A profile in courage for NH

The story of how Medicaid expansion was reauthorized in the House of Representatives

On May 23, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce held its annual legislative dinner at the LaBelle Winery in Amherst, a lovely and increasingly popular location for events.

Business leaders and other chamber members gathered to hear from legislative leaders about the activities in Concord during the current legislative session.

What was most striking about the event, however, was how it reminded those in attendance, overtly and by implication, of the many “profiles in courage” experienced in government every day.

That day, a the Change Direction NH mental health conference, co-chaired by former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, had taken place in Representatives Hall, bringing a standing-room-only crowd to Concord to stress the need to recognize the five signs of mental illness and its pervasiveness in society.

John Broderick and his son Christian, having experienced the results of mental illness, are showing great courage in witnessing to the world the need to recognize, treat and bring mental illness into the light of day.

The four state lawmakers participating in the legislative dinner were GOP Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem, veteran Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, GOP House Speaker Shawn Jasper of Hudson, and Democratic House Leader Stephen Shurtleff of Concord.

All four of them come from the center of their parties philosophically and are known for getting things done, rather than for ideology. Their reasonableness, collegiality and willingness to work together was encouraging and received a lot of comment.

One remark, made by Democrat Shurtleff, pointed out the specific profile in courage represented by Speaker Jasper, a remarkable yet regular New Hampshire citizen.

The story of Jasper’s election to the speakership, after former Speaker William O’Brien failed to win on the first ballot, is fairly well known. That Jasper would present himself in the face of severe criticism by the conservative wing of the Republican Party and attract Democratic support to be elected speaker was and continues to be a tribute to his courage.

A long-term legislator, Jasper values the traditions of the NH House as the “people’s house,” and was offended by those who sought to turn it into a fiercely partisan and ideological place.

The specific example of courage, represented by all of the speakers at the dinner, was in reference to the reauthorization of Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire. Largely the product of creativity on the part of Senate President Morse and his colleagues, this expansion, which brought health care coverage to 50,000 or more New Hampshire citizens, came up for reauthorization in the current Legislature.

While the coalition in the Senate that initially passed it reformed and reauthorized the measure, it faced serious opposition in the House.

Speaker Jasper, knowing that the majority of his Republican caucus was not in favor of the reauthorization, told his members that they could vote their consciences on the issue and 65 or more Republicans voted in favor of the Senate measure. Most Democrats joined the Republicans in voting for reauthorization.

Democratic Leader Shurtleff recounted the gasp that greeted the electronic tote board’s report of the vote in the House indicating a tie, which would mean defeat of the measure, and also meant the speaker could vote.

The speaker, after what seemed a long time but was in reality only a moment, broke the tie by voting for the measure, and Medicaid expansion was reauthorized, with the attendant attraction of millions of dollars of aid and, more importantly, medical coverage for 50,000-75,000 New Hampshire citizens.

This, Shurtleff noted, was a true, “profile in courage,” of the kind that President Kennedy described in his book of the same name.

While specific bills of interest to business, including the addressing of energy needs in New Hampshire and the completion of the Northern Pass Project received comment from the leaders, and matters yet to be addressed such as reforming workers’ compensation were noted, the overriding impression of those at the dinner was how decent and thoughtful these four leaders of the Legislature are – and how lucky New Hampshire is, in particular, to have Shawn Jasper with his quiet courage, as speaker of the House.

Sometimes, nice guys finish first!

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

Categories: Cook on Concord