CONCORD — The rift between conservatives in the New Hampshire House and House speaker Shawn Jasper certainly isn’t getting any narrower. It seems, in fact, to be widening.
Today the House Rules Committee, as expected, voted 9-0 against a proposal by supporters of former Speaker Bill O’Brien that would have required the current speaker to appoint the elected leader of each caucus as the majority and minority leader. The committee also voted 10-0 in favor of a rule change to make it more difficult to attain a roll call vote on a bill or motion.
The rejection of the rule change proposal concerning the majority leader was not unexpected, according to state Reps. Steve Stepanek, R-Amherst, and Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry.
Stepanek said, “The vote went much as I expected, but we’re following procedure and the next step is to bring it to the floor of the House. We’ll make it clear to the caucus that this will be a vote about supporting the Republican caucus and supporting the Republican Party going forward.” The rule change proposal will go before the full House when it meets for the first time on Jan. 7.
And even if the full House rejects it, said Baldasaro, as a practical matter, it won’t change the group’s strategy. Baldasaro said the O’Brien supporters do not intend to attend caucuses called by Jasper or follow the directions of the majority leader appointed by Jasper, Rep. Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline.
“Today’s meeting was part of the process,” Baldasaro said. “If we didn’t go to the rules committee and went directly to the House floor, they would have been able to say that we didn’t go through the rules committee process. We were just doing the rigmarole.
“We’ll bring the same amendment up on the floor and we’ll roll call it so people will see just who the Republicans are that support the integrity of the House and the caucus,” Baldasaro said.
“It is interesting that the Democrats received the courtesy of picking their own minority leader and the Republicans are not given that same courtesy to pick their own majority leader,” he said.
O’Brien was the winner of the House GOP caucus on Nov. 18, by a vote of 116-112 over another former speaker, Gene Chandler. But Jasper, a Republican from Hudson, won the final speaker’s vote on Dec. 3, by a vote of 195 to 178 on a third ballot. House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff told the New Hampshire Journal on Dec. 11 he believed 159 Democratic House members voted for Jasper.
Jasper then named Flanagan as majority leader, while many – if not most — of the House Republicans recognize O’Brien as their leader.
The rule proposal presented to the committee today said:
“…The Speaker shall appoint the elected majority and minority caucus leaders as the respective Majority and Minority Leader….If the elected majority caucus leader is the Speaker, he or she shall appoint his or her designee as Majority Leader.”
Flanagan recused himself from the vote.
Baldasaro said there is no end in sight of the rift between Jasper and much of the GOP caucus, but he did say he believes that if Jasper were to relent and appoint O‘Brien as the Majority Leader, “We will put out the olive branch, we’ll shake hands and we’ll move on.”
Jasper’s office did not respond to a request for comment on today’s vote or the list of committee memberships..
The O’Brien supporters, calling themselves the “House Republican Majority,” in a statement late today, said Jasper “showed his true colors for the first time. When the motion to allow each caucus to independently select and vote for their own leader, Speaker Jasper voted along with the Democrats to oppose this change. After years of allowing the minority party to nominate and select their own leader, Jasper potentially sets up a precedent where the Speaker can select who leads each party.”
Tougher for roll calls
The O’Brien group was also highly critical of a 10-0 rules committee also voted to double the number of House members needed to second a call for a roll call vote, from 10 to 20.
Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, said, “It is unfortunate that Reps. Jasper and Shurtleff are more interested in hiding their actions at the State House than supporting the traditional transparency given to the citizens of New Hampshire.”
Stepanek said Jasper “also made it clear that in order to second a roll call, a member not only has to be present in the hall, but also has to be in your seat. That means that it will be up to him to determine if there are 20 members in their proper seats seconding a roll call.”
By making it more difficult to get a roll call vote, Stepanek said, “I strongly believe that the Speaker, with the strong support of the Democratic caucus, don’t want the voters to know how the House is voting. They don’t want a transparent government. They are making it more difficult to have open government and open roll calls.
“There is an active movement afoot to prevent transparency and prevent the voters form knowing how their representatives are voting,” he said.