By John Celock
A coalition of Democrats and Republicans pulled off an upset in New Hampshire Wednesday, defeating the Republican nominee for state House speaker in the GOP-dominated body.
Following a day of procedural and partisan wrangling, lawmakers narrowly elected state Rep. Shawn Jasper (R-Hudson) who defeated Rep. William O’Brien (R-Mont Vernon) by 195-178 on the third ballot, almost nine hours after lawmakers gaveled in. The move was a rejection of O’Brien, a former state House speaker, who had won the GOP caucus backing for a return to the speakership last month. Jasper had only publicly announced his floor challenge to O’Brien this week. House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) withdrew his candidacy for speaker after the first ballot.
The vote is a rebuke of O’Brien’s previous leadership of the House from 2010 to 2012, when he was known for leading a tea party aligned legislative body and moves that included clearing the gallery during debate. O’Brien backers had stressed during Wednesday’s session that he would be “inclusive” if reelected.
O’Brien had tried a series of maneuvers earlier in the Wednesday session in an attempt to force a public roll call in the speaker’s race, instead of the traditional secret ballot. His supporters had said that it would allow for the public to know how legislators voted, while opponents accused O’Brien of wanting to force lawmakers to take a public stand between him and Jasper. The motion was defeated by the House.
O’Brien had defeated Rep. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), a former speaker, in the November GOP caucus and had been expected to reclaim the gavel on the first ballot. Following the first ballot, Jasper and supporters had to fend off a battle from O’Brien supporters to prevent a reopening of nominations. After getting on the ballot, Jasper gained support from Democrats and Shurtleff in an attempt to form a coalition.
Prior to the second ballot, O’Brien supporters succeeded in getting a recess to allow for a caucus. Tweets from those in the Statehouse indicated that New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn addressed the GOP caucus in an attempt to rally votes to O’Brien.
During a floor speech following the caucus, Jasper said the meeting resulted in Republicans yelling at him for challenging O’Brien.
Jasper fell one vote shy of the necessary majority on the second ballot, leading O’Brien 190 to 187, forcing a third ballot. House Clerk Karen Wadsworth, who was chairing the organizational meeting, did not indicate who three write-in votes were cast for. Jasper pulled off the final win on the third ballot.
The bizarre situation unfolded in both person and on social media, with observers of New Hampshire politics watching the scene unfold from the Statehouse. With the speaker election drawing out to the late afternoon, Twitter became home to several debates over alternative candidates for speaker, including Wadsworth.
O’Brien had been known for a heavy hand during his speakership, including clearing the gallery during a 2011 state budget debate when union leaders began to protest. In 2012, a moderate GOP lawmaker gave O’Brien a Nazi salute on the House floor when O’Brien prevented him from discussing material opposing voter identification that had been discussed in the House Election Law Committee.
During a nomination speech on Wednesday, O’Brien did not reference his past speakership, instead focusing on economic issues.
“We share this desire to recapture this economic jewel of the northeast that New Hampshire used to be,” O’Brien said. “People in New Hampshire are working hard and are falling further and further behind. The reason is they are not getting the raises.”
Jasper ascends to the speakership with most of the majority party opposed to his speakership and the deal with Democrats that led to his upset victory.