Former Gov. Stephen Merrill, 74, who created the GOP mantra “NH Advantage,” has

Fomer Gov. Stephen E. Merrill, a fiscally conservative staunch opponent of broad based taxes, has died at the age of 74, his family and Gov. Chris Sununu announced on Saturday evening. Download the FREE WMUR app(This report will be updated throughout the night as tributes pour in for the former governor.)Merrill, a Republican, was elected governor in 1992 and was reelected in 1994 after serving as New Hampshire attorney general and earlier, as legal counsel and chief of staff to former Gov. John H. Sununu.Merrill was known for his tough conservatism but also for his affable demeanor and buoyant personality.A statement was issued by the Merrill family:”With regret, we share the news with the State of New Hampshire, that former Attorney General and Governor Stephen Merrill passed away peacefully at his home with his family today. Additional information about remembrance services will be forthcoming. We ask that you please respect the privacy of our family at this difficult time.”Gov. Chris Sununu, who was a youngster when Merrill served his father, said:”Governor Steve Merrill was a dear friend who had an incredibly positive impact on the citizens of our state. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.”Merrill was a native of Norwich, Connecticut but came to New Hampshire at an early age. He was a graduate of Winnicunnet High School in Hampton and the University of New Hampshire, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.Merrill served in the U.S. Air Force as a lawyer from 1972 to 1976 and was legal counsel to the Secretary of the Air Force. After practicing law in Manchester from 1976 to 1984, Merrill became legal counsel and later chief of staff to the elder Sununu before serving as attorney general.He succeeded Judd Gregg as governor when Gregg won election to the U.S. Senate. Merrill defeated broad based tax advocate former state Rep. Arnie Arnesen, and was he reelected in 1994, defeating former state Sen. Wayne King. After two terms, he returned to private life.Merrill during his years as governor held the line against spending but also was the original lead defendant in the Claremont school funding lawsuit. In opposing broad based taxes and advocating for smaller government and fewer regulation, he coined the phrase, “New Hampshire Advantage.”Republicans today, including the current Gov. Sununu, still use that phrase often to describe their support for lower taxes and smaller government.Merrill was twice named “the most fiscally conservative governor” in the United States by the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute. Merrill also active as an advocate for the Daniel Webster Council of the Boy Scouts of America.While governor, Merrill defend joined with fellow Republican leaders and with Democrats to protect the first-in-the-nation status of the New Hampshire presidential primary against a threat by Delaware officials to encroach on the primary’s first-by-a-week status. In 1995, he drew national headlines by backing former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole for president. Dole, however, fell a percentage point short in his New Hampshire primary bid to conservative firebrand Patrick J. Buchanan.After leaving office in 1996, Merrill tried his hand at national politics, running for chairman of the Republican National Committee. He competed for several ballots in that voting, but eventually withdrew and the chairmanship went to Jim Nicholson of Colorado, who later became Secretary of Veterans Affairs.Merrill later became chair of the prominent Boston-based Bingham Consulting firm.Merrill, a Manchester resident, is survived by his wife, Heather, and two sons, Stephen and Ian.The elder Sununu said he was saddened by news of Merrill’s passing.“He was a nice man and a smart man. He did a good job for the state and wonderful job for me as my legal counsel,” Sununu said. “He had never been involved in politics. I met him through the campaign, and in an out-of-the-box move, I invited him to come in to my office as legal counsel, and later nominated him as attorney general.”“I’m a conservative Republican and he was a conservative Republican and we both worked to make sure that New Hampshire stayed New Hampshire,” he said. “And he was fun to be around. We always had a goog time.“Steve was able to keep his eye on the objective and still have a good time going from Point A to Point and he was able to succeed.”Merrill, after serving as attorney general and before being elected governor, partnered in a law firm with Democrat John Broderick and the two were friends for more than four decades.When Merrill became governor, he received some criticism from conservative Republicans for naming Broderick as chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court because Broderick was from the opposing party. But Merrill was unfazed.An emotional Broderick told WMUR on Saturday night, “Steve Merrill’s life was a testament to his commitment to something larger than himself. He was…

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