On The Political Front: Republicans Reelect Chair, Budget Battle Looms

Jan 12, 2015

The New Hampshire Statehouse in Concord
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

NHPR’s Josh Rogers joins Rick Ganley Monday mornings to discuss developments on New Hampshire’s political front.

Governor Hassan has begun her second term. Republicans voted Saturday to give Jennifer Horn another turn as party chair. And back to work for lawmakers in Concord. Let’s start with the GOP state committee meeting over the weekend, the re-election of Jennifer Horn. Significant?

Somewhat. Jennifer Horn is the first Republican chairman to last more than two years since the 1990s. And she won reelection without challenge, which is saying something given how fractious the New Hampshire GOP has been, nine different chairs since 2002.

It’s hard to know how much difference any single leader makes. But you can look at the Democrats: Ray Buckley’s now had the job for since 2006 or so, and before him, of course you had Kathy Sullivan for a few years. Most in New Hampshire politics would agree that that continuity has probably helped Democrats. 

State Republican chairwoman Jennifer Horn
Credit Tracy Lee Carroll for NHPR

But another difference between the Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats now pay their party chair, a practice that started at least since Ray Buckley became party chairman. The GOP chairmanship, meanwhile remains a volunteer gig.

Yes, and for the second time Republicans have voted – strongly -- against paying its chairman. This idea has been broached  at the last two state committee meetings and there are honest disagreements among Republicans about the best course.

Some point to the success Democrats have had over the last decade, and say paying a leader makes sense. Others say having a paid party chair simply goes against principle.

In any case, the specific proposal rejected Saturday would have paid the chair 9 percent of gross direct annual fundraising. For Jennifer Horn that would have translated to about $52,000 a year if fundraising remained what it is right now.

I want to ask about another rejected GOP bylaw change. This one inspired by the ongoing battle between republicans in the New Hampshire House. It would have expressly forbidden committee member so take actions to undermine any party nominee – in any race, including at the legislative caucus level.

Yes, and where the fight goes between Bill O’Brien and his backers and House speaker Shawn Jasper remains to be seen. Jasper was censured last month by the GOP’s executive committee for challenging O’Brien, who was the GOP nominee  in the race for House speaker. And plenty of committee members appear to be fine with leaving it at that and moving on. Which isn’t to say there doesn’t  remain a real divide within the New Hampshire House GOP.

The full house last week rejected Bill O’Brien’s effort to be installed as majority leader. But you look at the vote among just the Republican caucus it was basically an even split – 118 of the 237 – GOP house member backed it. And O’Brien is moving ahead with plans to form an alternative leadership team and to rent office space across the street from the Statehouse.

Speaker Jasper called this development unfortunate, but we’ll see what that means when the house gets going voting on bills.  

Bill O'Brien (left) and N.H. House Speaker Shawn Jasper
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Now there are some 800 bills lawmakers will take up, but it’s fair to say the budget will dominate.

Its certainly the most consequential bill - for lawmakers and the governor – but there will certainly be other big bills. But the budget is a steep challenge most years and it’s the same this year.

The legislative budget assistant – our state’s version of the CBO – will brief house lawmakers this week. That should give us a sense of the lay of the land, not just of the next budget, but maybe how much work will be needed to be done to close the gap in the current budget, which could top $50 million.

Governor Hassan, of course, presents her budget a month from now. She didn’t tip her hand much in her inaugural address. Her big policy points were moving ahead on commuter rail, raise the minimum wage and preserve the expansion of Medicaid. All of these could be tall orders if you believe Republicans, but inaugural addresses aren’t where you tend to get details. And we’re not even quite done with the inaugural balls yet.

One story you reported last week, was that donations to pay for inaugural balls aren’t required to be made public.   

Related: Hassan's Inaugural Donors List Will Be Made Available, Bradley Calls For Mandatory Disclosure

Yes, some states do have disclosure laws and limits on donations – Massachusetts for instance, requires disclosure – but New Hampshire and many others have no limits and no requirement to disclose.

Governor John Lynch, whose inaugural committee had overlapping membership with Governor Hassan’s, took the step of filing voluntary reports with the state. Governor Hassan’s committee chose not to do so in after her first inauguration, and won’t this year either. But last week it did say it will make information available to the press. 

NHPR's Senior Political reporter Josh Rogers tweets as @joshrogersNHPR
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

As of Friday, it had raised some  $200,000 – not a huge amount given that they were hitting people up for as much as $50,000— and much of what it has collected came from companies and lobbying firms with business before the state.

The two biggest donations -- $25,000 a piece, were made by PSNH and the Gallagher, Callahan and Gartrell law firm. Senate Majority leader Jeb Bradley said last week lawmakers ought to pass a law to require full disclosure of all inaugural donations. We'll see if that goes anywhere.