Bill O’Brien, the embattled Speaker of the House of Representatives in New Hampshire has had quite a ride through New Hampshire politics the last two years. Seemingly a man of extremes; extreme wealth and extreme views, swept in on a wave of libertarian Free Stater support combined with love and support from the far-right Tea Party, O’Brien came in with a mission and a plan. But looking back at his near two year tenure, one has to wonder, did he achieve his plan? We will leave that for the reader to decide while we detail some of the more interesting aspects of O’Brien’s service to the people of New Hampshire.
In order to provide an orderly and logical progression of events, we’ll start with the most recent and then move back in time. First off, the brouhaha he created at the state house this past Friday. On that day O’Brien had planned a press conference to snag a great photo-op and possibly some national attention with a potentially huge issue; the problems with the federal welfare program’s EBT card, detailed here. But O’Brien misfired by creating a distracting side-show event by excluding the Concord Monitor press crew from the press conference.
The Monitor press crew never gained entrance, but did due their duty with other reporters and writers, returned fire to O’Brien in spades. Apparently O’Brien had been seething since the cartoon’s publication in May, prompted by the transgression on the house floor, detailed here., but failed to understand, sometimes its best to let bygones be bygones.
The story made the rounds all over the internet. But as reported in Raw Story, not all in the House found House Rep. Steve Vallaincourt’s [(R) Manchester] actions off the mark, Rep. Dick Drisko told the Nashua Telegraph, “Vaillancourt was definitely out of line when he walked out and said, ‘Sieg Heil’ but it was good commentary on the dictatorial style of Bill O’Brien.” This of course prompted the cartoon by Mike Marland.
The out-cry over the cartoon reached such fever pitch from the Tea Party side of the state that the Concord Monitor editorial board had no choice but to explain how newspapers work; that unlike O’Brien, they don’t run an authoritarian establishment. In fact they allow their writers freedom of their own speech. The editorial board even went so far as to put on the hair-shirt in deference to O’Brien’s tender sensibilities and express due shame about their unruly writers.
Apparently that capitulation didn’t cure the offense to O’Brien’s position and stature. So he couldn’t resist the chance to show the Monitor who’s boss around those parts. Shortly after the no entrada incident House staffer Shannon Bettencourt (the one closing the door on the Monitor crew) issued a churlish statement to the press wherein she chides, “When the Concord Monitor proves they have chosen to become a responsible media outlet, we’ll be happy to invite them to future media events.”
So much for the EBT story. O’Brien misplayed again, losing an opportunity literally handed to him to get front and center on a favorite GOP campaign tactic — using welfare to pit the proletariat against each other in jealous fuming over pennies while the GOP rapes the government for millions. Oh well, the GOP will now have to wait for another opportunity. Even the Union Leader’s gallant efforts to give the story CPR with a lead-off on the Sunday front page failed to catch a spark. Like the old adage goes, in the world of journalism, old news is no news. It was reported, it was eclipsed, it was killed.
Now let’s go back in time a little more, where we get to D. J. Bettoncourt, former House Majority leader, a Republican from Salem and O’Brien’s young protege and law school student attending UNH. Just before Bettoncourt’s graduation from law school, O’Brien learned of some serious problems with Bettencourt’s inner ethical compass.
As detailed in links provided here, O’Brien had plenty of opportunity to wipe his hands clean of this mess quickly and with the dignity his position requires. He had known about the issue before it hit the public and could of dealt with it then. But instead in a decision only he really understands, decided to allow Bettencourt to not reveal his wrongdoing, remain in the house and resign with no mention of the real cause as shown in this first announcement detailed here on May 25th.
Represenative Guida (R), owner of the firm that Bettencourt had lied about interning for, outraged that Bettencourt failed to disclose the whole reason for his resignation, did the right thing and disclosed the entire story to the press. Suddenly speculation mounted everywhere about what O’Brien might have known about the shady ethical and moral judgment of his personal under-study.
Once the issue went public, O’Brien clumsily and evasively said he was “shocked” at the whole story, denied knowing anything more and pressed to sweep it over with talk about the house agenda. Sadly it seems O’Brien either isn’t bothered by dishonesty or struggles to understand the association of the scandal with his failure in judgment. O’Brien’s failure to act quickly to put out this fire caused plenty of wonder about O’Brien’s character. Did he fail to exercise due diligence by simply relying on Bettencourt’s version of events or did he already know the full story, but chose arrogantly instead to continue the charade to the public?
As noted by Steve Vallaincourt in NH Insider, “Bettencourt’s swift public disgrace is all the more astonishing when you consider that this young leader had spent much of his brief tenure schooling others on matters of legal rectitude, civility and purportedly high-minded ethics. (Earlier this month, Bettencourt questioned attorney Jim Bassett’s qualifications for the state Supreme Court.”[emphasis ours] Did O’Brien fail to see the seriousness of this matter that seemed so obvious to everyone else?
But it doesn’t end there. When Bettencourt announced his resignation, he also announced he would take a position as spokesperson for O’Brien’s newly formed NH Legal Rights Foundation. Many in the press and the public noted it rather odd that such an ethically challenged individual would be welcome in an organization that claimed to deal in matters of law. A few days later, the NHLRF made the decision to rid themselves of Bettencourt. Again one wonders why O’Brien allowed Bettencourt to continue this public deception of character and even potentially tarnish another organization in the process.
While NHLRF did in fact push Bettencourt out, again it wasn’t until the public got wind of the whole story. Its interesting to note that O’Brien has no problem bullying and moving around his opponents with little forethought or explanation, but seems to have a hard time moving the chess pieces on his personal game board.
If we look just a little further back we find another mini-scandal again. In early May O’Brien suffered his first ethical embarrassment with his Chief of Staff, Robert Mead resigning after the discovery of his falsely claiming mileage reimbursements for restricted political campaign work. As pointed out in the Union Leader article here, Mead made roughly $65,000 in his position, certainly Mead couldn’t have claimed economic desperation for feeling justified at stealing $456 from his employer. Apparently in the mind of Bill and his friends, its ok for his friends to steal from government, but when it comes to funding government, that’s stealing from them [note the intro music playing the Kinks, “He’s a well respected man about town, doing the best things so conservatively.” apparently the Kink’s sarcasm was lost on them?]
– turning away citizens who attempt to enter the house gallery during public session,
– demonstrating his partisan motivations for the voter ID law which became another national embarrassment for New Hampshire
– an incident wherein House Rep Emerson (R) Rindge, claimed that she was bullied by Bettencourt and O’Brien over some amendments she’d put to the house budget. O’Brien strongly denied the incident, but another Rep came forward and said he’d heard most of the “one sided” shouting match. This again became national news as Emerson soon after sponsored a bill to eliminate bullying among house members.
– the ill-advised and tobacco industry pressured removal of the tobacco tax which caused a serious budget shortfall this year, proving despite the Tea Party and Free Stater beliefs, taxes have a purpose. Especially telling is how this action undercuts the favorite theory of the Tea Party/Free Staters that commerce will naturally come running to make up funding short-falls.
The industry pressured the legislature to drop the ten cent tax with the enticement that it would increase sales and over the border travel to the state. Then cynically, once the state dropped the ten cent tax, the cigarette companies raised their prices by ten cents. This effectively transferred that ten cents from the state and tax-payer to the pockets of big business, making them millions at the expense of the state. O’Brien proved himself a dupe for loopy policy ideas that most policy-makers, even if they spout the rhetoric for their cheer-leaders, know better than to actually implement them.
– serving as such an obedient slave to the extreme right, O’Brien put up the Right to Work (for less rightly says the AFL-CIO) bill up and when it was shot down, resurrected that poor dead horse again and again to the point where legislators were begging O’Brien to just let the thing go and die already.
– the embattled $456 dollar transportation forger Chief of Staff Mead wasn’t completely banished; O’Brien gives him a new job working for the NH House GOP office, making one wonder if falsifying records really isn’t a big thing at all to O’Brien or the GOP.
– O’Brien works to pull back the state requirement that insurance companies cover birth control on women’s plans
– a habit of perfunctorily removing people from posts or committees who don’t tow his far-right agenda
– orders all house reps to follow the same email communication standards as hired employees, threatens removal of those who don’t obey. Many see the move as violating the constitutional right to free speech of elected officials, who work for their constituents, not O’Brien.
– O’Brien, with apparent little ability to judge a thinking public, tried to pass himself as some kind of economic wizard by building a thin thread of association between his pushing through extremist budget policies and the low unemployment rate in New Hampshire. Nope! That was shot down prettily easily and his claims faded into the ether.
– oversaw redistricting which was challenged in court by two major communities, Manchester and Concord, representing their concerns about losing funding and also that of smaller communities that will lose representation. While the court challenge was lost and the redistricting stays, Democrats already vow they will be redrawn in the future, at more expense to the state.
In looking at his history, O’Brien no longer looks so much like the charging bear he portends with his huff and bluff but more like a fumbling, bumbling political hack in way over his head.