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Conservative firebrand JR Hoell of Dunbarton not seeking re-election to N.H. House

  • JR Hoell

  • Rep. JR Hoell gives testimony during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at the State House in Concord in 2015. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, will not seek re-election in 2018. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file



For the Monitor
Sunday, June 24, 2018

As he finishes up an eight-year run in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, JR Hoell says he thinks he did a good job trying to keep the state government “lean and efficient.”

The four-term Republican representative from Dunbarton – a conservative firebrand with a libertarian streak who in recent years tangled with House GOP leadership – didn’t file for re-election.

He joins a number of high-profile House Republicans who aren’t seeking another term. Among them are longtime Budget Committee Chairman Neal Kurk of Weare, Children and Family Law Committee Vice Chairman Dan Itse of Fremont, Assistant Majority Whip David Bates of Windham, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Hagan of Chester, Labor Committee Chairman Stephen Schmidt of Wolfeboro, Claire Rouillard of Goffstown and Katheen Souza of Manchester.

Hoell said his decision has nothing to do with politics.

“The motivation was purely to do what is best for my family and devote the time and energy necessary to grow the company that I co-founded two years ago,” he told the Monitor on Thursday.

That company is Genesis Systems, an engineering consulting firm.

Hoell added that also taking precedence is “taking care of sending my oldest (child) to college.”

Former House chief of staff Greg Moore said decisions like Hoell’s are a fact of life in Representatives Hall.

“It’s a part of the process of what happens here every two years when you have a citizen’s Legislature where you only get paid $100 a year,” he said. “A lot of folks say, ‘I just can’t keep doing this because I have work commitments.’ ”

Hoell was first elected in 2010, part of the GOP tidal wave that swept through New Hampshire and the nation. Republicans captured a supermajority in the state’s House and elected conservative firebrand Bill O’Brien as speaker.

Looking back at his tenure in the House, Hoell said he thought he and his colleagues were successful in spending taxpayers’ money wisely.

And Hoell, one of the leaders of the pro-gun New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, also touted his work promoting gun rights.

“We have done a good job taking care of some of the more pivotal and emotional issues like protecting the Second Amendment rights of the citizens of the state of New Hampshire,” he said.

Hoell said one of the bills he’s most proud of removed the state requirement that people get a license from local officials to carry a concealed weapon under a jacket or in a purse or handbag.

The bill, known as “concealed carry” but called “constitutional carry” by supporters, was the first measure signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu, the state’s first GOP governor in a dozen years.

“I was part of the constitutional carry bill that went through multiple times and was eventually signed into law by Governor Sununu in 2017. And I think that’s very much in line with our state being one of the safest states in the nation,” Hoell said.

He also touted “the education tax credit that we put together during the O’Brien term that is slowly growing and allowing students to have better access to schools is an important piece of legislation.”

“Long-term, I see that (law) take our mediocre school systems and turn them around and putting parents in the driver’s seat to do what’s best for their children,” he said.

As for regrets, Hoell offered that “I wish we had gotten the education savings accounts done this year.”

That bill, which would have created a voucher-like school choice program for some parents, was defeated in the Legislature this spring after numerous revisions and transformations as lawmakers tried to make the numbers work.

“We should have done that and I’m hoping it gets done next term,” he said.

Hoell was one of the conservative ring leaders who a couple of years ago formed the New Hampshire Freedom Caucus.

“It was formed in part because we saw a similar group of like-minded individuals in Congress do the same thing,” Hoell explained. “The U.S. House Freedom Caucus had a great record of doing what was right for the citizens, and so we mimicked their group. Kind of a baby freedom caucus at the state level.”

The group often traded fire with then-House Speaker Shawn Jasper. The Freedom Caucus opposition to the 2017 state budget crafted by the House Finance Committee gave the GOP leadership a black eye, as for the first time in modern history the chamber failed to pass a budget blueprint.

House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, who faced off against Hoell quite often, had kind words for the exiting lawmaker.

“JR brings a lot to the table. He’s very thoughtful and I think his contributions, many of them will be missed,” he said.

Hinch, who’s now running for House speaker, diplomatically added, “He and I had some differences, but his heart is in the right place.”

Hoell said it all came down to keeping promises made on the campaign trail.

“Sometimes that was working with leadership and sometimes that was working in opposition,” he said. “But regardless, it was about keeping our word.”

Moore, state director for the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, praised Hoell’s willingness to buck the party line.

“He always did a great job of pushing the envelope, which at the first instance might fail, but in the second year or third year it ends up becoming a reality and we saw that a lot with JR’s initiatives. Things that people thought were simply not viable politically ended up becoming viable,” Moore said.

“Leading an effort to take down the state budget is probably the biggest example of something that most people would think is not politically viable. But not only did he do it, he did it in a way that resulted in even greater tax relief on the back end when there finally was a budget. So he had a major impact up here,” Moore added.

House Minority Leader Steve Shurleff said he didn’t see eye to eye with Hoell much, noting that “JR would go to the well quite often, and you always knew where he stood on issues.”

But still, the Democrat from Concord said he sometimes found common ground with Hoell.

“There were several times that we and JR voted the same way. We would come to the same conclusions but for different reasons,” Shurtleff said. “A lot of times when (Hoell and the Freedom Caucus) would call the Republican leadership to task, we would often agree with them on procedural matters.”

Hoell wouldn’t say what the future holds or whether he’ll consider returning the Legislature down the road.

“I don’t have that magic crystal ball,” he said.

But even if he doesn’t make another run for the State House, that doesn’t mean he’s out of state politics altogether.

“I do know that I care very much what happens with our government, so I will stay involved even if it’s just on the sidelines as an activist,” he said.