Not compared to New Hampshire, where Republicans are so divided over who will lead their party that one side has literally threatened to open up its own new set of offices in a completely different building. Things are so dysfunctional that, by comparison, the faction that voted against Boehner in Washington looks like a Kumbaya chorus.
We’ve chronicled the mayhem in Concord before, but here’s a brief recap: At 400 members, the New Hampshire state House is the second-largest legislative body in America, trailing only the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans reclaimed control of the state House in November’s midterm elections, after a single term in the minority.
The speaker who lost his job when Democrats took over in 2012, Bill O’Brien (R), wanted his old gig back. He narrowly won a vote of the House Republican caucus, by a 116-112 margin, over former speaker Gene Chandler, apparently setting him up to win back the gavel when the full House voted a few weeks later.
But O’Brien’s reputation for confrontation made a lot of members wary. So on Dec. 3, a rump faction of about 36 Republicans joined the 159 Democrats in the House to elect Shawn Jasper, another Republican, as speaker. The Democratic candidate actually dropped out of the race to give Jasper a head-to-head shot at beating O’Brien.
Despite his defeat, O’Brien had no interest in accepting a rank-and-file role. He voted with a majority of the state Republican Party’s executive board to censure Jasper, and he heads the House Republican Alliance — a group composed of a majority of the Republican conference — that appointed its own majority leader a few days later. Spoiler alert: They picked O’Brien.
But Jasper has been busy installing his own partisans in top positions. House rules allow Jasper to appoint his own majority leader, a job he gave to state Rep. Jack Flanagan (R). He picked Chandler, the former speaker who lost to O’Brien in the initial leadership vote, as his deputy speaker, and he booted two prominent O’Brien supporters from their committee assignments.
He also appointed all nine members of the House Rules Committee, which voted to reject a proposed change that would have required Jasper to accept O’Brien as majority leader. State Rep. Steve Stepanek (R), an O’Brien ally, told the NH Journal’s John DiStaso that he hoped to force a vote of the full House overturning that rejection when the body meets for the first time Wednesday.
Stepanek also said the O’Brien faction has been actively fundraising, and that if the rule isn’t changed, the House Republican Alliance will open its own office across the street from the State House in Concord.
The vote on the rules change will be a critical moment for the Republicans who joined Democrats to elect Jasper over O’Brien. New Hampshire House rules permit a secret ballot, meaning no one knows for certain how the vote actually broke down (Hence, above, we say “about” 36 Republicans joined Democrats. It’s a fair assumption that all the Democrats voted against O’Brien.)
But a rules vote is a recorded vote, meaning members who got to vote for Jasper in secret will have to make their stands public: Will they stand with Jasper and vote down the new rule, inviting the wrath of party activists who back the more conservative O’Brien? Or will they vote with O’Brien and avoid the political backlash?
Awaiting the fallout is the Republican-controlled state Senate, where comity and congeniality are in far greater supply, and Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat. Whether New Hampshire has any semblance of a third coherent legislating partner, or just two years of intra-party squabbling between the 180 or so Republicans who backed O’Brien and the 36 who joined Democrats to back Jasper, hinges on today’s vote.
By contrast, John Boehner runs a pretty tight ship.