Shurtleff accused of trying to muscle out other Democrats for House speaker

  • Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton at the State House in Concord on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Rep. Steve Shurtleff poses for portrait in the Representative’s Hall gallery at the State House on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 11/2/2017 12:40:11 PM

A prominent House Democrat strongly criticized top members of his party Thursday, accusing Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff of shutting out candidates in a potential upcoming race for House Speaker.

In a letter sent to members of Democratic leadership, Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, accused Shurtleff of moving the party caucus date to discourage other Democrats from running.

The House Speaker position may open up later this month after Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson announced his intention to apply to be the next Agriculture Commissioner. Should Jasper be accepted to the post, a leadership contest will take place to fill is spot.

Republican and Democratic caucuses to pick Speaker nominees had originally both been scheduled for Nov. 29, with a full House vote to be held Nov. 30. But in his letter Thursday, Cushing said the Democratic leadership had emailed members last week informing them that the Democratic meeting would be move to the 30th – an hour before the full body votes. The Republican party caucus was recently moved a day earlier, to Nov. 28.

Shurtleff, of Penacook, is so far the only Democrat who has declared his intention to run for the post. Six Republicans have announced their candidacies so far.

In his letter, Cushing decried the move, characterizing it as an attempt to sweep aside any Democratic challengers to Shurtleff due to the short notice.

“As a loyal Democrat, it saddens me to realize that while the Republicans are having a robust contest to see who will emerge as the Majority Party’s candidate for Speaker, the incumbent leadership of the Minority Party apparently doesn’t feel the need to, or doesn’t want to, involve rank and file Democrats in the decision about who will be the party’s Speaker candidate and what policies, program and vision that nominee will bring to the contest,” Cushing wrote.

In an interview Thursday, Shurtleff confirmed that the caucus date was moved, adding the change was made to save Democratic House members a day of driving. And he rejected criticism that the move precluded candidates; any Democrat interested in running could still run during the Nov. 30 party caucus or even seek nomination on the House floor during the full session.

Under Democratic party by-laws, Shurtleff argued, he isn’t required to hold a leadership vote mid-way through his two-year term.

“Nothing has really changed on that side of the aisle,” he said. “I’m still the Democratic Leader and still the nominee as long as I’m willing to run.

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