Jasper Reflects on Legacy, Prepares to Lead N.H. Ag

Nov 27, 2017

House Speaker Shawn Jasper as he packs up his Statehouse office. He was just confirmed as N.H. Agriculture commissioner.
Credit Peter Biello/NHPR

  House Speaker Shawn Jasper spent some time this afternoon in his office on the third floor of the Statehouse filling a box with stuff. All Things Considered host Peter Biello caught up with Jasper as he packed up.

NHPR: What's in the box? What are you taking home?

Jasper: Papers. Cards. You know, a Gavel in there. Just a lot of personal stuff that I'm taking home that I'll sort through later. 

NHPR: He's got, among other things, a placard, bearing the words, Rep. Shawn Jasper. And as of Thursday, he will no longer be a representative or Speaker of the House. He will be the state's newest Agriculture commissioner, which is why he's taking his political stuff home and his agricultural related stuff to his new office, like, for example, the egg scale on his desk.

Jasper: I call that my 'scales of justice' here.

NHPR: On the scale rests a wooden egg, which was a gift he received for being part of a political forum at Saint Anselm College. Jasper once owned Jasper's Poultry Farm. But these days he's not actively involved in farming. This was a sticking point last week. One executive councilor, Joseph Kenney, in voting against his nomination, said he preferred someone who was a farmer. But Jasper says you don't need to be a farmer to run the Ag Department. 

Shawn Jasper becomes only the seventh commissioner in the 104-year history of the N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food.

Jasper: If you are a farmer, typically you're going to have one commodity that you're focused on. That probably isn't the best position to have a commissioner be in. Because I'm no longer actively farming, I've taken a broader view and wider interest in agriculture, and so I think that gives me the opportunity to really look at what's going out there in the industry as a whole, and not just be focused on cows, or chickens, or apples, or vegetables.

NHPR: In his new job as Agriculture commissioner, Jasper says he doesn't really have an agenda. Although he says he is concerned about the aging population of farmers in New Hampshire. He says he's going to keep a close eye on any legislation that has to do with agriculture. So what's it like to make a turn like this - to give up a job like Speaker of the House and try something new?

Jasper: Well, it's a new challenge. I'm going to hate to leave this office. I actually think this is the nicest office in the Statehouse. I'll only be the seventh commissioner of Agriculture in the 104-year history of the department. So it's not like this would be an opportunity that would likely ever come around again in my lifetime. Sometimes you just have to take the chance and move on. And so, it's a little bittersweet.

NHPR: There's going to be an election later this week to pick the new Speaker of the House. Who do you think that should be?

Jasper: Well, I made my choice clear at the beginning of this process and since then I'm just keeping my mouth shut. The House will do what the House does and doesn't need me to be weighing in on that at this time.

NHPR: Can I ask what qualities you think a good House Speaker should have?

Jasper: I think they need to have some real experience in leadership in the House. I can tell you that although I've been here 10 terms before I was elected the first time, it is impossible to really understand what you don't know until you step into the job. It's a lot more challenging than most people understand.

NHPR: What would you say is the accomplishment you're most proud of as Speaker?

Jasper: I think we did a good job of bringing decorum back to the House and to the committee process, probably more so in the committee process than anything else. Overall, the decorum of the entire House has improved, and I'm very proud of that. I hope that carries on. Beyond that, the physical building and the grounds. We've made some good improvements there, worked very hard, you know, polish the door knobs, it's the little things that sometimes people don't think about, but when you're walking through the building and you see dull brass and you see plaques aren't polished, and you see the light bulbs out - it looks like nobody cares. I think the building looks a lot better than it did when I came in as Speaker.