Push For O'Brien As Majority Leader Rejected; O'Brien To Form Alternative GOP Leadership Team

Jan 7, 2015

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

The New Hampshire House rejected an effort by backers of former Republican Speaker Bill O'Brien to install him as House majority leader. But O’Brien says he’s still moving forward with plans to form his own leadership team.

Backers of O’Brien knew they faced long odds in trying to get a House majority to reject the course it set just last month when members chose Shawn Jasper as speaker,  but that didn’t stop them.

Steve Stepanek of Amherst told colleagues the very future of the house depended on ensuring that caucuses -not any speaker - get final say on who should lead.

“This House has set a new, and I believe a very dangerous precedent, where the will of the minority or majority caucus no longer matters,” Stepanek said.

Those on the other side of this fight said it's time to move on.

“This is distracting from the job we need to do. We need to stop it. We need to stop it now. You can't have two majority leaders. It's ludricrous.”

'This House has set a new, and I believe a very dangerous precedent, where the will of the minority or majority caucus no longer matters.' - Rep. Steve Stepanek of Amherst

Sherman Packard of Londonderry led House Republicans from 2006-2010. He told the House that efforts by conservatives to paint Jasper - who claimed the speaker's gavel with mostly Democratic support - as a toady to the minority party, were absurd.

“We have a speaker who is a Republican speaker, he’s appointed Republican chairmen and Republican vice-chairmen, and Republicans to all the offices in the Speaker's and the majority office. And we are going to put forth a Republican agenda.”

The ruled change sought by O’Brien was voted down 260-130, but after the session was over, O’Brien seemed anything but defeated.

“You know the people of New Hampshire ought to be congratulated for winning the vote on transparency in government.”

O’Brien was referring to the House’s move to table a rule proposed by Speaker Jasper that would have increased the threshold for forcing a roll call vote. O’Brien was also upbeat in describing his plans for launching an alternative GOP leadership team.

O'Brien talks with Rep. Dick Hinch of Merrimack on the legislature's Organization Day before the final vote that elected Shawn Jasper as Speaker.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

"I’ve appointed Representative Stepanek as the deputy Republican leader. I’ve appointed Representative Tucker as floor leader for the Republican majority caucus. We are going to have training and mentoring programs going together.

"We will have an office likely across the street from the Statehouse.  We are going to fulfill our promise the people of New Hampshire that there will be a Republican presence in the New Hampshire House."

Speaker Jasper, for his part, says he’d rather not have to contend with this, but O’Brien is going to do what he wants.

"It’s just, it's unfortunate that he decides to proceed that way. You know, it is what it is but it has no effect on the operation of the House."

That, of course, remains to be seen, as does how this fight affects the state Republican party. The N.H. GOP’s executive committee has voted to censure Jasper for challenging O’Brien after he was the caucuses' nominee. O’Brien told reporters that wont be the end of it.

"The party is going to be taking further steps at the convention on this Saturday to recognize that that choice on his part was wrong to strengthen the Republican caucus in the House."

But not everyone sees it that way.

'I just hope that we can at least on the major issues still get Republicans to vote for things that we think are Republican ideals, and that's about it I guess.' - Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler

Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett has served more than twenty years in Concord, including a stint as speaker. Jasper appointed him Deputy Speaker.

O’Brien had tapped Chandler to be speaker pro-tem prior to Jasper’s upset win. Chandler remains well-liked across the Republican caucus, and he says the current situation is bad for everyone.

"I can't see a positive coming from it in my opinion, but nonetheless I just hope that we can at least on the major issues still get Republicans to vote for things that we think are Republican ideals, and that’s about it I guess."

Committee work in the New Hampshire House begins in earnest later this month. Bill O'Brien says his leadership team will have policy point people in every committee.