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State GOP candidates for Speaker call for party unity

State House Bureau

November 02. 2017 7:54PM

CONCORD — Candidates for Speaker of the House made their pitch to state representatives on Thursday, in a forum attended primarily by Republicans, with an emphasis on mending a rift in the party between its most conservative and more moderate members.

Some of the candidates expressed an interest in also reaching out to Democrats, although the forum started on a decidedly partisan note.

Candidate John Burt, R-Goffstown, walked out of the forum before it began to protest the presence of Democratic minority leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord.

Shurtleff is the Democratic Party candidate for Speaker, although his election is unlikely given the Republican majority in the House.

Incumbent Speaker Shawn Jasper has announced his intention to seek the position of Commissioner of Agriculture at the request of Gov. Chris Sununu.

A handful of Democratic representatives attended the event.

“I am offended that the minority leader is at this debate,” said Burt, interrupting the moderator during his introduction. “We have a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican governor and council, and this is not how I am going to run the House when I am elected speaker. Thank you and have a good day.”

With that, he walked away to a smattering of boos and some applause.

That left the stage in the Holiday Inn function room to Shurtleff and the other confirmed candidates: Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry; Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett; Rep. Jim McConnell, R-Swanzey; Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, and Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown.

Several of them used their opening remarks to call for party unity, after a session in which a minority of Republicans, primarily from the conservative Freedom Caucus, blocked passage of the two-year state budget proposed by the Republican-dominated House Finance Committee.

“My main goal is bringing the Republican caucus together,” said Chandler, a former speaker. “I think I have a proven track record over the years of being able to do that. I am willing to listen to anyone at any time.”

If elected, Chandler said he would allow meeting space at the State House for all factions, and pledged to appoint some members of the Freedom Caucus to the leadership team “in an effort to become more inclusive.”

“Are we going to agree on everything all the time?” he said. “No. But if we don’t have the discussion, we’re not going to agree on anything.”

Sanborn sounded a similar theme. “What we need to change is how we treat people and what we get accomplished,” she said. “This is about the 2018 election. How confident are we as Republicans that we will be in the majority if we don’t achieve change. The voters want to see us come together to solve problems.”

Baldasaro, one of the most conservative House members, alluded to Burt’s protest in his comments. “Together everyone achieves more,” he said. “It’s the job of Speaker to work with the Democrats. It’s not our job to push them aside. Even though I am a Republican, I understand the need to bring everyone back together.”

McConnell, a vocal critic of the budget proposed by House leadership in the last session, agreed: “I’ll make sure that everyone is represented, not just Republicans,” he said.

More collegiality is essential if the party is to going to attract more young people to serve, said Smith. ” I don’t want young people to avoid getting involved in the Legislature because they are tired of the same old stuff,” he said. “I go to too many meetings where at 53 I am the youngest guy in the room.”

All five Republicans were mostly in agreement when questioned by a panel on the major issues facing the Legislature.

They all disapprove of Medicaid expansion, at least in its current form, and ratepayer subsidies for renewable energy. They all approve of taxpayer-funded scholarships for private school or home-schooled students and new election laws that require stronger proof of residency.

Assuming Jasper gets confirmed by the Executive Council as Commissioner of Agriculture, the House is scheduled to meet in session on Nov. 30 to elect a new Speaker.

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