Saturday, June 18, 2016
The House session ended as it began, with a bitter and divisive debate among Republicans.
The chamber’s declining collegiality and increasing partisanship are now pushing some long-time GOP representatives out the door.
“I got sick of it,” said Rep. David Kidder, a moderate Republican who is not seeking re-election after six terms in the House. He led the Fish and Game committee. “We’re there to solve problems and fix it, not to play politics and try to embarrass the speaker.”
The ill will born from a contested speaker race has lingered throughout the two-year session, and caused friction among House Republicans.
With Democratic support, Shawn Jasper defeated his own party nominee Bill O’Brien to take the gavel in 2014. It prompted O’Brien to form an offshoot Republican caucus of about 70 members, which has largely opposed Jasper’s agenda at every turn.
The GOP divide didn’t really affect policy – a coalition of Democrats and Republicans led by Jasper were able to pass major bills like Medicaid expansion, substance abuse funding and the budget.
But it did make the session days more uncomfortable – and disruptive.
Consider last week, when the House met to consider a single drug enforcement bill. An action that could have taken a couple hours dragged on all day after some Republicans fought Jasper’s proposal to suspend the rules and introduce the bill. They bickered with him over procedure. And in a final hour long debate at 4 p.m., some Republicans objected to the removal of the words “born and unborn” from a prayer printed in the February journal.
“The Republican leadership is at variance with the Republican caucus, and has been for the whole session,” said O’Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican who isn’t seeking re-election. “It sets this as a really unfortunate precedent.”
Jasper has dismissed the opposition, saying the maneuvers were meant to make him look bad on the last session day. He added that voters have a choice this year to pick elected officials who represent their interests, as opposed to those who use the platform to make political statements.
Amid all the back and forth, some members are throwing up their hands.
Republican Rep. Robert Rowe, who chaired the powerful Judiciary Committee, resigned from the Legislature recently to take on another position.
Thirty years ago people debated policy on the House floor, he said. Now they come to propagandize and force unnecessary roll calls votes that consume time.
“It’s become far too partisan in the eyes of many,” he said.
The party infighting reflects a larger identity crisis within the GOP, as Donald Trump takes the helm.
Trump visited the state last week to deliver a major speech on national security. That’s the kind of event that should draw a crowd of top state Republicans, jockeying to be seen with the presumptive presidential nominee. Few showed up.