CONCORD — Twenty-four hours ago it seemed like a quixotic endeavor at best and more logically an impossibility: Could 11-term Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper of Hudson pull off a victory over Rep. and former Speaker Bill O’Brien in his bid for a return engagement heading the 400-member chamber? No way.
After nearly eight hours of debate and parliamentary haggling, Jasper did indeed pull it off tonight as approximately 40 anti-O’Brien Republicans joined with minority Democrats to defeat O’Brien and send Jasper to Speaker’s post.
On the other side of the second floor State House hallway, the State Senate unanimously elected Sen. Chuck Morse to a full term as its President; Republicans have a 14-10 Senate majority.
In the House, after O’Brien, who had narrowly won the GOP caucus nomination for Speaker, failed to win on the first ballot, nominations were reopened, Jasper was nominated and House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff dropped out of the running, clearly signalling that Democrats would support Jasper.
The third and final ballot vote was 195 to 178, following a second ballot vote in which Jasper fell one vote short of victory and O’Brien four votes short.
An exhausted Jasper declined to give a victory speech, but instead praised House Clerk Karen Wadsworth, who was presiding over her final Organization Day and is now retiring.
The key move that led to the Jasper win was actually an ill-fated one by the O’Brien forces. Apparently concerned that a closed, secret ballot would lead to a Jasper victory, they tried to change longstanding rules and force an open, roll call vote for Speaker, rather than hold a traditional closed, secret ballot.
When that attempt to change the rules failed, the door was open for the Jasper win.
And with that initial mistake, said a veteran Republican State House veteran, O’Brien “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”
O’Brien had insisted it was a move to promote transparency and said that constituents deserved to know who their elected representatives supported for speaker. But it reminded some House members of what they viewed as the heavy-handed nature of the prior O’Brien administration when he served as speaker from 2010 to 2012.
On the second ballot, with only O’Brien and Jasper in the running, Jasper, R-Hudson, a veteran Republican who had tangled with O’Brien in the past, received 190 votes to 187 for O’Brien. With 380 members in the room, 191 were needed for victory. On the third and final ballot, Jasper gained five votes but O’Brien lost nine. Jasper was, as a result, the speaker.
Jasper emerged earlier this week as an alternative to O’Brien, saying he was simply offering himself up if O’Brien failed to win the necessary votes on the first ballot.
But his plan couldn’t have worked out any better for him. It initially appeared as though the proposed rules change to force an open vote would seal his fate, but that move by O’Brien backfired. Jasper won the key rules fight, which allowed the House to cast its votes in a secret ballot.
That allowed Republicans disgruntled with O’Brien to cast ballots without fear of repercussion. O’Brien’s forces had tried to change longstanding tradition and have an open roll call vote for speaker.
Once the Jasper challenge emerged, GOP leaders weighed in backing O’Brien. State Republican chair Jennifer Horn spoke to the House GOP caucus early, before the session began, and again, during a closed-door GOP caucus that interrupted the session and forced Democrats and the media out into the hallways.
She conveyed that Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who had initially backed O’Brien caucus foe Gene Chandler, was now on board with the will of the caucus, in favor of O’Brien. Former Gov. John H. Sununu had also initially backed Chandler but then urged House Republicans to abide by the caucus vote and back O’Brien.
On the first ballot, O’Brien fell four votes short, defeating Shurleff 190-168. With 387 votes cast, 194 were needed. There were 13 blank ballots cast in that vote, and the O’Brien forces immediately moved to have those ballots thrown out, which would have secured an O‘Brien victory.
But House Clerk Karen Wadsworth held fast that blank ballots were legitimate ballots and have always counted toward the total number of votes cast. O’Brien’s allies then withdrew their challenge.
At that point, the nominations were reopened – again over the initial objections of the O’Brien forces.
Jasper, 55, was nominated and he promptly accepted. Then, Shurtleff withdrew.
“It’s been a long and difficult day and it shouldn’t have been,” Jasper said. “We should have gotten immediately to the business of the House. And that’s my concern. We need to be about the business of the House. We need to stop playing games.
“I just came out of a caucus where I was yelled at for 15 minutes without the opportunity to respond, and this is my concern,” said Jasper. “The House deserves better, we deserve to respect each other.”
Jasper promised to appoint Republicans as chairs and vice chairs of committee but to be fair to Democrats.
“I feel that the Speaker should not be the political arm of this body and policy should be driven by the Majority Leader,” he said.
(Our earlier reports follow.)
Earlier update: NH House denies O’Brien 1st ballot win
CONCORD – After more than four hours of fighting over how the vote should be taken, the House on Wednesday denied Rep. Bill O’Brien a first ballot win as Speaker.
The House voted 190-168 in favor of O’Brien over Democrat Steve Shurtleff, but with 387 members voting, 194 votes were needed for a majority.
There were 16 write-in votes and 13 blank ballots cast. O’Brien’s forces tried to have the blank ballots thrown out, which would have given him the victory, but later withdrew the challenge to House Clerk Karen Wadsworth’s ruling.
At that point, the House voted 199-182 to reopen nominations for speaker giving life to Rep. Shawn Jasper’s challenge to O’Brien, who had been the narrow choice of the House GOP caucus.
Earlier, the House rejected, 224-162, a move by O’Brien’s forces to change longstanding House rules and hold the vote for Speaker by an open roll call in which each individual member’s vote would be recorded. Had the change been adopted, it would have been a departure from long tradition.
O’Brien’s forces unsuccessfully pushed for an open vote as a matter of “transparency” and to allow for “expeditious” voting after Jasper ,decided that he would challenge O’Brien by offering himself as an alternative if O’Brien failed to win the required majority.
A key vote came when the House voted, by secret ballot, against adopting the rules change proposed by the O’Brien forces, which then allowed for an open roll call for Speaker.
That attempt to change the rules, which came to light before the House met, would have put Jasper’s challenge on shaky ground at best had it been successful.
Jasper said before the House session began he believed the O’Brien forces feared “that I was going to get some traction.” He said “they brought in the big guns” to speak against him and in favor of the proposed rule change.
The thinking at the State House was that with members required to state their choices in an open roll call, rather than a secret ballot, Republicans unhappy with O’Brien will be less likely to openly vote against him.
O’Brien, though, called it a “struggle for transparency.” He lost that struggle, and ended up losing his bid for Speaker.
Rep. David Bates, R-Windham, a strong O’Brien supporter, said the call for a switch to an open roll call for the speaker’s vote will be “more expeditious” than a closed secret ballot.
But House Democratic Leader Shurtleff called for a return to a secret paper ballot and called for a secret ballot on the rules.
The House eventually voted 222-171 to hold a secret vote on the rules proposed by O’Brien’s team. It then voted 224-162 to reject the proposed O’Brien rules.
That followed a lengthy debate.
Bates said there was “nothing inappropriate” about an open vote.
But Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, said the O’Brien forces were trying to prevent some members from casting an open vote.
“Because some members of this House might exercise their rights to vote, what you’d like to do is make sure those rights cannot be exercised at this time,” she said. “I’m not away at any time or place that speed is so important that it outranks the obligation of each one of us to carefully and responsibly cast our votes.”
(Our earlier report follows.)
CONCORD — Even before the full New Hampshire House met Wednesday to choose its speaker, it appeared Rep. Shawn Jasper’s last –minute challenge to GOP caucus choice Bill O’Brien was on shaky ground.
At its own caucus before the full House session, Republicans decided to break with House tradition and move to change the rules to require an open roll call for the Speaker’s vote, rather than a secret ballot. Jasper said the change showed the O’Brien forces were concerned about his challenge, and the proposed change drew criticism from Democrats, who said it was typical of O’Brien and his team.
Jasper said he believed the O’Brien forces feared “that I was going to get some traction.” He said “they brought in the big guns” to speak against him and in favor of the proposed rule change.
The thinking at the State House is that with members required to state their choices in an open roll call, rather than a secret ballot, Republicans unhappy with O’Brien will be less likely to openly vote against him.
(Our earlier report follows.)
Tuesday, Dec. 2
Suddenly, O’Brien has a fight on his hands
CONCORD — A longtime Republican opponent of Bill O’Brien is trying to derail O’Brien’s roll toward a return engagement as House speaker with an 11th hour challenge.
Eleven-term Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, has declared himself as an alternative to O’Brien, as the House plans to meet tomorrow for Organization Day to elect a speaker. The Senate will also meet tomorrow morning and reelect Sen. Chuck Morse as its president; but all of the controversy will be in the House.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who stepped into the House GOP caucus race between O’Brien and former speaker Gene Chandler and backed Chandler, is now staying out of the Jasper challenge.
Her spokesman, Liz Johnson, told the New Hampshire Journal she would have no comment on how she feels GOP House members should vote tomorrow.
But former Gov. John H. Sununu, who had also backed Chandler, is now urging House Republicans to follow the vote of the their caucus and back O’Brien.
To become speaker a candidate must receive at least 201 votes of the 400-member House in tomorrow’s vote. There are 239 Republicans, 160 Democrats and one independent.
Assuming that Jasper wins the support of all 160 Democrats (which is not a given by any means), he would still need 41 Republicans to win the speakership or 40 to block O’Brien.
The Democrats, now possibly holding O’Brien’s fate in their collective hands, caucused earlier today, after Jasper announced that he is a candidate, but either reached no unified conclusion on how to vote, or if they did, were not sharing the answer with the media.
House Democrats unanimously chose House Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff as their nominee for speaker.
Shurtleff noted that Democrats feel that from a purely political standpoint, it would be advantageous for them to allow O’Brien to become speaker because, they feel, he is a lightning rod and will only enhance their chances of success in the 2016 elections.
In effect, now, with Jasper in the mix, a Democrat’s vote for Shurtleff would in effect be a vote for O’Brien.
Another former longtime Democratic state representative suggested Democrats will each vote his or her conscience: “Each member of the House must decide on their own who they believe best represents the people of New Hanpshire in moving the state forward by working with the other elected officials of the state and who best respects the institution of the House and each member. It is a secret ballot so it is a deeply personal decision for each representative.”
Current House Republican leader Chandler, who lost to O’Brien in a narrow, 116-112 vote of the House GOP caucus on Nov. 18, moved immediately after that vote to make the vote unanimous and said he had no interest in trying to attract Democrats to support him on Organization Day. Jasper was a strong Chandler supporter and expressed frustration after the caucus selected O’Brien.
On Monday, O’Brien named Chandler as Speaker Pro Tem and part of his leadership team even before formally being voted in as speaker.
How deep of a split remains in the caucus, despite the O’Brien move to try to unify it, will become clear tomorrow.
Sununu issued a statement this afternoon saying the House GOP caucus “has spoken” and urging all Republican House members to support O’Brien.
Sununu said he was pleased that O’Brien invited Chandler to be in leadership.
“This is a constructive move that will make sure the Republican Party stands together,” Sununu said. “It is important for Republicans to work as a unified group in the House and Senate to make sure that the Democrats’ failed policies do not get any traction in Concord.”
Sununu said, “The Republican House Caucus has spoken. They have selected their nominee for speaker and I certainly hope that every Republican Representative will cast their vote for Bill O’Brien. Republicans must come together to ensure that New Hampshire does not suffer over the next two years under a Democrat governor.”
Ayotte, who, like Sununu, stepped into the GOP caucus race and backed Chandler over O’Brien, has no comment on the Jasper challenge or on how she feels GOP House members should vote tomorrow, Ayotte spokesman Johnson told the New Hampshire Journal.
Also backing Chandler in a letter prior to the caucus was former Gov. Steve Merrill, former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, and former New Hampshire House speakers Donna Sytek and Doug Scamman.
Scamman, with the support of Democrats, defeated the late House Deputy Speaker Mike Whalley in 2004 to become Speaker a second time.
State GOP Chairman Jennifer Horn, who had remained neutral in the O’Brien-Chandler caucus race, also came out strongly in favor of O’Brien today.
“The House Republican caucus has spoken and elected Bill O’Brien as our nominee for Speaker,” Horn said. “Our state is facing significant challenges, and Republicans need to unite behind Speaker O’Brien to stop Governor Hassan’s fiscally irresponsible agenda, preserve New Hampshire’s low-tax environment and create jobs. It’s is time for every House Republican to put aside their differences and strongly support Speaker O’Brien and his leadership team.”
Sources said Jasper, who had battled with O’Brien and O’Brien’s leadership team the first time O’Brien was speaker, initially tried – unsuccessfully — to recruit other relatively moderate Republicans to take on O’Brien tomorrow, including veteran Rep. David Hess and Rep. Laurie Sanborn, who had withdrawn from the speaker’s race prior to the House caucus due to husband Sen. Andy Sanborn’s illness.
Both turned Jasper down, so Jasper decided to challenge O’Brien himself.
Also weighing in on the Jasper challenge today was Bob Mead, a former House member who had been removed by O’Brien as his chief of staff the first time O’Brien was speaker.
Mead, who, like O’Brien, is from Mont Vernon, noted that there had been much discussion among House Republicans unhappy with O’Brien about not voting or casting a blank ballot.
“You now have another choice,” wrote Mead. “ You no longer have the dilemma of wasting your vote or voting for a speaker candidate you are opposed to.
“Bowing to growing pressure from a long list of supporters, Representative Shawn Jasper, who will be starting his eleventh term, will now have his name placed in nomination for speaker on Organization Day,” wrote Mead. “So, once again, you have an opportunity to cast your ballot for a more moderate speaker.
“Just goes to show that it isn’t over till it’s over,” Mead wrote.