John Lynch announced this morning that he will not seek re-election to a fifth term in office, leaving next year's governor's race wide open.
Lynch, 58, a Democrat from Hopkinton, made the announcement during an appearance at Northwest Elementary School in Manchester.
"I will keep working hard every day for the next 16 months to serve the people of our state, but I will not run for re-election as governor of New Hampshire," Lynch said just minutes into his remarks.
He said he loves his job, and his state, but now is time for change.
"For me, being governor of the State of New Hampshire is the best job in the world," Lynch said. "Serving in this role is the highest privilege of my life. I remain humbled and honored by the trust the people of this great state have placed in me.
"But democracy demands periodic change. To refresh and revive itself, democracy needs new leaders and new ideas... It is time for the next generation of leadership for New Hampshire."
Lynch said he is proud of the many accomplishments during his time as governor.
"We passed tough ethics laws. We made kindergarten available to every child and cut our high school dropout rate by 60 percent. We balanced the budget in hard years, while working to protect services for our most vulnerable people," he said. "We built a model emergency response system and kept New Hampshire the safest state in the nation. We protected the civil liberties of all our people. We launched a new energy future for our state. And we've worked to help our families and businesses through this recession."
Now that Lynch is out of the running, the speculation begins about who might succeed him.
Former state Sen. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from Exeter, has said in the past that she would run if Lynch decided not to seek another term. , she said a formal announcement could come "soon."
Republicans are also said to be considering a run.
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said he thinks there are plenty of strong Democrats who could run for governor.
"There's a half dozen potential great candidates right here," he said of those assembled for the governor's press conference.
Though Lynch didn't take questions or say what he would do once his term expires, Buckley said the governor has never had designs on Washington.
A number of local and national politicians issued statements this morning thanking Lynch for his service.
House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, said though he has disagreed with the governor on many issues, he appreciates Lynch's "years of service and deep dedication" to the state. He also praised Lynch for his "commitment to a constitutional amendment to fix education funding in New Hampshire, for his strong, willing hand to help those in need during our unfortunate natural disasters, and his staunch opposition to a sales or income tax."
Politics aside, Bettencourt said, "John Lynch has always tried to do what he felt was in the best interest of the people of New Hampshire."
House Speaker William O'Brien also issued a statement thanking Lynch for his service. He also looked ahead to the 2012 election, saying he is "confident that a number of strong candidates will emerge..."
U.S. Congressman Frank Guinta, a Republican, commended Lynch on his eight years of service.
"He will be remembered for the dedication he brought to his job," Guinta said.
U.S. Congressman Charles Bass, also a Republican, said Lynch served "with great distinction," and wished him the best.
"John and I have been good friends for many years," Bass said. "I've enjoyed working with him on policy issues and other priorities for New Hampshire, and his passion for serving our state will always be remembered."
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat and former governor herself, called Lynch's achievements on behalf of the citizens of New Hampshire "tremendous."
She said the state will miss his "steady leadership, his dedication to public service, and his commitment to the people of New Hampshire."
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, praised Lynch for being an effective governor during challenging times.
"In the coming months, we will have a discussion about who is best fit to fill Governor Lynch’s shoes and combat the Republican extremists who have tried to take New Hampshire backward," he said. "But the people of New Hampshire should take great pride in having a Governor who has provided forward-looking and effective leadership for the past seven years."
Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said New Hampshire Republicans were "fired up" about turning the state red in 2012 even before Lynch's announcement.
"John Lynch's decision to forego a re-election bid increases the GOP's chances of picking up the governorship and puts the Democrats further on their heels nationally in 2012.”
But State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, who was at Lynch's press conference this morning, said the governor deserves praise for leading the state in difficult times.
"It's one of the toughest jobs in the world," he said.