The Honorable Member From Windham: Not Your Average Freshman State Rep
First-year lawmakers in the New Hampshire House of Representatives rarely get much attention. They tend not to get assigned to key committees. They don’t often play a lead role in floor debates. Their counsel isn’t sought by party leaders. But Republican Bob Lynn isn’t a typical first-term state rep.
In fact, Lynn - who's 71 and lives in Windham - has followed a trajectory in public service with no known precursor in New Hampshire politics.
He's been a DEA agent, a federal prosecutor and a trial court judge; all before joining the state Supreme Court in 2010. He became chief justice in 2018, less than two years before he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. And that is what led Lynn to his unlikely Plan B: from leading the entire state judicial branch, to membership in the the 400-member, 100-bucks-a-year New Hampshire House.
“Now that I’m retired and have a little time on my hands, I thought that this would be worthwhile pursuing," Lynn told the conservative blog GraniteGrok last year. "I have some pretty strong views on various issues.”
And since getting off the bench, Lynn’s been expressing those views – widely.
He’s become a regular quote in Republican Party press releases. He won a coveted spot on the House Finance Committee. He joined Gov. Chris Sununu’s judicial selection commission, and backed high-profile Sununu nominees during public confirmation hearings.
Attorney General John Formella got a vote of confidence last month from Lynn, who used a standard judges don’t typically employ when assessing a lawyer’s qualifications.
“He’s the kind of guy that any of you would want to go out and have a beer with," Lynn told the state Exectuvie Council as it considered Formella's nomination.
But where Lynn’s been most conspicuous in recent months has been on the House floor. That’s where he joined, and at times seemed to have led, the fight for conservatives on some of the year’s most fraught issues.
That includes an effort to defeat a bill to limit civil legal protections for law enforcement, and taking a lead in the debate over allowing tax money to flow to religious schools, in which he accused Democrats of doing the bidding of special interests.
Lynn also has also been a lead voice in the Republican push to bar taxpayer money from being used to teach that race or sex makes people inherently oppressive or victimized.
"He's a go-to guy. We can call him up and he'll answer questions on whatever we have." - Rep. Al Baldasaro
Lynn’s hard-line views, delivered with the authority of someone who spent decades as a judge, have ensured him a platform — and earned him criticism.
“He is good window dressing for a section of the majority party that needs good window dressing,” said Rep. Marjorie Smith, who has represented Durham in the House for more than 20 years.
Smith said she doesn’t begrudge any state rep — especially one who once led the entire state judicial system — the right to have a point of view. But she says during recent debates Lynn’s arguments veered from substance and facts.
“Or at least that’s what he’s demonstrated," she said. "And it’s a disappointment. I would have expected more. I would have expected better.”
Londonderry Rep. Al Baldasaro, a conservative known for his own over-the-top rhetoric, says Republicans have been eager to put Lynn’s legal expertise to political use.
“He’s a go-to guy," Baldasaro said. "We can call him up and he’ll answer questions on whatever we have.”
Having immediate feedback coming at you is a major difference between being a justice and being a lawmaker, according to Chuck Douglas. He served on the state Supreme Court before stepping down to run for Congress. Douglas said with four colleagues and plenty of time to think before acting, the Supreme Court has a monastic quality.
“But if you are a legislator you are on your own," Douglas said. "You make you own mistakes. You can’t pull a judicial, ‘I’m going to take that under advisement.’ Because the train is leaving the station and you are either on it or off.”
To all appearances, Lynn is fully on board with being a lawmaker - even though the former chief justice can sound like he’d rather be in his old job.
“I wish the retirement age was higher than 70, and I could still be on the court," he said. "I really, really enjoyed that. But I am enjoying this, and kind of being involved in the process.”
With no retirement age in the House, Lynn is content to be part of the process for as long as voters in Windham give him that privilege.