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State GOP picks Chandler as new House minority leader

Republican Rep. Gene Chandler was voted minority leader over Rep. Pam Tucker at the State House on Thursday evening, November 15, 2012.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)

Republican Rep. Gene Chandler was voted minority leader over Rep. Pam Tucker at the State House on Thursday evening, November 15, 2012. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Republicans chose Rep. Gene Chandler, a 30-year veteran of the House, as their new minority leader last night over Rep. Pam Tucker, who had the backing of outgoing House Speaker Bill O’Brien.

Of the 170 House Republicans who voted last night, 91 supported Chandler. Tucker’s vote total was not announced, but representatives believed she took the remaining 79 votes because there was no mention of write-in candidates.

The Democrats, who won 221 of the House’s 400 seats in this month’s election, will chose their leader Saturday. Rep. Terie Norelli of Portsmouth and Rep. David Campbell of Nashua are running, and the winner will almost certainly become House Speaker because the Democrats hold the majority.

After last night’s vote, Chandler said he wants to return his party’s focus to core Republican values, which he identified as jobs, a balanced budget and limited government.

“As a caucus we need to be careful of what we support,” he said. “We need to work for what the citizens want, and that is jobs and the economy.”

When asked whether he’d also continue the party’s recent interest in “social agenda items” like abortion rights and gay marriage, Chandler said he “would respect the right of any member to file legislation.”

But, Chandler said, he did not intend those to be the party’s causes in the coming year.

Rep. Laurie Sanborn of Bedford was one of three House members to speak for Chandler before the vote. She said she was proud of the Republican’s work over the past two years and respected O’Brien “tremendously.”

“But our messaging could have been better,” Sanborn said. “And we must show voters that we have learned something from this election. We cannot continue down the same course.”

Tucker, O’Brien’s deputy speaker, was just elected to her third term in the House. She was nominated last night by Rep. Ken Weyler, a Kingston Republican and chairman of the House Finance Committee, newcomer Rep. Jane Cormier of Alton and Rep. Daniel Tamburello of Londonderry.

In speeches before the vote, they each said Tucker, not Chandler, would give the party a new face and new energy as it tries to recover its losses this election.

“In this last election, 60 percent of people under 30 voted for Democrats,” Weyler said. “We need to reach these voters. We need a new vision and new ideas. Gene (Chandler) is a good friend and one of the longest serving members in state history. But our party needs to adapt with changes.”

Tamburello, who was just elected to his second term, tried to appeal to House newcomers. “Approximately 130 members joined the House in 2008,” he said. “Rep. Chandler deserves our respect and gratitude.” He went on to say the voices of newer members “should not be squelched” by more established legislators.

O’Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican who has led a sharply divided House and been accused of fostering a hostile, divisive atmosphere in the House, did not speak during the vote.

Tucker sold herself as the candidate with new ideas. She said she would use social media like Facebook and YouTube to draw more people to the party.

“As we look toward the next election, our first step is choosing the right leader to position us,” she said. She said she’d foster a “civil” and “respectful” atmosphere as minority leader and pledged to help newly elected members by partnering them with more veteran House members.

Earlier this week, Tucker’s supporters released a list of nearly 70 lawmakers said to be voting for Tucker. But one of them, Rep. Robert Rowe of Amherst, endorsed Chandler last night and urged his colleagues to do the same.

“He will be a workhorse for us and that is what we need,” Rowe said.

Rep. Lynne Ober of Hudson also spoke on Chandler’s behalf last night.

“I consider both candidates to be personal friends and great Republicans,” Sanborn said. “But today there is one person substantially more qualified with the right skills to begin the process of rebuilding our party. Now more than ever, we need to bring members of our party together.”

After the vote, Chandler said he is sometimes criticized for having “old ideas” because he’s served so long. He said he helped the party win a supermajority in 2010 and believes he can do it again.

“I think if we have a record of being able to do that, and I have done that, I see no reason to change what has worked,” he said.

Chandler served two terms as House speaker nearly a decade ago and had been elected to his third when he was charged in 2005 with failing to report nearly $64,000 in campaign contributions. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and paid a $2,000 fine. He was also found guilty of violating House ethics rules but was censured, not expelled, by his House colleagues.

That history was raised in emails between Republican House members in the past several days. One representative called Chandler “an old white guy with ethics issues.” But none of that was aired during the vote last night.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, on Twitter @annmarietimmins or at atimmins@cmonitor.com.)

Seriously? The last two paragraphs of this story says it all.

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