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Out Of Public Eye, Jason Osborne Helps Lead Historic Push By GOP In N.H. House

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N.H. House Majority Leader Jason Osborne doesn’t often take to the House floor. But when he does, he tends to stress a basic bottom line: unity among his caucus members.

In his first year as the majority leader, that unity is helping Osborne, 43, get results.

From taxes to gun rights, to school choice, religious liberty, abortion or election law during this session, 2021 is looking to be a historic year for conservative policies in New Hampshire. And Osborne has helped steer that, with a slim majority that leaves little margin for error.

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Former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, an arch-conservative, says Osborne’s efforts have impressed him.

“I think Jason is very effective,” he says. “They have a strong caucus, on second amendment rights, or right to life issues. So, I think it’s all come together.”

Osborne says he takes a consensus-driven approach to leading Republicans.

“My way of leading is not telling people what to do, but more like figuring out what people want to do and then showing them how to get there,” he says.

Osborne has represented Auburn in the House since 2015. Prior to that, he studied for a doctorate in economics before deciding to ditch academia for business.

Osborne moved to the Granite State more than a decade ago from Defiance, Ohio, where his family founded a debt collection company, Credit Adjustments, Inc., which he now manages. Osborne said the pandemic posed challenges for his business, as some debt collections were put on pause over the past year. He said he's had to shed more than two-thirds of his firm's jobs. (His business also received a $4 million loan through the federal PPP program last April.)

But his involvement in New Hampshire politics dates back to the Free State Project, a movement that aimed to recruit 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire to expand freedom and shrink government.

If you browse YouTube, you can find plenty of clips of footage of Osborne from before he joined the legislature, from conversations with libertarian videographer Dave Ridley about why he was providing free beer to attendees of Porcfest, the Free State Project’s annual summer camp out from 2008, or as a recurrent guest on an education-themed podcast called the SchoolSucksProject.

He once posted an image on Facebook of himself smiling impishly before an exploding statehouse. It's since been taken down, and for all of this bluster, after Osborne entered elected politics, he appears to have sought to keep a lower media profile. His Twitter account is private, an unusual move for a public official. And by his own admission, he mostly avoids dealing with reporters these days. When NHPR spoke with him for this profile, he made his own recording of the interview (something this reporter has never experienced in two decades covering the New Hampshire House).

For observers trying to trace his political influence, this tendency to avoid media attention poses a challenge. Even some of his colleagues in the legislature found it hard to say exactly how he wields power.

It’s certainly easier to follow the money Osborne has plowed into politics.

Last year, he gave $50,000 to Make Liberty Win, a PAC dedicated to electing libertarian-leaning lawmakers nationwide. That figure is an eye-popping sum by New Hampshire House standards.

In New Hampshire alone, the group backed 76 candidates in state representative races. Fifty-three of them are now part of the majority Osborne leads. Greg Moore, who runs the state chapter of the conservative group Americans For Prosperity, says these lawmakers are more ideological, with less experience in traditional public service, and they are changing the state Republican Party’s center of gravity.

"You’ll find a lot fewer people who were school board members or city councilors or aldermen and a lot more folks for whom this is their first entree into politics,” Moore says, of the types of candidates Make Liberty Win backs.

In addition, the pandemic’s lawmaking-by-Zoom has effectively ended most social mixing across party lines. Keeping those factors in mind, it becomes easier to understand how a slim majority has managed to pass so many conservative priorities.

Renny Cushing, the House’s top Democrat, says he’s appalled by what Republicans are prioritizing. But he “will give them credit for having great party discipline,” Cushing says. 

We may never know the extent to which the leadership of Jason Osborne is a cause of that discipline, or an effect of it. But his skill at steering his caucus will be tested soon, as House and Senate negotiators hash out final versions of several critical bills, including the state budget.

Back in 2019, during an appearance on a pro-vaping podcast called Vaping and the Mic, Osborne observed that being in the House can be a lot of work.

“We get over a thousand bills per year that come through the legislature and we don’t get paid to look at them. So it’s tough to sift through and figure out the ones that need to be highlighted and which ones don’t.”

It’s barely two years later, and Jason Osborne is doing what amounts to that very job.

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