Chandler reclaims gavel as House speaker following close vote

  • Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett gives the thumbs up after being elected speaker of the New Hampshire House in a two-ballot win over two opponents Thursday, November 30, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rep. Gene Chandler gets congratulations after winning the speakership on the second ballot at the State House on Thursday, November 30, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rep. Gene Chandler from Bartlett talks with Rockingham Rep. Sherman Packard (with beard) during the first vote count on Thursday, Novemeber 30, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rep. Gene Chandler walks back to his seat as they prepare to announce that he won the speakership at the State House on Thursday, November 30, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Republican Gene Chandler was elected New Hampshire’s House Speaker on Thursday, in an election that will see him reclaim the gavel through a period of transition.

It wasn’t an easy victory. After a third party challenge and a write-in campaign denied him a win in an initial round of voting, it took a 30-minute caucus session to deliver Chandler a majority in a second round.

“The one thing I can assure all of you: I will treat every member of this House with the dignity and respect they deserve, as a member of this great institution,” he said.

An 18-term representative first elected to the New Hampshire House in 1982, Chandler, of Bartlett, will serve for the rest of the biennial session, pledging to step aside to allow a new leader after 2018 elections. 

He takes over for Shawn Jasper, who resigned minutes before the election to assume a new position as agriculture commissioner. 

In taking the gavel, Chandler will reprise a position he held from 2000 to 2004. Currently the deputy speaker, Chandler has cut a reputation as a political moderate with a long history in House leadership. His decision to run on a temporary basis, he explained, was made to ensure that House committees are able to continue their legislative work until the House faces new elections in November.

Chandler’s first turn as speaker came to a turbulent end in 2004, after he was investigated by the Attorney General’s Office for allegedly using campaign donations for personal gain. He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense for failing to properly report to the secretary of state’s office $64,000 raised through fundraisers. The Legislative Ethics Committee recommended he be expelled, but House members voted to reprimand him instead.

Democrats keyed in on Chandler’s past.

“Gene Chandler is famous for a scandalous run as New Hampshire Speaker from 2001 to 2004, ending in an expulsion recommendation and the longest run of Democratic governors in the state since before the Civil War,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said. “People who know Chandler remember him for his corruption lawsuit, illegal cash gifts from lobbyists, pocketing fundraising money for personal use and looking the other way on sexual harassment.”

For the Republican Party, Chandler’s election comes on the heels of a fractious tenure under Jasper. After courting Republican and Democratic votes in 2014, Jasper uprooted an attempt by former Republican Speaker Bill O’Brien to reclaim the gavel. The move created divisions that some members say have still not healed.

Chandler said he would work to restore unity within the party and respect across the aisle.

“My goals are simple. I will work with all members of the House to formulate responsible, common sense public policy that will improve the lives of the people of New Hampshire,” he said in a statement after the vote. “I will work with all members of the Democrat and Republican caucus who share this goal.”

During the first round of voting Thursday, Chandler received 182 votes, two short of a victory. House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff, the Democratic nominee from Penacook, garnered 153 votes; Libertarian nominee Jim McConnell, R-Swanzey took 10. Of the 22 scatter votes, according to House Clerk Paul Smith, many listed Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester representative who died earlier this year.

After a 30-minute recess and separate party caucus meetings, Chandler rebounded with an 11-vote majority; only five members cast scatter votes, according to Smith.

In a victory speech, Chandler said he will begin working with committee heads to devise a voting schedule for bills in the 2018 session. Speaking to reporters, he said he has not yet made decisions on leadership positions and said no deals were struck during the caucus meeting to win over votes.

“I pledge to do the right thing,” he said, addressing the House. “I appreciate the support.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)