For the second time in less than a week, a New Hampshire state representative has broken with his co-partisans in the almost-evenly divided 400-member House and gone independent.
Representative Dan Hynes of Bedford said he switched his voter registration from Republican to “undeclared” then exited the House GOP caucus on Tuesday — a move that leaves the Republicans with 199 seats, while Democrats hold 196 seats, and independents occupy two seats.
Hynes said he’s a libertarian-leaning fiscal conservative who’s been disappointed by some of the recent positions Republicans in New Hampshire have taken.
“I hope Republicans can get back to advocating for a smaller government,” he wrote in a Facebook post announcing his decision. “Until that happens, I will continue fighting for a smaller government that protects the constitutional rights of everyone as an independent.”
Hynes criticized GOP lawmakers for their failure to legalize marijuana, for the way they approached “parental rights” legislation, and for their approval last week of a two-year state budget with a significant increase in spending.
“I don’t think the Republican Party is moving in the right direction,” he told the Globe.
His decision came six days after Representative Shaun Filiault of Keene switched his affiliation from Democrat to independent. Filiault said he was unhappy with how Democrats responded to a deal he struck with Republicans in the Senate to secure passage of a bill to ban a legal tactic known as the “gay panic” defense in homicide cases.
These moves by Hynes and Filiault might not affect the outcome of any future vote. They both said they will continue voting in line with their values. But their announcements are noteworthy, given the chamber’s historically narrow partisan divide.
Although the 2023 session is coming to a close this month, both parties are keeping a close eye on the House majority ahead of the 2024 session. Voters in Northwood and Nottingham will fill a vacant seat with a special election on Sept. 19, after a contested Republican primary on Aug. 1.
Neither the Republican nor Democratic leaders in the House responded to requests for comment on Hynes’ announcement.
On marijuana legalization, the Senate killed a bill that had passed the House with overwhelming support from each party’s caucus. A few newly elected GOP senators had expressed support for certain legalization efforts in the past, but only one voted to save the bill.
“I don’t know what happens when Republican state reps become senators and somehow change their position on this issue,” Hynes said.
A day after the Senate nixed the bill, Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, announced his support for a state-run model for recreational cannabis. His announcement set off a last-ditch effort to legalize marijuana this year, but that effort didn’t gain traction.
Hynes said Senate Bill 272, a Republican-backed piece of “parental rights” legislation, failed to strike the right balance as introduced.
“It seems like many people in the party want parental rights at the expense of students,” he said, “which I think is unfortunate because … we certainly can protect the rights of parents while at the same time protecting privacy rights of children, specifically children who have a gender identity that they want to speak to a counselor about.”
Critics of SB 272 had warned that it would curtail LGBTQ students’ privacy by requiring schools to disclose certain gender-related information upon a parent’s request, effectively forcing schools to out transgender kids to their families. Proponents said the measure was needed to reassert parental rights to direct the upbringing of their children.
Hynes’ support for the floor amendments drew outrage from some of the bill’s supporters.
Belcher said Hynes had been “successfully bullied into leaving” the New Hampshire GOP. “Good riddance,” he added.
House Majority Leader Jason Osborne of Auburn called Belcher’s tweet unacceptable, but declined to say what steps he would take to address it.
Hynes also criticized Republicans for their support of the newly approved biennial budget for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. Even accounting for inflation and the state’s population increase, the budget raised spending by too much, he said.
“I believe it was a Democrat budget: more Democrats voted for it than Republicans,” he said. “I think Republicans should have first tried to put through a fiscally conservative budget, and if it failed, go forward from there.”
Sununu called the $15 billion budget “a win for kids, families, taxpayers, state employees, and the entire state.”
While he’s beefing with the Republicans, Hynes is suing the New Hampshire Democratic Party for defamation over a 2018 political mailer. The state Supreme Court recently ruled that the case can move forward.
Hynes said he’s keeping his options open on whether he’ll run for office again and whether he’ll rejoin the Republican Party, but he expects to vote in the GOP’s 2024 presidential primary. He’s backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Hynes said he knows his views on parental rights “probably” don’t align with those of DeSantis. His desire for criminal justice reform similarly doesn’t appear to be a high priority for his preferred candidate, he said.
But DeSantis handled the COVID-19 emergency well, and he’s shown promise on a national stage, Hynes said.
“I believe he has the best chance to defeat Biden,” he added, “and I agree with him on a lot of issues.”