CONCORD — Now what will we tell fourth-graders when they visit the statehouse?
For decades tour guides have pointed out to endless groups of fourth-graders who visit the statehouse on field trips the House chamber, the Senate chamber and the governor's office. These guides said that important things happened in those rooms.
Someone should brief the New Hampshire state house tour guides that things have changed.
When the election results came in there appeared to be an interesting, but elementary dynamic of the state house. All legislation would need to somehow get support from three equally strong elements: a Republican-dominated House, a Republican-dominated Senate and a Democratic governor. Power in all three rooms mattered.
This changed last Wednesday when the New Hampshire House fell into all-out civil war among House Republicans. Instead of choosing the expected path, they ended up with Hudson Republican Shawn Jasper as House speaker instead of Mont Vernon Republican Bill O'Brien. By rejecting O'Brien's return to the gavel, the House created new infighting divisions that render the House such a hot mess it is irrelevant on larger policy issues. House votes on issues like the budget obviously matter, but the House won't be driving any policy issues.
This means that the most important relationship in Concord is the one between Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and Senate President Chuck Morse.
That duo and their deputies will decide what does and doesn't happen in state government this year. Will the state legalize marijuana? Will the death penalty be repealed? Will the university system get more money? All these questions are basically answered with where Morse and Hassan stand on the issues.
Probably the two biggest results of the House out of the picture this week could be on casino gambling and on reauthorizing Medicaid expansion. If O'Brien had become speaker he was open to doing the first and deeply against doing the second. He would whip votes and shape legislation to conform to his wants. A powerless Speaker Jasper may try to do the same things, but it is unclear if a majority of any sort will follow his lead.
To be sure, Jasper is trying to change this by developing his own power center. He is an 11-term veteran of the House and served in his party's leadership last session. He understands the ways of Concord.
But power exists with leaders who have the power to implement. Right now there are only two people with the power to follow through on their words: Morse and Hassan.
State House guides would be smart to just skip showing the House side of the building. What they see inside there might not be appropriate for children to see anyway.
(James Pindell covers politics for WMUR. You can see his breaking news and analysis at WMUR.com/political scoop and on WMUR-TV.)
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