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Republicans choose familiar face Gene Chandler as speaker nominee

  • Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler is seen outside Representatives Hall during a closed-door caucus that would go on to nominate him for Speaker of the House at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler is seen after being nominated for House speaker during a closed-door Republican caucus at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Republican lawmakers held a closed-door caucus to choose a nominee for speaker of the House at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Rep. Laurie Sanborn talks to members of the press following a closed-door Republican caucus to choose a nominee for House speaker at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Sanborn was in the running for the position but lost the vote to Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Al Baldasaro, mingle inside Representatives Hall during a closed-door caucus to choose a nominee for speaker of the House at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Rep. Laurie Sanborn talks to members of the press following a closed-door Republican caucus to choose a nominee for House speaker at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Sanborn was in the running for the position but lost the vote to Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, November 28, 2017

House Republicans nominated Rep. Gene Chandler to be speaker of the House by a 34-vote margin Tuesday, opting to finish out the session with a moderate – and familiar – voice at the head of the chamber.

Chandler, the present deputy House speaker hailing from Bartlett, took the nomination after a multi-hour closed-door caucus meeting Thursday, besting runner-up Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, after two rounds of votes. Chandler will now move forward as the party’s nominee ahead of a full-House session Thursday morning.

If elected, Chandler would take over for current Speaker Shawn Jasper, who is stepping down midterm after being confirmed as the state’s agriculture commissioner last week. The deputy speaker has pledged to stay in the post only until the end of the session, allowing a new speaker’s race after elections next November.

“I felt this was very important,” he said of his decision to run. “It’s critical to the party for next year’s elections, and I think it’s critical for the House to have a smooth continuity.”

First elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, Chandler is a seasoned veteran in state politics, having held every major leadership post in the 400-member chamber during his career. If elected by the full House on Thursday, Chandler would return to the speaker’s office for the second time, after first serving from 2000 to 2004.

Chandler’s first turn as speaker came to a turbulent end in 2004, after he was investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for using campaign donations for personal gain. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense for failing to properly report to the Secretary of State’s office $64,000 raised through fundraisers. The Ethics Committee recommended he be expelled, but House members voted to reprimand him instead. Amid the scandal, he declined to run again as speaker in 2004.

Through the years, the Bartlett Republican has held moderate positions. In 2016 he earned a “D” in the Americans for Prosperity legislative scorecard – and a 65 percent score from the House Republican Alliance – after voting for reauthorization of the state’s Medicaid expansion and against a bill to strip funding for a commuter rail study plan.

On Tuesday, Chandler initially faced a candidate field of four other Republican representatives, including Steven Smith of Charlestown, John Burt of Goffstown, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry and Jim McConnell of Swanzey. Sanborn, who heads the House Republican Alliance and narrowly lost a party bid for speaker in 2016, had proven popular among many in the conservative wing of the party.

After an initial round of voting in which 93 members chose Chandler compared with Sanborn netted 70, Smith, Burt and Baldasaro dropped out. In a second round, Chandler garnered 116 votes to Sanborn’s 82.

The speaker’s race kicked off last month after Speaker Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican, decided to make a bid to head the Department of Agriculture after leading the house since 2014.

Chandler’s nomination settles the party’s official choice ahead of a full House session Thursday. But other candidates remain in the running.

Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, will seek his party’s nomination at a separate caucus Thursday.

And one Republican candidate, McConnell of Swanzey, declined to participate in the caucus meeting Tuesday after disagreeing with the voting rules set by the party. McConnell said he would instead put his name forward as a nominee for the three-member Libertarian Party after a separate caucus vote.

Speaking after the vote, Chandler said he hoped the final unanimous voice vote, called for by Sanborn after she conceded, would send a message.

“I think it shows that Republicans want to move ahead united,” he said. “That hasn’t always been the case over the last two or one year or so. I think I’ve had an ability in the past to do that, and I think I’ve been somewhat successful, and I think a lot of people recognize that.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@edewittNH.)