Jul 1, 2015 11:00 AM
NH1 News Political Report: July 2, 2015 - The must-read, weekly NH political tip sheet
By all appearances, House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, had a pretty calm, final regular business meeting of the 2015 legislative session.
Not so fast.
As The New Hampshire Political Report learned, former Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, led an insurrection and made a bold play for more power - to no avail.
It began last Wednesday in the Senate President Chuck Morse's conference room where GOP legislative leaders were gathered for a new conference to promote the soon-to-be-vetoed state budget and their continuing resolution plan to prevent a government shutdown.
During the event, there was a very quiet knock on the closed door. Senate Chief of Staff Kristy Merrill quickly responded and found O'Brien in the hallway. Merrill told O'Brien that it was a private event and he quietly left.
After the session, House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, became Jasper's emissary and huddled privately with O'Brien on the matter. Kurk had some street cred with O'Brien having told him that he supported O'Brien's bid for speaker against Jasper who took the gavel with only a few dozen Republican votes.
O'Brien told Kurk he wasn't going to support the continuing resolution to keep government open and instead wanted the House to wait a week to increase its leverage and try to convince Gov. Maggie Hassan to reconsider her veto.
Jasper and Senate GOP leaders had already decided that strategy had political and logistical problems. Many House members already had July 4 week plans so getting a full attendance for a House session this week was going to be difficult.
Further, they were convinced Hassan meant what she had threatened and no amount of time out was going to change things.
Ultimately, 70 other Republicans went with O'Brien and opposed introducing the continuing resolution into the House. Once it was clear they were outnumbered, the mavericks relented, opposing a Democratic alternative to spend even more money during the interim.
The continuing resolution passed the House on a voice vote with only a small smattering of no's heard in the chamber.
O'Brien and Jasper did talk directly and the ex-speaker told the new boss that he'd only go along with letting the resolution in if his GOP conservative caucus could get another seat on the all-important House Finance Committee.
Jasper turned the demand down noting the panel already included several who had voted with O'Brien throughout the session including State Reps. Dan McGuire, R-Epsom, Timothy Twombly, R-Nashua and Frank Edelblut, R-Wilton.
Come next year, Jasper won't apparetly have to be looking over his shoulder at O'Brien coming after him to take the speaker's gavel away in 2016.
During an appearance on the Granite Grok blog earlier this month, O'Brien said he did not intend to seek re-election to a sixth term for his Hillsborough County seat.
"10 years is long enough," O'Brien said alluding to many veteran legislators who've stayed on much longer than that. To no one's surprise, the poster child he chose to make his point is one Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who narrowly lost to O'Brien in the GOP caucus for speaker last November.
A short time after Jasper won his stunning victory, Chandler called for GOP unity to prevail. In turn, Jasper made Chandler deputy speaker and gave him back his long-time chairmanship of the House Public Works and Highways Committee.
O'Brien's political future is by no means a shock. He dropped out of his run for Congress in 2014 due to the pressing demands of the US operations of a German-owned, software security company.
Fellow conservatives talked O'Brien into making another run for his House seat. Not too long after O'Brien lost to Jasper, he confirmed his plans to purchase the American operation of the company from the parent.
Despite the work commitment, O'Brien managed to keep a better than respectable voting record in the House this year.
While O'Brien will not go out on top, he will leave movement legislative leaders from either major party in modern New Hampshire history.
This year reversed the old paradigm of many a lobbyist and savvy lawmaker.
In the odd-numbered year, the best way to get something done-especially if it's controversial-is through the state budget.
That's why this year there were more than 220 sections of House Bill 2, the trailer bill that makes all changes in state law to carry out the plan.
The goodies in that one are too many to count, select pay raises, turf control for certain state department heads and a variety of benefits for elected officials and units of government including seats on the University System Board of Trustees for Jasper and Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem.
But as all know by now, this is anything but a typical year.
And Morse made it clear last week that if state revenues don't robustly recover and/or the state ends up with a smaller-than-expected budget surplus on June 30 than lawmakers should open up the entire $11.3 billion spending plan.
Meanwhile, the big winners are those who pressed onward with their own separate legislation. The Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence is one of the best examples.
Critics insisted that the hike in the marriage license and a first-time fine domestic abusers have to pay upon conviction was not going into the budget bill.
Now they're sitting pretty with a law passed that Hassan will inevitably sign.
Not so fortunate for Planet Fitness and the big business lobbying arm for its tax break (HB 550).
Because it came in so late, Morse and Jasper agreed the lucrative benefit for limited liability companies and partnerships should stand alone.
It's all up to Hassan to stop it if she chooses to. A veto would absolutely be sustained by Democrats in the House and Senate.
Hassan has been critical of the way the legislation became law but praised Planet Fitness as a good employer in New Hampshire and not yet used the "V" word.
In many respects, politically this is a freebie for Hassan. She's already under withering attack from Republicans for her opposition to the broader tax cuts on the state's two main business levies.
Therefore she can use process to cross it off the books and call for more study of the complex tax change or she could choose to mollify businesses that want the tax cuts by allowing it to become law with or without her signature.
Anchor/Investigative Reporter Paul Mueller's story Tuesday night points out how toothless the state law on breastfeeding in public really is.
Kate Frederick, the Intervale woman who was fired from her state job over breastfeeding and is suing in federal court, said the law outlaws discrimination but is unenforceable.
"All a business owner has to do now is revoke the public invitation for someone to shop in the store because she is breastfeeding. Then that person has to go to the Human Rights Commission that can take months to render a decision making the entire complaint moot," Frederick said.
That's why she pursued state legislation NH1 News followed closely this year that strengthened the law including civil penalties against a business that violates.
The Senate unanimously approved the bill but the House Commerce Committee voted to retain it. That means it will return for an up or down vote early next year.
With the 2016 election now less than a year and a half away, the inside jockeying for positions on the ballot is already underway.
Some musings on the GOP front in particular are contingent on Hassan moving on to run for the US Senate against incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte but many of them are not.
Here's just a sampling:
- House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline: He's seriously exploring whether to take on Congresswoman Annie Kuster in the Second District.
- Ex-House Deputy Speaker Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland: She's looking long and hard on whether to join a First Congressional District primary that would include incumbent Frank Guinta and a host of other GOP candidates.
- Rep. Ralph Boehm, R-Litchfield: He's been encouraged and may well seek the State Senate seat now held by Manchester Democratic Sen. Donna Soucy. Ex-Rep. George Lambert, R-Litchfield, did surprisingly well in 2014 with no money and next-to-no GOP establishment backing which encourages GOP leaders that the seat could be winnable next year.