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Chandler wins GOP caucus vote for House Speaker

State House Bureau

November 28. 2017 5:11PM
Deputy House Speaker Gene Chandler emerges from Representatives Hall as the Republican nominee to replace Shawn Jasper as Speaker for the remainder of the current legislative session. The full House votes on Thursday. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

House Republican Speaker candidate Gene Chandler now serves as Deputy Speaker. (Dave Solomon / Union Leader)

CONCORD — Deputy Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, won the support of the Republican caucus in the State House to serve as Speaker of the House through the end of 2018.

In choosing Chandler over several other contenders, House Republicans in Tuesday voting decided to stay the course for the rest of the session, which started with Hudson Republican Shawn Jasper wielding the gavel in January.

Chandler said the vote signaled a desire for stability after a tumultuous three years. Chandler's closest challenger, Bedford state Rep. Laurie Sanborn, called for a unanimous voice vote in support of his nomination after the second round of balloting.

"It shows the Republicans want to move ahead united, and we don't have to point out to anyone that hasn't always been the case over the last two years or so," Chandler said after the vote. "I think I have an ability to do that and have been successful at that in the past. A lot of people recognized that. I think people were looking for a smooth transition."

Sanborn came close on the first ballot, with 70 votes to Chandler's 93. Chandler prevailed on a second ballot, 116-80.

"Our team put up a really great showing," Sanborn said. "We worked really hard, and made many connections with the members of our House. We didn't prevail today but we might try again; we'll see. It's just too early to tell."

The election of a new House Speaker was triggered when Jasper stepped down after being recruited by Gov. Chris Sununu to serve as Agriculture Commissioner, setting the stage for a rare change of speakers in mid-session, something that hasn't happened since the 1950s, according to House Communications Director Jim Rivers.

Sanborn, now in her fourth term, came within five votes of winning the speakership when she ran against Jasper in 2016. Had she won on Tuesday, she would be a likely contender to run again after the election of November 2018.

Chandler, on the other hand, said he would fill out the rest of Jasper's term, and not seek reelection to the speakership for the 2019-20 session. He also promised to retain the leadership team now in place, including key committee chairmanships.

Sanborn is a leader of the conservative House Republican Alliance. The close vote in her 2016 race against Jasper reflected deep divisions in the party stemming from the fact that Jasper was first elected Speaker in 2014 with the support of a handful of Republicans and all Democrats.

In April, Jasper determined that the House Republican Alliance was a "lobbying/advocacy organization" and not a caucus of House Republicans.

Chandler said he would reach out to House members who felt marginalized in the Jasper administration.

"Any of those groups made up of legislators will have a place to meet on campus and I've pledged to bring some of those folks on to the leadership team," he said.

Jasper signaled his support for Chandler early in the process, and Chandler's victory suggests Republicans are moving on from the fallout of the 2014 speaker battle, when Jasper's alliance with Democrats took the speakership away from Republican nominee Bill O'Brien.

In addition to Chandler and Sanborn, other declared candidates for Speaker were Reps. John Burt of Goffstown, Steven Smith of Charlestown and Al Baldasaro of Londonderry.

Rep. Jim McConnell of North Swanzey is a declared candidate, but chose to bypass the GOP caucus voting and have his name placed in nomination when the full House meets on Thursday.

The Democrats are scheduled to caucus on Thursday morning, just before the full House convenes to vote for Speaker.

The most likely Democratic candidate for Speaker, House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff of Concord, is not expected to win since the GOP holds a majority of seats, with 219 Republicans, 171 Democrats, three Libertarians and seven vacancies in the 400-member House.

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