Right-to-work’s fate uncertain in GOP-controlled House

  • New Hampshire House Speaker Shawn Jasper presides over the year’s first session in the House chamber at the State House in Concord on Jan. 4.

By staff and wire reports
Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mother Nature could play an outsized role in whether New Hampshire becomes the next so-called “right-to-work” state.

The House vote today on the union-targeting legislation is expected to be razor-thin. An overnight snowstorm that could dump up to a foot of snow on some communities may alter attendance.

“It’s going to be all about the numbers of who shows up,” said House Majority Leader Dick Hinch. “It’s going to be close.”

Speaker Shawn Jasper has warned the bill might fail the GOP-controlled chamber due to long-standing opposition from a handful of Republicans. A defeat would give Republican Gov. Chris Sununu an early loss on one of his priorities.

In the final hours, Republican leaders were making an aggressive push to flip votes, even suggesting the party may not help Republicans who don’t support the bill in the next election.

“We will create a campaign fund, and for those folks who support the governor, who support the platform – which speaks to right-to-work legislation – we will help those folks get re-elected in this next election cycle,” Jeanie Forrester, chairwoman of the state Republican Party said Wednesday at a press conference aimed at fellow Republicans.

Right-to-work laws prevent unions from requiring nonmembers to pay fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining. Opponents say such laws weaken unions and diminish worker protections, while supporters say they give workers more freedom and make states attractive to businesses.

Now with a Republican governor in charge, New Hampshire has been viewed as a top target for passage from Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, and the National Right to Work Committee. Kentucky and Missouri already have passed similar legislation this year.

“Everybody is getting a lot of pressure from a lot of angles,” said Republican Rep. Fred Doucette, a vocal right-to-work opponent.

Doucette is part of a group of House Republicans who oppose right-to-work, arguing that it’s being pushed by out-of-state groups and won’t benefit New Hampshire workers. The GOP holds 223 of 400 House seats, meaning just a few dozen Republican detractors could kill the legislation.

In a rare move, Jasper plans to leave the speaker’s podium during the vote and take a seat on the floor to participate. He will hand the gavel over to Republican Rep. Frank Sapareto, he said.

“There are people with a false narrative that I am not committed on this,” Jasper said. “To put an end to that I am coming down.”

Sununu is wading in, urging representatives who are on the fence to get behind the bill. He argues right-to-work is a key part of making the state more attractive to businesses. He said he feels “pretty good” about the vote.

His support didn’t persuade Republican Rep. Joe Guthrie, who said he was invited into Sununu’s office last week for a face-to-face about the bill.

“His feeling is this bill is an advantage for him to bring business in. I didn’t feel that way,” said Guthrie, a third-term representative from Hampstead. “I wish I could vote to help him, but I just can’t.”

Still, some of the Republican messaging has been muddled. Jasper said it’s not an issue worth tearing his caucus apart over and appeared to offer cover to opponents.

“I don’t think this is an issue that should define a good Republican versus a bad Republican,” he said.

Democrats generally oppose right-to-work and are working to ensure all members show up today to cast a vote. Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said at least half of House Democrats stayed overnight in Concord hotels to avoid snowy commutes. A few capital-area Democrats opened their homes to their colleagues.