Same Old Statehouse: NH House Votes Former Speaker Back In
Photo courtesy - NH House Republicans, Twitter
CONCORD (AP) — Gene Chandler was elected speaker of the New Hampshire House for a third time on Thursday after two rounds of voting to replace fellow Republican Shawn Jasper halfway through the two-year legislative session.
Jasper, who had served as speaker since 2014 with Chandler as his deputy, resigned Thursday after being confirmed as the state's next commissioner of agriculture. Chandler, who is in his 18th term representing Bartlett, previously served as speaker from 2001 to 2004 but withdrew from the speaker's race in 2004 over allegations he failed to disclose cash gifts from lobbyists and others.
Chandler assured members that he would work with all of them regardless of party or ideology. "Unfortunately, things that are partisan issues that come up get most of the attention, and I understand that," he said. "That's still gonna happen. But the one thing I can assure all of you is ... I will treat every member of this House with dignity and respect they deserve as a member of this great institution."
Though Chandler was endorsed by the four other Republicans who sought the job, it took two rounds of voting for him to defeat Democrat Steve Shurtleff, of Concord, and the Libertarian nominee, Republican Jim McConnell, of Swanzey. The final vote was 192 for Chandler, 152 for Shurtleff and 11 for McConnell.
In the first round, more than a dozen votes were cast for former Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican who died in March and was known for his colorful floor speeches. That drew criticism from House Clerk Paul Smith, who noted that while Vaillancourt sometimes took part in "shenanigans," he would not have done so during a vote.
Shurtleff said he would've left Republicans in place as committee chairs had he been elected but had hoped to bring a more bipartisan tone to the House."As speaker, whether you're Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, progressive, moderate or conservative, everyone would have an equal voice," he said.
Chandler's supporters said he would be a unifying presence. "Finally we have an opportunity to bring this House together," said Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, who had sought the Republican nomination. "Finally we have an opportunity to all get along to do the people's work."
The New Hampshire Democratic Party didn't feel as unified.
Chair Ray Buckley issued a statement calling Chandler a "scandalous, disgraced former Speaker".
"Gene Chandler is famous for a scandalous run as New Hampshire Speaker from 2001 to 2004, ending in an expulsion recommendation and the longest run of Democratic governors in the state since before the Civil War. People who know Chandler remember him for his corruption lawsuit, illegal cash gifts from lobbyists, pocketing fundraising money for personal use and looking the other way on sexual harassment. With nowhere else to turn, Republicans ignored Chandler's shameful history just like they did when they held their nose to cast a vote for Donald Trump. Electing Chandler as Speaker isn't just bad for New Hampshire, it spells a bad 2018 for Governor Sununu and New Hampshire Republicans across the state."
Governor Chris Sununu tweeted his congratulations to the new speaker.
Congratulations to the new Speaker of the @NHHouseofReps, Rep. Gene Chandler. I look forward to working with @speakerchandler in the upcoming legislation session and over the course of the next year, so we can continue to make NH the best place to live, work, and raise a family.— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) November 30, 2017
The legislative session starts in January. Republicans control the House, the Senate and the governor's office.
Laura Montenegro contributed to this report.