At forum, House Speaker candidate walks out in protest 

  • FROM LEFT: Moderator Leonard Turcotte, R-Barrington; John Burt, R-Goffstown; Jim McConnell, R-Swanzey; Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook; Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford; Steve Schmidt, R-Charlestown; Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett and Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, attend a forum for House Speaker candidates. ETHAN DeWITT / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/3/2017 12:07:04 AM

It was a brief moment, but an illustrative one.

Minutes into a forum Thursday among candidates for New Hampshire House Speaker, hosted by the N.H. Freedom Caucus, one participant strayed from the script.

Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, cut off the moderator’s introductory remarks mid-sentence, interjecting with an announcement: He opposed the inclusion of Democratic Leader Steven Shurtleff – the sole Democratic candidate for the post – and he wanted no part.

“Mr. Moderator, I am offended that the minority leader is at a Republican debate,” Burt began, reading from a prepared statement. “The Republican party deserves better than this. ... Republicans stand on principles, honor and integrity. Those principles will not allow me to be in this debate.

“We have a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican governor with the Executive council. And this is not how I am going to run the House when I am elected speaker.”

Then he walked off the stage.

The show of bravado caused some in the room to chafe; a smattering of boos and murmurs greeted Burt has he exited the room. But it also provided an opportunity for contrast. In his own introductory remarks, Rep. Al Baldasaro drew on the incident to present an opposing theme.

“It is our job as a speaker to work with the Democrats; it’s not our job to push them aside,” he said, praising Shurtleff’s inclusion. “Even though I’m a Republican, I understand the need to work hand-in-hand and bring everyone back together.”

It was a brief, if memorable intra-party rift in an event dedicated to policy. Over an hour and a half, the remaining prospective Republican Speaker candidates – Jim McConnell of Swanzey, Laurie Sanborn of Bedford, Steve Smith of Charlestown, Gene Chandler of Bartlett, and Baldasaro – hewed to largely similar party positions.

All Republican candidates said they would support tighter verification measures at the polling booth. All said they would back a Senate bill introducing educational savings accounts, would work to investigate or reduce professional licensing requirements, would maintain recently-approved business tax cuts and oppose income or sales taxes.

There were some differences, though. While all Republicans expressed disdain for New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion – set to expire in 2018 – Chandler said he could support a version that required no state funding; his colleagues supported letting the program expire.

And amid talks of business regulation McConnell, an avid environmentalist, said more legislative barriers should be enacted against companies that would pollute in the state.

But the bulk of the policy contrasts came between the Republican members and Shurtleff, who cheerily took the opportunity to present contrasting Democratic positions at every turn.

“As a Legislature we can work together to find common ground,” he said. “And I think events like this today help that become a reality.”

A final speech

Despite the fanfare, the Speaker’s race has not officially kicked off – present speaker Shawn Jasper remains in position pending the outcome of his bid to be state agriculture commissioner.

But at a full House session Thursday to vote on a bill vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu, the Hudson Republican took an opportunity to bid farewell.

“Being an old poultry farmer, I learned not to count my chickens before they hatched, but this may well be my last opportunity to address the House,” he said.

He took a moment to dole out thank you’s. And he urged his colleagues to work on making it easier for ordinary people to serve in the Legislature. Noting that lawmakers will take up more than 1,000 bills next year, he said the state should consider restricting how many bills each lawmaker can file without co-sponsors.

“It has certainly been the greatest honor of my life to stand here for the last three years as your providing officer,” Jasper said.

A standing ovation followed the remarks. Then the Speaker brought the gavel down.

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