SAD BUT NECESSARY VOTE. During our absence for nearly the past month, much has happened on the New Hampshire political scene, but nothing comes close to the shock and sadness prompted by the unexpected death of newly elected New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch from COVID-19 on Dec. 9.
Hinch died just a week after being officially elected Speaker at an outdoor Organization Day session at the University of New Hampshire.
House majority Republicans on Friday will gather again to caucus — this time remotely — and decide on their candidate for Speaker for the follow-up Organization Day session Jan. 6.
Republicans who have announced their candidacies are 15-term Rep. Sherm Packard of Londonderry, who had been named deputy speaker by Hinch and then assumed the role of acting speaker after Hinch’s death; 8-term Rep. Al Baldasaro, also of Londonderry, and second-term Rep. Tim Lang of Sanbornton. Also in the discussion are Rep. Jason Osborne of Auburn. who was named majority leader by Hinch before his death, and third-term Rep. William Marsh of Wolfeboro.
As usual, we are not in the business of predicting the actions of the New Hampshire House or it’s Republican or Democratic caucuses, particularly not in these tumultuous times.
Packard is viewed by many as the slight favorite, but a full day before the election, it’s far from a sure thing. Baldasaro has a strong following among conservatives, particularly strong Donald Trump supporters. There is a school of thought that now has Baldasaro as the favorite.
Baldasaro ran briefly against Hinch, but stepped aside in the final few days before the initial caucus in November in the interest of unity.
There was speculation on Wednesday that Osborn may look to move up, and as a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, he is believed to have a solid bloc of support.
GOP sources speculate, however, that if Osborne’s allegiance to Hinch transfers to Packard, he would be in a strong position to win the caucus. But it won’t be known until the vote is actually taken if that alliance will be maintained.
In a Facebook post this week, Baldasaro wrote: “Our Republican Caucus needs a strong leader who will be fair with the Democrats and apply decisions equally, but one who will not hesitate in holding Democrats accountable. We need a Speaker who will work with the Governor and Senate, but one who will not be controlled by others and not be afraid to be accountable when tough decisions need to be made. We need a leader who will put in place a mentor program for new Representatives. We need a Speaker who will train future leaders in all our committees. We need a Speaker who will let the Caucus speak.”
Before the final vote is taken Jan. 6, officials must decide how they will meet – whether it will be in some type of in-person venue or remotely – and how the session will be conducted and how votes will be taken.
There is even some discussion about a drive-in venue, but where and how it would be held remain unanswered questions this morning.