In marathon session, Republican Shawn Jasper edges out Bill O’Brien to be next House Speaker

Last modified: Friday, December 05, 2014
Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper defeated his own party’s nominee, Rep. Bill O’Brien, to become speaker of the House, after several rounds of voting during yesterday’s dramatic session that lasted nearly eight hours and revealed rifts within the party.

Jasper, an 11-term representative from Hudson, won a majority of the 377 ballots cast, besting O’Brien 195-178 in the third and final round of voting for speaker.

To win, Jasper drew most of his support from Democrats, in addition to Republicans seeking an alternative to O’Brien.

“There will be no speech from me today,” Jasper said after the vote. “We have a lot of work to do. We are going to get on with that work as soon as I can collect my thoughts.”

Jasper, 55, emerged as an alternative candidate late in the game. The Republicans, who won 239 House seats and a majority in the November election, had nominated O’Brien, of Mont Vernon, for the job Nov. 18. The Democratic caucus backed Penacook Rep. Steve Shurtleff.

But some Republicans were unhappy with their nominee, citing O’Brien’s controversial and partisan leadership style when he was speaker from 2011 to 2012.

Jasper pitched himself as an alternative candidate Monday, saying he would represent all House members. And he pledged not to enter his name into the contest unless O’Brien fell short in the first vote, which is what happened.

O’Brien earned 190 votes in the first round, four votes short of a majority. Shurtleff earned 168.

Shurtleff then withdrew his name from the contest, opening the door to a Jasper versus O’Brien race. The pair faced off in two rounds of voting before Jasper emerged the victor.

In the second vote, Jasper pulled in more ballots than O’Brien, but fell one vote short of a majority. In the third round, Jasper cleared the hurdle, winning a majority by six ballots.

In his nomination speech, Jasper said his administration would be one based on respect.

“The speaker should really not be the political arm of this body,” he said. “The policy of this chamber should be driven by the majority, by people coming together and saying this is what we decided.”

Jasper pledged to make all committee chairs and vice chairs Republicans. “This House has been elected by Republicans and it will be governed by Republicans,” said Jasper, who also urged representatives not to doubt his Republican credentials.

It remains to be seen how Jasper, who as speaker sets the tone and legislative goals of the House, will manage the Republican caucus. At varying points yesterday, Jasper faced criticism and insult from fellow Republicans, who were unhappy he spoiled O’Brien’s victory party.

O’Brien, who was widely seen as a frontrunner in the speaker’s contest, said in his own nomination speech that he would advocate for an “open process” and that he looked forward to working with all representatives to solve the state’s problems. O’Brien narrowly defeated challenger Rep. Gene Chandler by four votes to win the party’s nomination to be the next speaker. During his previous term as speaker, O’Brien became a polarizing figure – his supporters loved his laserlike focus to achieve the party’s legislative goals, while his detractors called him a bully who was unwilling to compromise.

And right from the start of the organizational meeting, the session was marked by continuous debate that began with a fight over the mere process to elect the speaker.

Soon after Gov. Maggie Hassan swore in the representatives at 10 a.m., Republicans proposed new election rules in a move to stifle Jasper’s run. Put forward by Republican Rep. David Bates, the rule changes would have stopped nominations from re-opening once they were closed and made the speaker election a roll call vote – as opposed to a traditional secret ballot. That change would have required representatives to make their votes public as opposed to anonymous. The House voted down the proposed change, keeping the process secret.

That fight kicked off a slew of debates ranging from reopening nominations to whether blank ballots count.

The Senate

In contrast to the House, the Senate voted swiftly and unanimously to re-elect Sen. Chuck Morse as president. The Salem Republican, who has served four terms in the Senate in addition to two terms in the House, pledged a commitment to “bipartisan solutions” as the Senate addresses the state’s financial future and tackles issues in education, health care and energy, among others.

“We will debate, we will sometimes disagree, and that’s okay,” Morse told his colleagues, accepting the renomination. “It is my responsibility that no matter how we vote, every senator is heard.”

Hassan later congratulated Morse and Jasper on their victories.

“The people of New Hampshire work together to solve problems every day, and that’s what they expect of their elected leaders,” Hassan said. “The speaker of the House was elected after a robust debate by a bipartisan coalition of representatives who recognize that we must continue working together to keep our economy moving forward.”

The Legislature next meets Jan. 7.

(Staff writer Casey McDermott contributed to this report. Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)