NH House election law chair resigns following scheme to trick Democratic lawmakers on vote

Former Republican State Rep. Ross Berry posted a pictured of his discared lawmaker plates after resigning from the House after being removed as chair of the Election Law committee following a formal complaint from Democrats on the comittee. (Twittter/X)

By Colin Booth

May 15, 2024

Republican State Representative Ross Berry has resigned from the New Hampshire House of Representatives after enacting a convoluted scheme to trick Democratic lawmakers into being absent from a committee meeting so that Republicans could win a vote on reconsidering a bill. It comes one day after he was removed from his position as Chair of the Election Law Committee, news first reported by Granite Post.

His removal from the election law committee came less than an hour after a formal complaint was filed by Ranking Member Connie Lane along with all fellow Democratic members of the committee. He notified leadership his decision to resign was due to his moving out of district to Weare.

Berry’s resignation follows a formal complaint filed by Democratic members who accused him of orchestrating a deliberate and coordinated effort to manipulate election law committee procedures to get another attempt at consideration for CACR 22, a constitutional amendment that would attempt to enshrine New Hampshire’s status as holding the first presidential primary in the nation.

Members accuse Berry of manipulating committee procedural rules by using a security safety briefing for House members to control how many individuals were in the committee, then holding a vote which took place before most Democrats had returned from the briefing.

“[Y]ou instructed all members to remain in their seats to attend a Safety Briefing on the evacuation plan for Reps Hall in the event of an emergency. You emphasized that it was important for everyone to attend. The time of your announcement was 11:39 AM,” read the Democratic complaint, referring to Speaker Sherman Packard.

“At 11:43 AM, Chair Berry announced from the well that the Election Law Committee

would be holding an executive session on CACR 22 and SB 534 in LOB 306 at 11:53,” the complaint continued. “As 11:53 approached and the Safety Briefing continued, we faced the choice of whether to leave the briefing – in direct defiance of the Speaker’s instructions – or stay through the end of the Safety Briefing, even if it meant arriving in LOB after 11:53.”

The Democrats stayed through the safety briefing, only for the first few to arrive back at the committee room to be surprised at what awaited them.

“When the first 4 Democrats entered LOB 306 for the meeting at 11:58:46 AM, all the Republican members were already seated and waiting for the meeting to start,” the complaint explained. “The instant that 4 Democrats entered the room and before they had a chance to be seated, Chair Berry opened the executive session – immediately calling for a voice vote for reconsideration of CACR 22. The vote took 17 seconds, at which time Chair Berry recessed the executive session.”

Ranking member of the committee Connie Lane said she believed Berry orchestrated this with other Republican members. Full video of the committee hearing is available to view online.

“It was definitely coordinated. They all skipped that safety thing, right. In order to be there to sit there and be ready to go the minute the Democrats walked in the door. It was all orchestrated,” Lane said in an interview shortly after Berry was removed from the committee.

Democrats told the Boston Globe the move was an “ambush” vote.

Committee members and House Democrats said Berry and Republican members of the committee’s actions shattered both the trust and friendship they had built up over his chairmanship and threatened to destroy the ability for lawmakers to create compromise on critical legislation in the tightly divided house.

“We’re killing two years of trust and bipartisanship for reasons that I don’t understand. I mean, I was totally baffled. I don’t even know what vote, what bill we’re voting on,” said Lane. “We just felt betrayed. Just taken advantage of and betrayed for all the trust and the friendship we built up. And for the fact that all the Republicans would do that, not just Ross.”

RELATED: State Rep who threatened shooting spree of police is a NH Trump campaign chair

The committee had previously voted down the proposed constitutional amendment, CACR 22, nearly two months ago unanimously. However after the reconsideration vote that cost Berry his committee chairmanship, the measure will advance to the full House.

Lane and other New Hampshire State House insiders said Berry’s efforts are part of an attempt to embarrass Democrats by putting them on the record voting against the constitutional amendment on the first in the nation primary, legislation that would likely not be recognized by other states and could potentially put the primary at risk if put to a public vote.

House Democrats’ formal complaint filed after Berry’s political maneuvering highlights several key issues: Berry’s refusal to clarify procedural queries and maintain decorum, his failure to inform the committee about the reconsideration of CACR 22 in advance, and the rushed timing of the votes. These actions, according to the complaint, were deliberate attempts to manipulate the committee’s recommendation process by scheduling the executive session during the Safety Briefing and lunch break, ensuring that the reconsideration vote occurred before all Democratic members arrived.

The complaint also notes Berry did not open the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance, “which he has done at almost every public hearing and executive session over the past 2 years.”

House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm said he appreciated House Speaker Sherman Packard’s quick action in addressing the committee’s formal complaint.

“It is disappointing that after nearly two years of good bipartisan work, the final executive session of the House Election Law Committee ended this way. I appreciate the Speaker’s swift response in removing Rep. Berry as chair.”

Further compounding the controversy, Berry admitted that his actions were in retaliation for what he perceived as Democratic manipulation on a previous bill, thereby undermining trust and bipartisanship within the committee according to the complaint.

Berry has said his resignation is tied to his recent purchase of a house in Weare and his plans to move out of the district and nothing to do with his removal from the committee following the complaint.

State Rep Leah Cushman, who currently serves in Weare — who herself was removed as chairman of a special House committee on the Division of Children Youth and Families (DCYF), leading her to acrimoniously leave House leadership, calling House Speaker Sherman Packard a “liar” on her way out — has said she will not be running again, leading to speculation Berry could run for the House again soon.

House Democrats have celebrated Berry’s removal and resignation. State Rep. Corinne Morse welcomed the news with a terse “good riddance.” State Rep. Wendy Thomas was even more short in her appraisal.

“FAFO.”

Author

  • Colin Booth

    Based in Epsom, Colin Booth is Granite Post's political correspondent. A Granite State native and veteran political professional with a deep background in journalism, he's worked on campaigns and programs in battleground states across the country, ranging from New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

CATEGORIES: STATE LEGISLATURE

Politics

Local News

Related Stories
Share This