After this month’s elections, Republicans will maintain control of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Now House lawmakers must decide who will lead the 400-member chamber come January. The current Speaker Shawn Jasper is hoping to keep his gavel but he faces some challengers within his own party.
When Jasper won the speakership two years ago, infighting within the Republican caucus meant he had to rely on the support of Democratic House members. That deal left a mark on his tenure for many conservative members in his caucus who said he put his own ambition ahead of party unity.
“I’m a good Republican and people know me as that and they want a real Republican running as the Republican speaker and I have six years of voting records to show where I am on those issues," said Laurie Sanborn, a three-term Representative from Bedford and one of three Republicans challenging Jasper.
Sanborn co-owns the bar The Draft in Concord with her husband State Sen. Andy Sanborn. If elected she says cutting business regulation and taxes would be a top priority for her.
Another candidate for Speaker, Rep. Carol McGuire of Epsom also casts herself as a pure Republican – a strong backer of the 2nd Amendment, anti-abortion and pro-business.
“I work very hard and I’m able to fold up myself into it full time – I don’t have to have a job or a business, which I’m very lucky that way, so I can spend as much time as the job needs,” McGuire said.
Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry is the final member of the four-way GOP speaker battle. He’s selling himself as the outsider in the race.
Sapareto, who’s served seven terms in the House and one in the Senate, was an early supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential bid.
“I think that people want a change from current establishment," Sapareto said. "I’ve never been a part of any leadership team or held any committee chairs or owed any favors from any of the previous powers that ran the House, and I have no political baggage that would determine committee assignments at all.”
That baggage – Jasper’s record as House leader for the past two years - is at the heart of this year’s contest for speaker.
Besides lingering grudges from how Jasper secured the speakership in the first place, many of his opponents argue Jasper never fully backed a traditional Republican agenda.
His opponents often refer to one key example: Jasper’s tie-breaking vote on the state’s Medicaid expansion program. A Republican-backed proposal would have made the program’s expansion contingent on a set of work requirements for participants. But Jasper’s vote killed that plan when he backed a Democratic amendment overriding that – a move that’s rare for past speakers.
Jasper stands by that decision saying it saved taxpayer dollars while also giving thousands of Granite Staters access to healthcare.
He also points to cuts to the state’s business taxes and passing a balanced budget with no new taxes or fees, as Republican successes under his leadership. But being Speaker, he says, means making compromises when you have to.
“I think you have to be realistic, if Shawn Jasper was king of the world, it would be a much more conservative world but I’m not king of the world and I’m not king of the legislature – I have to find the solutions that can pass,” Jasper said.
Jasper says he’ll support whichever Republican wins the caucus vote next week.
One person who’s hoping Jasper emerges with a victory is Rep. Steve Shurtleff, the House’s Democratic leader. He says Jasper’s opponents would have a hard time bridging the House's partisan divide.
“I have concerns that they’ll bring the caucus and the chamber too far to the right and I think the people of NH are somewhere in the center – they are to the left on some things to the right on others but pretty much that pendulum stays in the middle," Shurtleff said. "I have some fears that with some of the far-right people we are going to see a lot of bills that are detrimental to the state.”
Although Jasper is confident he’ll maintain the gavel – it’s really hard to predict. Votes are cast by secret ballot so counting the numbers isn’t always accurate. And based off the past speaker’s race – one can’t take anything for granted.