Rift among GOP lawmakers widens in wake of budget meltdown
CONCORD — Members of the House Republican Alliance, which played a major role in the defeat of the House Finance Committee budget proposal last week, claim they have been denied the right to meet in the State House by Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, in retribution for their budget opposition.
House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff, acting at Jasper’s direction, sent the three co-chairs of the HRA a letter on Wednesday, informing the organization that “activities in the State House Complex are hereby suspended,” citing the organization’s failure to produce bylaws.
The HRA has been around for 20 years and is the longest-running and largest special-interest caucus in the House, distinct from the general gathering of all Republicans or Democrats, known as the Republican Caucus or the Democratic Caucus.
The HRA claims to represent the “core values of the state Republican platform and fiscal responsibility.” Its highly conservative vote recommendations are handed out in the House chamber on what is known as the “pink sheet.”
That pink sheet will now have to be distributed outside the chamber, in the State House hallways.
“I want to stress that this subject is not new,” Pfaff wrote. “Our concerns and the lack of bylaws and transparency within your organization have also been discussed with previous HRA chairs.”
The three co-chairs of the HRA, state representatives James Spillane, Glenn Cordelli and Laurie Sanborn, issued a statement on Thursday condemning Jasper’s decision, which is one of his prerogatives as House Speaker.
“Once again Speaker Jasper looks to silence the conservative caucus of the State House,” they wrote. “The Speaker is pathetically trying to provide himself with political cover after failing to pass a budget, something that hasn’t happened in New Hampshire since 1969.”
They called the move “over the top and a complete breakdown of the right to free speech and discourse.”
Jasper said his decision was based on his belief that the HRA has morphed from a caucus of conservative elected Republican representatives into a lobbying organization whose membership may not be limited to elected representatives. “Without bylaws, we just don’t know,” he said.
He further maintained that the positions recommended by the HRA in the pink sheet do not always reflect votes taken at membership meetings, but rather the views of HRA leadership.
“If you want to have a lobbying organization, it’s your right to do so,” he said. “But you can’t use the State House for your meetings.”
Jasper acknowledges that other special interest caucuses make use of State House meeting rooms without having produced bylaws, but said those groups do not issue printed voting recommendations for all members at each session.
The independent New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, another conservative faction, issues its recommendations on a “gold sheet” in the hallways, and does not use State House meeting rooms, he pointed out.
“They talk about transparency, but there is nothing transparent about the way the HRA does business,” Jasper said. “I do not care who is a member of the HRA. I want people to know how you become a member, how you stay a member and how the decisions are made.”