Excellent Concord Monitor editorial... Buh-bye Bill O'Brien

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Excellent Concord Monitor editorial... Buh-bye Bill O'Brien

Post  Amy B on Sun Aug 28, 2016 8:05 am

Katy Burns: Buh-bye, Bill O’Brien

By KATY BURNS
Monitor columnist
Sunday, August 28, 2016
 
STATE HOUSE
It’s satisfyingly appropriate that former New Hampshire House of Representatives speaker and right-wing ideologue and general scold Bill O’Brien, along with his ragged band of sore losers, is apparently leaving the public spotlight in a fittingly ignoble manner – by stiffing their landlord.

Certainly one can draw that conclusion from an orange eviction notice posted at least briefly on the office door of the so-called Republican Majority Caucus across from the State House.

According to court documents filed by the group’s landlord and unearthed by enterprising Monitor reporter Allie Morris several weeks ago, the Caucus – formed by O’Brien and supporters after they failed to take control of the House about 16 months ago – was more than $7,800 in arrears on rent, having stopped paying last December.

Seems like a pretty sorry political end for a guy who not long ago essentially ruled the State House, fomenting political turmoil almost unheard of here in New Hampshire. It’s a good reminder that vicious politics didn’t start with the current presidential campaign. O’Brien was a master of the genre.

Who?, you may well ask. Oh, how fleeting is fame!


To refresh our unpleasant memories: Bill O’Brien is a refugee from Massachusetts and former law partner of ethically challenged Bay State pol Thomas Finneran (convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice). As a new Granite Stater, O’Brien became a little noticed GOP back-bencher in our Legislature – until the 2010 fall election.

In that fateful contest, both here and across the country, liberal and even moderate voters decided to take the day off – what could go wrong? – and, in the resulting low turnout, conservatives, especially the newly minted Tea Party voters, surged.

And in January one William L. (“Bill”) O’Brien, buoyed by a bunch of newcomers who included birthers, gun absolutists, anti-federal government zealots and other folks on the fringe of the political world, had seized complete control of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and set out to impose an agenda far different from what Granite Staters were used to.

It didn’t take him long to let it be known that the normally staid House was a new place. One of his first acts – unsuccessful, but it set a tone – was to try to set up a procedure to remove a Manchester state representative (who was also a Democratic Party employee) from the seat to which he had just been duly elected. His crime? He’d tried to introduce an increase in the state’s minimum wage. A minimum wage, some readers might remember, New Hampshire (alone among New England states) no longer has at all, thanks to O’Brien’s subsequent leadership.

Shortly after that, the floodgates opened. While wacky legislation is introduced every session – what would you expect from a 400-person legislature? – in O’Brien’s first year there was a flood of crackpot ideas, everything from mandating that schools teach only “reading, writing and arithmetic” to a proposal that the state stop mandating school at all. Bills would forbid federal authorities from enforcing federal law here, mandate criminal background checks for all legislative candidates and provide that all business signs could only be in English or they would have to include all six “official” United Nations languages, whatever that meant and no matter the cost.

Quixotic causes are one thing. In O’Brien’s legislature, though, there were a lot of serious proposals that were looked upon with favor by leadership, especially where guns were concerned. The new majority happily made its legislative chambers free range for holders of concealed gun permits.

In fact, one of the most avid supporters of that was O’Brien stalwart Rep. Al Baldasaro, who bragged to a Monitor columnist that, “If someone breaks into here or comes in here with an issue, before the police even get here, we’ve already probably stopped it.” Uh, probably? Not reassuring, Al.

And, yes, that’s the same Baldasaro who achieved national notoriety more recently as an official Donald Trump adviser when he advocated dragging Hillary Clinton before a firing squad for treason.

Under O’Brien – and with his blessings – the House made serious (if ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to repeal gay marriage and women’s rights to determine their own health care. He did his best to torpedo clean air laws. And O’Brien was particularly dogged in a failed attempt to impose so-called right-to-work laws on New Hampshire workers, happily aligning New Hampshire with such economic powerhouses and workers’ paradises as Mississippi and Alabama.

And during O’Brien’s reign, the antics of our representatives were regularly featured in the monologues of late-night TV comics. The most notable instance was when the notorious birther legislative contingent chased New Hampshire election officials through the State House halls because they refused to remove President Obama’s name from the upcoming 2012 presidential primary ballot.

O’Brien’s eagerness to persuade his acolytes to pass socially reactionary bills was equaled by his basic and very un-New Hampshirish contempt for civil behavior in the legislature. He was notorious for his bullying of members. One Republican legislator – who had reportedly been reduced to tears in public by the speaker – even filed a bill to ban bullying in the chamber!

Members with physical limitations were suddenly deprived, should they not vote according to O’Brien’s pleasure, of their traditional aisle seats in the notoriously cramped members’ hall. Members who did not toe the O’Brien line were summarily removed from various committees.

Not only members were subjected to O’Brien’s wrath. When the speaker was annoyed with editorial criticism from the Monitor, he actually barred the paper’s State House reporter, Annmarie Timmins, probably the most knowledgeable in the then-press corps, from his news conferences!

Needless to say, columnists and cartoonists across the state were delighted to have such a rich lode of material to mine. The Monitor’s Mike Marland, in particular, distinguished himself with a series of hilarious drawings depicting O’Brien with his distinctive mustache in a succession of goofy hats.

Alas, for Marland and his cohorts, all good material comes to an end. The 2012 election spelled a Democratic resurgence that toppled O’Brien and his party from power.

And when voting in 2014 returned the Republicans to power, O’Brien failed to return to his former perch as speaker. While he had a slim majority of Republican members in his pocket, his chief rival, Shawn Jasper, did something shockingly bipartisan. He accepted the votes of Democrats as well as Republicans to determine who the new speaker would be – and they chose Jasper.

In a monumental snit, Bill O’Brien and a hard core of his supporters decamped to an office across the street from the State House, vowing to be, in effect, a shadow government in exile, raising money, formulating positions, introducing legislation, and so on.

Oops. That didn’t go so well.

And so now we have a forlornly abandoned “Republican Majority Caucus” office, a peeved landlord and little else. Reporter Morris was unable to reach O’Brien, who is not running for re-election, for comment.

And so ends a brief era of State House incivility. It was interesting while it happened – but it will not be missed.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)
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Amy B

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