I gave Dick Hinch the nickname “Rock Star,” and I predict that in the next few months, New Hampshire Republicans are going to become aware of why I did.

Painfully aware.

Is there a tougher job in New Hampshire politics — or, for that matter, American politics — than being the caucus leader of the NH House Republicans?  The idea of a 400-member, all-volunteer Legislature is itself a recipe for disunity and legislative disaster. Now add the divisive dynamics in the modern GOP, with members ranging from get-along, go-along pro-business types to Live Free or Die libertarians.

Leading the House Republicans has been compared to herding cats, but I reject that description unless a third of the cats are high on Liberty Caucus catnip and at least a handful are on fire.

Which is one reason Democrats were willing to vote on so many bills that included tax hikes, energy cost increases and the like when they had the majority. What were the odds that the House Republicans would even show up to sustain Sununu’s vetoes, much less actually stay unified to uphold them?

After all, Sununu lost some veto fights in 2017-18 when the GOP had the majority. Surely Democrats would be able to achieve some of their more progressive agenda items over Sununu’s objections when Republicans were in the minority, right?

Enter Dick Hinch. In January 2019, just after the Democrats had taken control of the legislature, Hinch gave a rousing speech at the NHGOP state convention laying out policy issues he believed would work in his party’s favor. As for Democrats, “I submit they are all bat-s*** crazy,” Hinch said to cheers.

Often described as a “Mister Nice Guy,” Hinch knew many members of his caucus wanted to fight. So he showed them he could. Then, he got down to work. He built a leadership team that gave the various interests inside the party a voice. He didn’t push divisive issues like guns on the state house floor hard, but he let his members have their say.

“He is the natural person to take the Speaker’s job,” Representative Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) told NHJournal last month. “He kept everybody together to sustain the vetoes, and he took us from minority to majority.”

Representative Jeanine Notter, a Merrimack Republican, agreed.

“For the first time in ten years, Hinch united the Republican Party in the House,” Notter told NHJournal. “He picked the right kind of people” for his leadership team, she said, “people from all over the board. We had conservatives, moderates, liberty-minded. Everyone had a seat at the table and was part of the team.”

The result? In 2019, Sununu and the GOP went 23-1 on Veto Day. A year later, they went 22-0.

“New Hampshire Republicans are united in stopping extreme legislation, and House Republican Leader Hinch deserves immense credit for delivering these victories today,” Gov. Chris Sununu told NHJournal at the time.

Democrats had hoped to use paid family medical leave in their campaign against Sununu in 2020. Instead, they got beaten up for “voting for an income tax” (a less-than-accurate claim) and had nothing to show for it. Democrats thought Sununu’s red veto pen could be a political liability. Instead, it became a symbol of his political strength.

Imagine how differently those issues would have played if Sununu’s vetoes had been overturned, if Democrats had been victorious.

Potential political losers for Sununu and the Republicans turned into political winners, thanks to the leadership of Dick Hinch.

When I referred to Hinch as “rock star” to Granite State politicos, they would almost always laugh. Then a pause… and a nod of the head. He wasn’t flashy. He wasn’t high profile. He was about as far from a Donald Trump showman as a politician could get.

But he loved the House, understood his caucus and demonstrated the value of unity. “Hinch showed the House GOP how to win,” one Concord insider told me after the 2o19 Veto Day. “Once they tasted victory, they wanted more.”

The fiasco of Organization Day earlier this month had some observers asking if the current House GOP caucus is just too fractured to be tamed. Hinch hadn’t even become speaker, and he was dealing with members who wanted to impeach a Republican governor and pick counterproductive political fights over mask wearing as COVID infections soared.

There were doubts that even Speaker Dick Hinch could keep this caucus unified. Without him. an already daunting task looks almost impossible.

A few hours after the news broke, I asked Rep. Michael Vose (R-Epping) what happens next? “We elect a new speaker on Jan 6. And mourn for an entire term.”

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