New Hampshire state representative leaves GOP over opposition to vaccine mandate

A New Hampshire state representative said Tuesday he had formally left the Republican Party in protest of what he said was an emerging strain of anti-vaccination rhetoric coming from state House leaders. 

State Rep. William Marsh, an ophthalmologist who has won election to four terms in the state House, said he had met with the town clerk of Brookfield to change his registration to affiliate with Democrats. 

“I have come to realize a majority of Republicans, both locally and in the NH House, hold values which no longer reflect traditional Republican values. And so I am recognizing the reality that today’s Republican Party is no longer the party I first joined when campaigning for President Reagan many years ago,” Marsh wrote in a press release. 

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He said he had been content to ride out the rest of his term without attracting any attention until state Republican leaders held a rally Tuesday in opposition to President BidenJoe BidenPelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Pressure grows to cut diplomatic red tape for Afghans left behind President Biden is making the world a more dangerous place MORE’s vaccine mandates for federal and private sector workers.

At the rally, interrupted by anti-vaccine protesters who criticized Republicans for not taking more drastic action against the Biden administration, state House Speaker Sherman Packard (R) on Tuesday called Biden’s vaccine mandates “madness.” Packard assumed his current position in January, after his predecessor died of the coronavirus.

This isn't Marsh's first run-in with leadership in his own party. Marsh had lost his post as vice chairman of a key health committee in June, after he opposed a bill that he said would have diminished the state’s ability to control the spread of the coronavirus.  

On Tuesday, he cited the danger posed by the latest wave of coronavirus infections and the mandates that have helped keep cases relatively low in the Granite State.

New Hampshire is reporting an average of about 340 new cases every day over the last week, a pace similar to an early spring surge but about half the rate the state was reporting at the apex of the winter wave. A total of 1,443 New Hampshire residents have died of the coronavirus.  

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“As we all know, the combination of the infectious delta variant [of the coronavirus] and waning immunity is causing Covid-19 to surge both in NH and throughout the United States. ICUs are filling up and younger people are getting sick and dying,” Marsh said. He cited guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends vaccinations for those over 12 and masks in schools.

But Marsh cited a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of vaccine mandates and a more recent move by Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettSupreme Court low on political standing Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet Are COVID-19 vaccine mandates a strategy to end the pandemic? MORE to deny an appeal of a decision upholding a vaccine mandate imposed by Indiana University.

“I cannot in good conscience support this selfish refusal to take reasonable precautions,” Marsh said. “So far, NH has done remarkably well with Covid by taking all reasonable precautions while carefully reopening our economy. I was proud to be part of the Governor’s Economic Reopening Taskforce that made that happen. I cannot stand idly by while extremists reject the reasonable precautions of vaccinations and masks which made that happen.” 

Marsh’s seat is the second Democrats have picked up in New Hampshire in less than a month. Last month, a Democratic candidate won a Republican-held state House seat after the incumbent died.

Republicans maintain a narrow majority in the state House, which at 400 members is the second-largest legislative body in the United States, behind only the federal House of Representatives. As of Tuesday, Republicans hold 206 seats, while Democrats hold 189 seats; another five seats are vacant.