Former Assemblyman Rick Merkt, once Chris Christie’s running mate and later his oppponent, will launch a second political career on Monday as a candidate for the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Merkt served six terms in the New Jersey Legislature before giving up his seat to seek the Republican nomination for Governor in 2009. He also served as mayor of Mendham Township and as the Mendham borough administrator.
He won a seat on the New Hampshire Republican State Committee in 2018.
New Hampshire has a 400-member House of Representatives, where seats are often occupied by senior citizens and college students. The post pays $100 annually, plus a travel allotment based on mileage, free in-state EZPass, and the House meets just part of the year.
The 70-year-old Merkt lives in Westmoreland (pop. 1,874), in Cheshire County (pop. 77,117), which is about the size of Parsippany and Montville combined. Cheshire County has 23 members of the state House of Representatives.
The district Merkt lives in has a population of 13,258 – about the size of Hanover Township — and sends four representatives to the Legislature. In 2018, Democrats captured all four seats; Republicans lost by 934 votes.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried Merkt’s district by 998 votes over Donald Trump, a 57.5%-42.5% district.
“Across the political spectrum, folks in our district agree that Cheshire County is the ‘forgotten corner’ of New Hampshire,” said Merkt. “They are tired of seeing our county’s needs ignored by political bosses in Concord. We need new voices in the Capitol who will put the interests of Cheshire County residents first.”
In New Jersey, Merkt’s legislative district was about 17 times larger than the one he is seeking in New Hampshire.
Merkt plans to meet one-on-one with voters in his district over the next ten months.
“Understanding what people in our district expect from Concord is central to representing them effectively in the State House,” Merkt explained. “There is no better way to learn what they want than by going door-to-door to ask them.”
The four Democratic incumbents have not yet announced if they will seek re-election in 2020.
The seats are held by: Michael D. Abbott, a retired high school principal who was first elected in 2014; Cathryn Harvey, a retired music teacher and school board member who is serving her second term and chairs the House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee; Paul Berch, a retired attorney and former acting judge who won his first term in the legislature in 2012; and House Speaker Pro-Tempore Lucy McVitty-Weber, an attorney and former innkeeper now serving her seventh term in the legislature.
As a first time candidate for assemblyman in 1995, Merkt ran on a slate with Christie, who at the time had served just a few months on the Morris County Board of Freeholders. They lost the GOP primary to Anthony R. Bucco and Michael Patrick Carroll. Christie came in fourth in that primary
Merkt won the 25th district seat in 1997 when Bucco left to challenge State Sen. Gordon MacInnes. He narrowly defeated John Inglesino, then the mayor of Rockaway Township.
In 2011, Merkt was appointed to fill a seat on the Mendham Township Committee and served until his resignation in 2014 to become the business administrator for Mendham Borough. He was mayor of Mendham in 2013. He started out his career as a deputy state attorney general during the Kean administration, and was a longtime legislative aide to Assemblyman Arthur Albohn.
“Public service not only teaches you what to do as an official, but also sometimes what not to do,” Merkt said. “I believe that my experience will prove helpful, should my neighbors send me to Concord to represent them.”
Merkt runs a small business from his home in Westmoreland, where his wife, Suzanne, bought a farm in 2009.