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Jasper narrowly retains seat as N.H. House speaker

  • Incumbent House Speaker Shawn Jasper mingles outside Representatives Hall before Republican House members meet for a closed-door caucus at the State House on Wednesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Republican House members meet to elect their nominee for Speaker during a closed-door caucus at the State House in Concord on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Scene through a window, Republican House members meet to elect their nominee for Speaker during a closed-door caucus at the State House in Concord on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 11/30/2016 5:39:33 PM

New Hampshire House Speaker Shawn Jasper managed to hang onto his seat by a hair.

Jasper of Hudson won the Republican nomination for speaker by just one vote, beating his main challenger, Bedford state Rep. Laurie Sanborn, 109-104 on the second ballot of Wednesday’s Republican caucus. Jasper needed 108 votes to win.

Four candidates initially threw their hats in the ring for the speakership, with Reps. Frank Sapareto of Derry and Carol McGuire of Epsom also running.

“All of our speaker elections in recent years have been very, very narrow,” Jasper said after the final vote was in. “I don’t think it says too much.”

Jasper told reporters he thought the bipartisan vote to reauthorize Medicaid expansion hurt his chances with his own caucus.

“On the other hand, I don’t think there was anybody who two years ago thought I had a chance of being nominated by my party to be speaker (for) a second term,” he told reporters.

Jasper addressed his work to reauthorize Medicaid expansion in a speech to the GOP caucus, telling members he thought the health insurance program was “financially unsustainable” and looked forward to potentially major changes to it coming from a Donald Trump administration.

“I believe that beginning a process of throwing 50,000 people off insurance rolls during an election year would have cost us the House,” he told members during his speech. “We can never know if I was right or not, but here we are with the majority.”

Jasper told reporters that while he recognized his party is still fractured, he hoped to move forward and work united with all Republicans during the upcoming legislative session.

“I think we’d all like to move beyond the issues of the past,” he said. “We’re not going to have that caucus down the street, which will be a big help. . . . I’m certainly going to be working with the people who were not in favor of me being re-elected.”

Jasper was referring to a past Republican caucus led by former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, which bitterly opposed Jasper’s ascension to the speakership two years ago.

Sanborn told reporters that while she was “a little disappointed” with her loss, she was ready to focus on the Legislature’s work.

All candidates for speaker committed not to oppose whoever the Republican caucus nominee was and Sanborn said she had no plans to challenge that.

Though she expressed doubts about Jasper’s leadership in her speech to GOP caucus members, Sanborn said she would give the speaker the “benefit of the doubt.”

“I’m going to be very optimistic that he’s going to lead Republicans in a way that is respectful, and I hope we can return to our core values,” she said.

Jasper won 106 votes on the first ballot, while Sanborn claimed 102 votes. McGuire dropped out before voting started, urging her supporters to vote for Sanborn.

Goffstown state Rep. John Burt was one of Sanborn’s vocal supporters, nominating her during the caucus.

Burt said he believed Sanborn would fight for conservative principles and policy and added that he wanted to see strong legislation that “doesn’t get watered down” with amendments.

“He won’t bring us back together,” Burt said of Jasper. “He keeps the division, and that’s that. I’m hoping whatever happens, we can get together.”

Incoming Republican governor Chris Sununu addressed the caucus before voting started, telling them that whoever they chose for speaker, they had a unique opportunity to make change in New Hampshire.

Republicans hold majorities in the state House, Senate and Executive Council this term.

“We have one shot to do it right,” Sununu said. “The only way we will do it is if we work together as a team.”

Now that Republicans have chosen a nominee, the full House will vote on a speaker next week. Republicans control the chamber.

“We are in the driver’s seat,” Sununu said. “It’s a good place to be.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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