A local blog with news, events and things that matter to all citizens of Moultonboro
Monday, August 29, 2016
Katy Burns: Buh-bye, Bill O’Brien
( Arguably the worst House Speaker and Legislator in NH modern times. The damage of those two year is still being felt. It's what happens when you put ideology ahead of good old common sense. Perhaps a precursor to what a Trump Presidency has to offer? )
By KATY BURNS
Sunday, August 28, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.