans because I believe in the voices of others’ opinions.”

Where he doesn’t believe there can be a middle ground is for a Trump-like mentality.

“When you lie, cheat and steal to end democracy, there is no place for you,” Streeter said.

Grafton County Republican Chairman Bruce Perlo dismissed talk of Trump and whether Republicans are being divided by the former president. Trump’s decision about 2024 will not be an issue in the elections later this year, he said.

“I talked to more active Republicans in the county, and I can’t think of a time when Trump ever comes up,” Perlo said in a phone interview. “They are more focused on the state and national economy. It is not about Trump and whether someone loves him or hates him.”

Perlo said the party is also focused on retaining control of three elected arms of state government — governor, Executive Council and Legislature — and challenging the incumbent Democrats for the U.S. House and Senate.

“There is optimism we can change that. We are pretty enthusiastic about that,” Perlo said.

Lovett said she did not want to make a formal decision about her party until her term as mayor ended at the end of 2021.

While her voting record in the House supported legislation restricting partial birth abortions and requiring a 24-hour waiting period on abortions, Lovett said she has changed her views on reproductive rights.

“Times have changed, and some of my votes in the Legislature from over a decade ago do not reflect my positions today,” she said in a statement on her candidacy.

“My position on abortion is it is a health care decision,” Lovett said. “I don’t believe the government should be involved; that is between the health care provider and the individual.”

Another motivator in her decision to seek the state Senate seat had to do with Planned Parenthood funding in New Hampshire.

“The thing that really galvanized my decision to run for a state Senate seat was that I could not believe what was going on with reproductive health care,” Lovett said. “When the Executive Council voted not to fund Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, I was really disturbed.”

The Executive Council, which approves state contracts, has repeatedly voted to withhold funding from Planned Parenthod and other family planning clinics that provide abortions. Republican members cited a state law requiring separation between government funding and abortion services, but they continued to vote down contracts even when assured by the state’s attorney general that the clinics’ finances were in compliance.

Lovett said as someone who served on the Valley Regional Hospital Board of Trustees, she understands the role Planned Parenthood plays in the community health care network.

“We have a real shortage in rural areas for health care providers that can provide this type of health care,” Lovett said of Planned Parenthood, which recently announced it is closing its Claremont clinic.

If elected in November, Lovett said, she would make education funding a priority. She has watched communities wonder what services to cut because the state has not properly addressed school funding even 25 years after the Claremont decision by the state Supreme Court that found the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to fund an adequate education.

“We need a real partnership between the state and municipalities to fund public education in a responsible way,” Lovett said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at