Q&A with Surprise Speaker Shawn Jasper
In New Hampshire politics, surprises happen all the time.
In December one of the biggest surprises in years occurred when the state’s House of Representatives picked 11-term Hudson Republican Shawn Jasper to be that body’s leader.
Going into the five-hour discussion everyone just assumed controversial former House Speaker Bill O’Brien would return to the big chair since Republicans gained back power in November’s elections. But through a series of missteps, enough Republicans joined with Democrats to pick Jasper. Suddenly everyone asked: Who is this guy?
Was becoming New Hampshire House Speaker a life goal for you? It has been a goal in the back of my mind for the last 30 years on and off. It hasn’t been a constant goal, but it certainly has been something that I hoped I could achieve. I would say that this certainly was not the way that I hoped to achieve it.
How did you win? It’s less about me winning than the other side losing.
What did it feel like when you found out that you won? It was very surreal. I was not all that aware about what was going on around me at that time. The only thing was that I was aware that I had won. I was so focused on the fact that I had to get up there and get that gavel and take over the meeting and take over the session.
What did you tell your wife when you got home? I made the first phone call to her from the Speaker’s chair at the podium. She was already aware. She was following things.
But this was not the game plan when you left home that morning, was it? I thought that there was a remote chance, but that was all that it was.
Some of the policy implications of you being the Speaker? You are opposed to casino gambling, right? What I have always said [on casino gambling], I am not opposed to the policy, but I have always been opposed to the bills that have come forward. I have always seen it as us chasing the money. Chasing the money is not the way to implement gambling in my opinion. It needs to be a policy that the Legislature thinks is the correct one. But the “how much money can we get and how soon can we get it” is not the way to go about it.
Leaving aside just gambling, are there issues you want to take a leadership role on now that you are Speaker? I want us to turn the focus on to the economy and jobs. I would focus more on small business owners because that is where most of the jobs are created and try to find out what we can do to help them. … Another area of concern is the state’s retirement system and what we can do to make that system solvent. That is something that I have had my eye on for 20 years. But overall I want to know what the [Republican members] want to do. It is not me driving the agenda. I will certainly have my opinions, but I don’t expect to see the Speaker’s office as being the place that will be driving most of the issues.
Former House Speaker Donna Sytek said that the job of being House Speaker is like herding cats. Do you agree? It’s a little too early for me to say. At this point it has really been just so much better than I could have ever anticipated.
What perks coming with being Speaker, besides making $25 a year extra? Well, you know, that is a lot of money. Obviously having staff, having someone to do my schedule and having a chief of staff who is just doing an absolutely fantastic job. And, you know, it is a pretty nice office.
Plus a good parking spot. And a good parking spot. I was substantially a lot farther away for a number of years.
Do you have any interest in running for higher office, like Congress? No. I used to say that I was going to run for state senate and had higher aspirations, but I absolutely hated the idea of fundraising. I never raised any money for my campaigns beyond a few hundred bucks here and there and, actually, I have never asked anybody for money. I don’t have a problem raising money for other people and I don’t have problem raising money for the [House Republican] political action committee.
You are a farmer, right? Farming is in my blood and that is what I did when I was in my 20s. But I have been a landlord most of my life, but I have been helping out on farms. I love the agricultural life and we still have some fields here that are in production, but I pretty much have been landlording my adult life.
If you didn’t live in Hudson, where else would you live in New Hampshire? My family has been in the house where I live for 98 years. This is on the Jasper side. I am the fourth generation of Jaspers to be in this country and all four generations have lived in this house and I just never imagined going anyplace else.