Despite losing their majority in the New Hampshire House, there’s no shortage of Republicans anxious to serve as minority leader when lawmakers reconvene in January.
Incumbent Republican Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem was chosen as Senate minority leader soon after the November election, but there is still some suspense surrounding Republican leadership in the House.
As the newly elected Republican reps met for their first post-election caucus last Tuesday, their would-be leaders were greeting the newcomers and welcoming back the veterans in preparation for voting on Thursday, Nov. 29.
With at least five names in the running, it could easily take more than one round of voting to determine who will serve as the voice of the Republican caucus for the next two years.
The heir apparent is Merrimack Rep. Dick Hinch, the incumbent majority leader who was just elected to his sixth term. Hinch was chosen for the GOP leadership position by House Speaker Shawn Jasper in 2015 to replace Rep. Jack Flanagan, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress. Hinch continued in the position under Speaker Gene Chandler through 2018.
Hinch says his experience and temperament are well-suited to the task, especially since he has served in the minority in the past.
“I’ve been there twice,” he says, “and you have to set different expectations for that compared to when you are in the majority. We know there will be an emphasis by the Democrats on overturning many of the Republican agenda items we’ve been successful in passing over the past four years, and the proof of that is in the bills they’ve already submitted.”
The power of the minority with a Republican governor, says Hinch, is to stay united and sustain the likely vetoes coming from Gov. Chris Sununu.
“The governor should and will have our support and he is the Republican leader for the state, so we’re going to be enthusiastically supporting him,” said Hinch
Goffstown Rep. Barbara Griffin, who led the charge on election law in the House over the past two years, says her experience as an attorney and her reputation as someone who “runs a tight ship” bode well for her candidacy.
“We all bring a different style to the office,” she said. “I tend to think more long term and am very concerned about the policies and laws as they affect us not just today but tomorrow.”
Charlestown Rep. Steve Smith, who’s led the Transportation Committee, says he would focus on attendance, among other things.
“The leadership I would bring is to inspire them to be here,” he said. “One of the biggest problems we have is attendance. We are all volunteers. I’ve seen the Democrats have already submitted bills to increase our pay and make it easier to be here. That’s nice, but I did this despite a full-time job for my first four terms.”
Smith views the minority leader’s job as more facilitator than policymaker. “The caucus will express its will and it’s the leader’s job to get that done,” he said.
“I’m running because I am the best guy for the job. I am creative and have broad appeal to the various factions. Regardless of ideology, there are enough members of the House who know when I say I’m going to do something the odds don’t matter. I get it done.”
Perhaps the most colorful of the candidates is the outspoken Al Baldasaro, a vocal and early supporter of President Donald Trump.
“Hinch is more of a moderate than I am,” said the Marine veteran. “I am a more outspoken, take the hill, kick in the door, make things happen kind of guy.” Baldasaro cites “the lessons learned from Donald Trump.”
“He’s outspoken and controversial, but people want that,” he said. “If you don’t want to stand up for what’s right, why are you up here? I don’t care if someone tells me to sit down, I don’t sit down for nobody.”
Finally, there’s Sanbornton Rep. Tim Lang, just elected to his second term. He helped launch the popular “beer caucus,” which traces its roots back to the Legislative Softball Classics of 2017 and 2018. Republicans and Democrats came together on the softball field to compete and enhance collegiality.
Strafford Rep. Michael Harrington, who’s not running, left the Tuesday caucus undecided on a leader candidate, but certain of the necessary strategy for the winner.
“We can’t have that split where 20 to 30 percent of the Republicans vote with the Democrats,” he said. “We know that most of the time 95 percent of the Democrats vote the same, with the discipline that we have not had. If we can’t come together, we are going to be in really tough straits.”