Rep ousted from panel for opposing GOP budget

Last modified: 4/7/2011 12:00:00 AM
A Republican state representative lost his seat on the House Finance Committee yesterday after he opposed the House budget, openly criticized his party and predicted its defeat in the next election.

State Rep. Lee Quandt of Exeter said he received a call from the House chief of staff Tuesday night summoning him to a meeting with House Speaker William O'Brien yesterday morning. At the meeting, O'Brien removed him from the committee.

Quandt said yesterday that he expected the removal.

"When you stand up and tell your boss you can't go along with that, they fire you," Quandt said. "When you have someone say, 'I can't go along with your agenda,' he has to replace me."

Shannon Shutts, spokeswoman for O'Brien, said, "It was a mutual decision, and both of them felt it was in the best interest of the caucus."

Quandt is a conservative Republican who frequently votes with his party, except on labor issues. As a retired state probation and parole officer, Quandt is unabashedly pro-union, a stance that has put him at odds with his party during the current legislative session.

Most recently, Quandt voted against the House budget, though he said he agreed with "98 percent" of it. He was a staunch opponent of an amendment added to the budget bill that would put employees' working conditions - including wages and health benefits - at the will of their employers when contracts expired.

"Finance worked extremely hard trying to make cuts," Quandt told the Monitor last week. "All of a sudden, we got diverted on this let's attack the public sector employees, and that just made it impossible for me to support."

Quandt said he is angry about the House's recent bills attacking public employees.

"You don't attack unions; you negotiate with them," Quandt said. "This has been 90 days of attacks, attacks, attacks."

Legislation making New Hampshire a right-to-work state passed the House and is pending in the Senate. Under that bill, nonunion employees could no longer be forced to pay fair share of fees to a union. The Legislature passed a bill repealing the evergreen statute, which means public employees no longer get wage increases based on years of experience after a contract expires. The House and Senate are both considering reforms to the pension system, which would make employees pay more of their retirement costs. Most controversial was the budget amendment making workers at-will employees when their contracts expired. Union representatives say the move would end collective bargaining rights; supporters say it would lower costs for employers by forcing unions to compromise.

The State Employees' Association sent out a statement praising Quandt as a "tenacious and vocal advocate for workers" and criticizing O'Brien for removing him.

"Representative Quandt is being silenced because he dared to stick up for the middle class in New Hampshire and protect workers' rights," said Lt. Neil Smith, who works for the state Department of Corrections and is a collective bargaining chairman for the SEA. "This is a continuation of Speaker O'Brien's attempts to quiet differing opinions in his own caucus and bully his members into voting against their constituents."

Quandt, in his ninth year in the Legislature, has stated publicly and written on his blog that the attacks on labor will cost the Republican Party House seats in 2012. In one blog post, he predicted House Republicans would lose 125 seats - enough to switch the House back to Democratic control.

Quandt has already participated in the House Finance Committee's most important task - creating the budget. For the rest of the session, the Finance Committee will continue its work making recommendations on bills that have fiscal implications and joining a committee of conference with Senate negotiators on the budget.

Quandt will no longer serve on any House committees.

(Shira Schoenberg can be reached at 369-3319 or sschoenberg@cmonitor.com.)


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