Don’t Take Party Discipline for Granite

Republican Party discipline is under great strain in the New Hampshire state house right now, where there’s an ongoing standoff between legislative party leaders. Republicans won control of the chamber in the fall, and a previous Republican Speaker, Bill O’Brien, sought the post again, winning a 116-112 vote of the party caucus. So, the choice of the majority party caucus becomes Speaker, right? Well, actually, some 36 Republicans bolted on the floor vote and backed more moderate Republican candidate Shawn Jasper for Speaker, who had the backing of all the chamber’s Democrats. The result was that Jasper became Speaker with the support of the minority party and a minority of the majority party.

This had led to a major rift in the state Republican caucus, with O’Brien now leading something like a shadow Republican Party across the street from the statehouse. Jasper, meanwhile, has been appointing his own people, all Republicans, to key positions within the legislature.

(For what it’s worth, the Shor-McCarty dataset of state legislator ideal points estimates that O’Brien has an ideal point of .882, and Jasper has one of .47. So it’s not a stretch to describe O’Brien as substantially more conservative than Jasper.)

It’s not completely unheard of for a statehouse speaker to be elected without the support of the majority of the majority party, but it’s rare, particularly in such a polarized era. For an interesting parallel, see the 1995 election of Doris Allen (R-Orange County) as Speaker of the California Assembly. In a deal arranged by outgoing Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), Allen was elected Speaker with the vote of every Democrat and just one Republican — her. Republican activists in her conservative district promptly organized a recall campaign and successfully fired the chamber’s first Republican Speaker in over two decades and the first female Speaker in the state’s history. She served as Speaker for just four months.

This is not an option in New Hampshire, which lacks recall procedures.

(h/t Brendan Nyhan)

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.