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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Letter reveals rift among House Dems

November 04. 2017 7:57PM

Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, left, in his sixth term, is upset over what he considers a virtual coronation of Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, as Democratic candidate for speaker, without an opportunity for any opposition to come forward. 

While Republicans called for unity at a forum for speaker candidates on Thursday, Democrats confronted a rift in their own ranks, in the form of a strongly worded letter from veteran Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.

Cushing, in his sixth term, is upset over what he considers a virtual coronation of Rep. Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, as Democratic candidate for speaker, without an opportunity for any opposition to come forward.

As the incumbent, Shurtleff's position as Democratic leader would not be at issue if not for the fact that Speaker Shawn Jasper has announced his intention to seek the position of agriculture commissioner, at the request of Gov. Chris Sununu.

That leaves the powerful position of House speaker up for grabs in the middle of the two-year session, something that doesn't happen that often.

Shurtleff says he was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as minority leader and speaker candidate for the 2017-18 session, and he still has a year to go. The time to vote for a new Democratic leader comes after the November 2018 elections when a new House is seated, not now, he said.

Cushing doesn't see it that way. The party leadership could have, and should have, scheduled a Democratic caucus to vote for a speaker candidate on Nov. 29, as was originally scheduled, according to the Hampton Democrat.

Instead, Democratic reps got an email that their next caucus had been rescheduled to 9 a.m. on Nov. 30, an hour before the full House will vote on Jasper's replacement (assuming he gets the agriculture job). Republicans will caucus to choose their candidate on Nov. 28.

"As a loyal Democrat, it saddens me to realize that while the Republicans are having a robust contest to see who will emerge as the majority party's candidate for speaker, the incumbent leadership of the minority party apparently doesn't feel the need to, or doesn't want to, involve rank and file Democrats in the decision about who will be the party's speaker candidate and what policies, program and vision that nominee will bring to the contest," writes Cushing.

There's more at stake than the prestige of being speaker, according to Cushing's letter, which lists significant grievances against incumbent Democratic leadership.

"Shawn Jasper was re-elected with unified Republican support, and Republicans were more partisan and dismissive of Democrats than ever before," according to Cushing.

"House Rules and processes were and continue to be violated against the work our members are doing, often without our support to fight back. Some members feel they are left to fight their battles with the speaker and Republican leaders outnumbered and by themselves."

Cushing describes a Democratic caucus in which many feel "opportunities for Democrats to play offense while being on the defense were not always readily recognized and taken advantage of."

Although Cushing had no way of knowing it, his missive coincided with revelations of Hillary Clinton's control of the Democratic Party during the 2016 campaign. No lack of irony there.

Speaker Shawn Jasper has been nominated by Gov. Chris Sununu as New Hampshire's next commissioner of agriculture. (Union Leader File Photo)

Jasper bids farewell

The House convened briefly on Thursday to vote on Gov. Chris Sununu's only veto of the last session - HB 86, a bill that would complicate voting on zoning variances and make them more difficult to obtain. The veto was easily sustained.

The heart of the session was Jasper's farewell speech, suggesting that he has little doubt about being confirmed as commissioner of agriculture, although he joked, "Being an old poultry farmer, I've learned not to count my chickens before they hatch (groans all around).

Jasper urged House members to consider changing rules that allow every bill submitted by a lawmaker to be subject to a hearing and a vote on the House floor.

In other legislatures, the speaker or committee chairs can decide which bills are brought forward, in some cases depending on committee votes.

Jasper suggested the rules be changed to at least require multiple co-sponsors to show some depth of support for a bill's concept.

"Right now you can put in as many bills as you want, without co-sponsors," he said. "Shouldn't you have to find five or six people to support your idea? How much time can we require of the people who serve here?"

It's always fascinating to see the ideas politicians come up with, or the positions they take, when they know they won't be running for re-election.

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