GOP Rep. Jasper mounts successful challenge to O'Brien, will serve as NH House speaker


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CONCORD, New Hampshire — Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper will serve as the next speaker of the New Hampshire House, in a surprise twist Wednesday that brought together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans to defeat former speaker Bill O'Brien, the Republican Party's chosen nominee for the job.

Jasper, an 11-term representative from Hudson, entered the speaker's race after O'Brien failed to secure support from a majority of representatives during the first ballot. Democratic Rep. Steve Shurtleff, the minority leader, also ran for the speakership but withdrew his candidacy after Jasper entered the race. Debate and voting lasted more than seven hours. The speaker controls House proceedings, sets legislative priorities and serves as a public face of the body.

"I am a Republican, and I know many will say I am not," Jasper said when accepting his nomination, referring to criticism from other Republicans that his challenge to O'Brien amounted to betrayal. He promised to appoint only Republicans as committee chairs.

The Senate's leadership election ran more smoothly. Senate President Chuck Morse was re-elected to lead the body, naming Sen. Jeb Bradley as his majority leader and Sen. Sharon Carson as Senate president pro tem.

Jasper's decision to challenge O'Brien reveals a fracture within the Republican caucus, which could make it harder for the party to achieve its legislative goals. Jasper's victory was made possible by support from Democrats; less than half of Republicans supported him. This could make it difficult for Jasper to control the caucus and may slow down House proceedings when the session begins in January.

O'Brien's supporters tried to stop Jasper's challenge by requiring lawmakers to attach their names to their votes, rather than the traditional secret ballot method of voting. But that effort failed, giving Republicans who wanted to support Jasper cover to do so without fear of retaliation if O'Brien won. That type of tactic, in part, is what motivated Jasper to seek the nomination.

"I care about the institution," Jasper told reporters. "I care about people and how people are treated."

In 2004, Republican Doug Scamman became speaker with more support from Democrats than Republicans, but longtime representatives said Wednesday's procedural maneuvering and the length of the debate is unprecedented.

O'Brien, for his part, had told lawmakers he would keep an open door to everyone if re-elected, a commitment that stood in contrast to his tenure as speaker from 2011 to 2012, when Republicans who didn't toe the party line felt ignored or were punished. Democrats effectively painted O'Brien as an extreme, confrontational leader in the 2012 election, when they took back control of the House. Republicans who did not back O'Brien feared a similar fate in 2016.

The House and Senate met in a joint session to re-elect Bill Gardner as secretary of state and Bill Dwyer as state treasurer. The Legislature meets next on Jan. 7.

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