So here it is, the Wingnuttia Hall of Fame. We’ll try to stick to New Hampshire, but we may digress to national figures, as contrary to what some people seem to think, New Hampshire is but a small state.
Publisher/owner of the state-wide newspaper, The Union Leader based out of Manchester NH, from 1946 until his death in 1981.
Loeb was a son of privilege from the start, with his father, William Loeb, Jr. having the esteemed position of being Teddy Roosevelt’s personal secretary during his presidency. This no doubt influenced the inflated, self-importance that Loeb exuded in his editorial style and in his sense of entitlement as the bully for his pet causes. He had no problem whipping the state’s political sphere into submission.
His vitriolic editorials, while written in a simplistic, artless and childish manner, provoked fear and kept his opponents sufficiently subdued throughout the state. Loeb’s penchant for power fit perfectly in a state filled with first generation immigrant workers with little understanding of the nuances of the American political system, limited education and limited outlets for alternative views. Most thinking people liked to note that the masthead of the paper carried Daniel Webster’s famous quote, “There is nothing so powerful as truth.” while Loeb’s power lay not in telling the truth, but in his unabashed contortions thereof.
[It must be noted that in the 50’s and 60’s a page once a week was dedicated to union workers and their causes, announcing meetings and reports of union struggles across the country. But this was common practice throughout the country in a time when union representation among the population made up the majority of blue-collar work and many New Hampshire workers may have not felt threatened by or found contradiction between their interests and Loeb’s conservative ideology, with most tolerating such peculiarities as his Labor Day tirades.]
At the time of Loeb’s rise radio was confined to small local broadcasters due to the mountainous terrain of New Hampshire. This created, as one reporter remarked in the 70’s, his own “antique feudal fiefdom”*.
When some reporters questioned Loeb’s publishing and journalism experience, Loeb responded that he worked for eight years in New York for Hearst papers. The reporters could never verify the claim, people who worked for the corporation claimed they never heard of him. In addition, a portion of the time he claimed as his employment period was after the news organization shut its doors.
Loeb’s paper was the favorite for journalism schools everywhere as an example of what breaking commonly held rules in journalism looked like. Loeb ran his editorials on the front page of the paper, he had no qualms in using bold-face type as if shouting at his readers. He even used the masthead of the front page, crowding the masthead with leaders into editorials or stories that supported his extreme views. Scholars at the acclaimed Columbia school of journalism often argued over whether Loeb and his paper be dismissed as an eccentric crank in a small, insignificant state, or as a serious study on the power of propaganda. Many in the profession feared his careless style reflected poorly on journalism as a whole.
Loeb sealed his control on information in the Granite State in the 50’s by purchasing a controlling interest in the only state television station, WMUR. Later in the 70’s, the Loeb tenacles spread to FM radio where the Union Leader Corps still holds an interest in the station WGIR.
A man who loved to boast, like all Republicans do, about the importance of making it on one’s own, without the significant financial help from others, he would have never been able to build his empire. Interestingly, it was women who helped Loeb the most; a wealthy married woman he had an affair with in his early adulthood gave him substantial backing to buy his first two paper ventures in Vermont, his mother coughed up nearly a million to enable him to acquire the three major papers in New Hampshire. He also courted the affections of the wealthy heiress to the Scripps-Howard fortune, Nackey, during his second marriage (she was married as well) who became his final wife and ran the paper after his death.
In the 70’s an author, Kevin Cash wrote a scathing unauthorized biography of Loeb and like any tyrant, Loeb threatened to sue to stop its publication. Cash eventually got the book published out of state with his own independent company he formed for the purpose.
For all Loeb’s railing about the wonders of “tax free New Hampshire” he never lived in the state, instead preferring to balance his days between a palatial mansion at Pride’s Crossing in Beverly Massachusetts (the very state he and later his wife regularly excoriated in his editorials) and a house in Reno, Nevada.
Some of Loeb’s lasting legacies:
– He heavily promoted the “Ax the Tax” campaign of governor Meldrim Thomson and many felt was instrumental in Thomson’s three term run as governor, despite his very odd behavior and politically backward thinking
– He attacked workers rights and union advocates and was famous for his Labor Day screed against unions and called Labor Day a “day for loafers”
– He championed the cause of Joseph McCarthy and maintained a steady, constant dose of red-baiting, especially toward anyone espousing progressive points of view. He even railed at a foreign exchange student organization for proposing to host two students from Soviet Russia, suggesting the organization be disbanned.
– Both he and later his wife Nackey fought tirelessly to keep New Hampshire from recognizing Martin Luther King with a holiday, claiming that his civil rights work had no importance compared to his anti-war sympathies and rumors of his personal infidelities. New Hampshire was one of the last states to enact the MLK day after continuous pushing from activists. To this day MLK day is not given the reverence that it is in many other states.
– Kept a running campaign against fluoridation in public drinking water, claiming it originated from a communist plot to poison the public; a campaign his wife Nackey carried on with bizarre fervor after his death.
– Fought against the installation of public kindergarten as another form of needless taxation and fought the support of higher education reflected in the fact that for a very long time New Hampshire ranked 50th among the states in funding of higher ed, despite New Hampshire’s high per capita wealth.
– Went on a long campaign to destroy the reputation and career of Dr. Thomas Bonner Dean of UNH after Bonner called him a “laughable Neanderthal”*
– A man who never bothered himself with contradictions, he supported well known and controversial union boss Jimmy Hoffa who had given the a paper a 2 million dollar loan. Nixon, whom Loeb had always supported, pardoned Hoffa when he was president.*
– Sought to destroy Governor Walter Peterson as expained at the Blue NH site:
“He was elected Governor here in 1968 following Democratic Governor John King. Peterson presided over a major modernization of New Hampshire’s tax structure – replacing a “stock in trade” tax on inventory with a business profits tax and instituting a rooms and meals tax. The Union Leader hated him, and attacked his school-age kids when it couldn’t find something timely directly against him. Peterson served two terms then lost the Republican nomination to Meldrim Thomson in 1972. “
– Used lies and forgery to destroy Democratic Senator Muskie’s 1972 run for President, explained here on the WaPo site:
“Angered by Manchester Union-Leader publisher William Loeb’s attacks on his wife and himself, Edmund S. Muskie – then a senator from Maine and the early favorite for the Democratic presidential nod – raged against Loeb in front of the newspaper’s building during a late February snowstorm. The Washington Post’s David S. Broder, among many others, reported that Muskie had “tears streaming down his face,” though in retrospect Broder and his colleagues acknowledge that the “tears” could have been melting snow.
Whatever the truth, these dispatches about Muskie’s lack of composure damaged his stable, steady image and contributed to his poorer-than-expected showing in the New Hampshire primary. Muskie’s “cry” was a signal event in his surprising decline and eventual collapse as a credible front runner.”
– Another detail of how Loeb worked with Nixon’s campaign by participating in circulating a forged letter and other tricks that led to Muskie’s demise:“The main goals of (the Committee to Re-elect the President), as Segretti and his accomplices later told reporters and investigators, were to torpedo the campaigns of Democrats they thought to be a serious threat to Nixon’s reelection, and to wreak havoc among the Democratic campaigns, creating ill will and sore feelings. “The main purpose was that the Democrats not have the ability to get back together after a knock-down drag-out campaign,” according to Segretti. Their style of disrupting and harassing rival political campaigns was known to them as “ratfucking”. Their main target in early 1972 was Ed Muskie. According to the political pundits and pollsters, Muskie was the man to beat for the Democratic nomination. As the front-runner for the nomination, expectations for him were high heading into the New Hampshire primary – some estimates had him winning 65% of the vote. Then came the “Canuck letter”. Segretti and Ken Clawson, a White House communications deputy, had cooked up a letter and sent it to William Loeb, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader- an influential conservative newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire. The letter claimed that at a campaign meeting in Ft Lauderdale, a Muskie campaign aid had cracked a joke about French Canadians living in New England. “We don’t have blacks, but we do have Canucks”, the aid supposedly said. To this, Senator Muskie was reported to have agreed and laughingly said, “Come to New England and see”. Two weeks before the New Hampshire primary and one day before Muskie was to campaign there, the Union Leader published an anti-Muskie editorial on its front page, entitled “Senator Muskie Insults Franco-Americans”. The paper accused Muskie of hypocrisy for supporting blacks while condoning the term “Canucks”. A copy of the Canuck letter accompanied the editorial. The very next day, Loeb reprinted a two-month-old Newsweek article about Senator Muskie’s wife, entitled “Big Daddy’s Jane.” This piece reported that Mrs Muskie was a chain-smoker, drank too much, and used off-colour language on the campaign plane. The next morning, the Muskie campaign started to unravel. The Senator appeared in front of the headquarters of the Union Leader in a driving snow storm. Standing on a flatbed truck, he addressed a gathering of supporters, along with the media covering his campaign, and attacked Loeb as a “gutless coward”. As he spoke about the charges against his wife, his voice halted as he choked back tears.”
Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time, Kerwin Swint
– Was virulently caustic to the cause of gay rights, notably after the UNH Gay Student Organization was given recognition by the trustees in 1973, according to UNH Magazine, Out Front, “Although the vote carried no authority, it was all Thomson and Loeb needed to start a front-page circus. Thomson immediately vowed to replace the offending trustees “as fast as I can,” and the paper began publishing a constant stream of stories and editorials about “sodomy” and “the lads with yellow socks,” under headlines like “Perverts Will Flock to UNH.”
– Fought against any regulation whatsoever as undue taxation, such as the building of the 101 highway system, seat-belt laws and public education improvements
– Was a virulent supporter of the NRA, both Nackey and William Loeb were known to be heavily armed in their home in Beverly, reflecting a probably justifiable paranoia. It was rumored that Loeb once shot and killed a cat that was found roaming in the Union Leader offices, although he always denied it. James Germond stated in a piece he wrote about campaigning in NH that he met with Loeb as part of the press in New Hampshire, at his office for an interview, Loeb had a pistol placed on the desk, which was pointed at the reporters.
Loeb died in 1981, leaving the newspaper operations to his wife Nackey who ran the paper in the same style until her death in 2000.
Found on Time’s online site (this portion for free, the rest requiring a subscription which this writer has not): “Every four years, like a recurring nightmare, the cherubic visage and satanic fulminations of William Loeb, cantankerous, ultraconservative publisher of the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader, would turn up on the front pages of newspapers across the country. As aspiring Presidents trooped up to New Hampshire for the nation’s earliest presidential primary, Loeb’s relatively small daily (circ. 65,298) became an influential voice in American politics. That voice was Loeb’s alone: petulant, scurrilous and unfailingly infuriating.” Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,953121,00.html#ixzz22zZCotAm
For more check out:
Information for this post was heavily gleaned from Wikipedia; a worthwhile source for curious people like myself, give them a donation today or volunteer keeping their pages true and clean.
Also this writer spent hours pouring over the reams of micro-fiche available at the Manchester Public Library with the help of the kindly reference staff. Support public services, support your public library today!
Wife of publisher William Loeb and heiress to the Scripps-Howard publishing fortune. Married to Loeb in the 50’s, she and her husband carried on their petty reign of New Hampshire politics for nearly 40 years.
Residents of New Hampshire in the 80’s and 90’s can still remember how picking up the Manchester Union Leader meant getting visually smacked with her scowling image on the front page. Although she didn’t have the temerity with the pen that her husband had, she continued the tradition of tasteless and opinionated editorial journalism. She also attempted to carry on the tradition started by her late husband of demanding that all politicians that came to the state come and kiss her anti-tax ring to guarantee a little grace from her pen.
But, she did not have the power of her predecessor and seemed more and more like an old crank and to the relief of many readers across the state, her scowling visage and finger wagging editorials were moved to the editorial page by the late 90’s.
Demonstrating far more generosity than her late husband, in 1999, Nackey created the Nackey Loeb S. School of Communications, a small non-profit school that offers free classes on journalism, writing and first amendment/constitutional issues. The school also gives out a Nackey Loeb Communications Award every year. The first recipient was the Portsmouth Herald, a liberal paper.
Loeb solidified the Loeb Publishing empire’s hold on the state’s print information by buying out most small local newspapers in the southern part of the state and incorporating them all as the Neighborhood News. Only the Derry News remains independent, even though it toes a similar conservative line.
1912 – 2001
Governor from of New Hampshire from 1973- 1979
The King Wingnut Governor for Three Terms!
Thompson enjoyed the full support of the Union Leader’s William Loeb and as a result many of New Hampshire’s stalwart followers of the Loeb brand of 19th century style ultra-conservatism supported Thomson. Most notable acheivements of Thompson are listed below:
During his governorship, and thereafter, Thomson was criticized for a number of controversial actions, including:
- having an aide examine his political opponents’ tax records, a move later invalidated by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
- suggesting nuclear weapons for the state National Guard, [to be placed specifically at the Manchester Armory].
- during the 1977 anti-nuclear demonstrations in [nuclear power plant] Seabrook, dressing in military fatigues and being carried in by helicopter to personally order the arrest of 1,400 protesters.
- personally arresting speeders from his official car.
- calling out the state National Guard when two 1960s radicals Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman spoke at the University of New Hampshire, and having the student leader who invited them arrested.
- after visiting South Africa in 1978, praised the white-minority government and defended its apartheid policy.
- Openly threatening to veto all funding for the University of New Hampshire after the Gay Students Organization held a dance and performed a play on campus.
- in 1977 sending out a press release saying that he wanted journalists to keep the “Christ” in Christmas, and not call it Xmas—which he asserted was a pagan spelling of Christmas, despite being a representation by the Greek letter Chi.
- in 1990 petitioning, unsuccessfully, that candidate Dick Swett (for New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District) be listed on the ballot as Lantos-Swett, the name he had used in the telephone book, voter registration, buying real estate, and business
Thomson also strangled funds for the town of Orford where he was chair of the School Board there in the 50’s by denying federal funds for education. As a result the town citizens had no remedial reading program for years.
He also was known for the moniker, “Ax the Tax” which was trumpeted by him during political campaigns with the eager help of Union Leader publisher, William Loeb.
From the New York Times article cited below, “When his critics derided Mr. Thomson for espousing beliefs from the 19th century, the governor replied with characteristic confidence. ”They are wrong,” he said. ”My beliefs are rooted in the values of the 17th century, and I’m proud of it.”
Every four years Republican presidential candidates would make an obligatory trip to Thomson’s maple sugar farm and pose with the large prop seen in the photo below and take the “No Tax Pledge”. Once a big media event that Union Leader publisher William Loeb would drum up in his editorials, such antics had a huge effect on a population that had one dominant newspaper in the state, only one broadcast television station and no statewide radio. Only those familiar with Loeb’s presence understand the relevance the custom once had in state politics. Today, while some far-right groups like to trump out the custom, to many it looks as dated and bizarre as a square dance.
Presidential candidate Romney doesn’t look like he’s loving that moment all too much. Dead men’s traditions live captive and never die in the minds of some in New Hampshire.
New York Times posthumous bio on Thomson.
For wingnuts, education always has a special place in their heart. Conflicted as they seem with critical thinking, analysis of a wide variety of fact and the presence of facts itself as the make-up of reality, wingnuttia has real trouble with education.
See, to most people education means taking in new information, learning the process of analyzing that information against what one knows and against a set of given facts or assumptions. Even the process of learning has a wide variety of categories which usually require first and foremost the dealing with the presence of a variety of ideas, existing facts about past or present events and resulting viewpoints or estimates about possible future events. To educators this process requires a process of research, dialectic evaluation and discovery and of course discourse and organized formulation of resulting analysis and ideas.
In NH this process has come under fire repeatedly. The result is that already cash-strapped schools often find themselves having to defend their decisions or actions in court which has the result of diverting precious funds needed for education.
Nashua School District, 1979:
In the 70’s a Nashua school board member, Alan Thormaier demanded that Nashua High School remove issues of Ms. magazine from their shelves and end the subscription tot he magazine. In 1979 dispute resulted in a court case, Salvail v. Nashua Board of Education where school board member Mr. Thormaier apparently wondered into the library one day, innocently picked up a copy of Ms. magazine and found himself needing the privacy of a bathroom:
“…that it contained advertisements for “vibrators”, contraceptives, materials dealing with lesbianism and witchcraft, and gay material. He also objected to advertisements for what he described as a pro-communist newspaper (“The Guardian”) and advertisements suggesting trips to Cuba. In addition he felt that the magazine encouraged students and teachers to send away for records made by known communist folk singers.”
Unfortunately the court does not specify the communist folk singers (of great interest to this writer). The finding of the court is worth reading, such as the statement here,
“Ironically, the dislike of certain of the Board members for articles and advertisements contained in MS magazine apparently does not extend to similar materials in other publications which are contained in the Nashua High School library.4 The Court finds that despite protestations contained in the testimony of these parties, it is the “political” content of MS magazine more than its sexual overtones that led to its arbitrary displacement. Such a basis for removal of the publication is constitutionally impermissible.”
Which says of course that the commie elements of the magazine didn’t seem to upset the school board member since such content existed in other publications at the library. It was the way in which those dirty, filthy feminists talked about girl on girl sex and vibrators which made Mr. Thomaier feel all funny inside and which caused him to bolt straight up at attention and work to get this issue of dirty books nailed down immediately.
It is worth quoting here what the judges quoted from a previous case on the issue of materials given to students (bold mine):
“Hence the question in this case is whether a teacher may, for demonstrated educational purposes, quote a `dirty’ word currently used in order to give special offense, or whether the shock is too great for high school seniors to stand. If the answer were that the students must be protected from such exposure, we would fear for their future. We do not question the good faith of the defendants in believing that some parents have been offended. With the greatest of respect to such parents, their sensibilities are not the full measure of what is proper education.“
Another quote the judge pulled from prior judgements that is worthy of note:
“The student who discovers the magic of the library is on the way to a life-long experience of self-education and enrichment. That student learns that a library is a place to test or expand upon ideas presented to him, in or out of the classroom.
The most effect[sic] antidote to the poison of mindless orthodoxy is ready access to a broad sweep of ideas and philosophies. There is no danger in such exposure. The danger is in mind control.“.
The school board lost the case and was ordered to return the magazine back to the shelves.
In a profie of school member Pauline Anderson it was noted that she liked telling the story of her conversation with Alan Thomaier regarding a vacation her had,
“Realizing Thomaier had just returned from a coastal vacation, Anderson struck up a pre-meeting conversation.
“So, Alan, how was your vacation?” she offered. “The weather was great, it must have been beautiful.”
“Oh, yeah, weather was terrific,” Thomaier told his cohort. “But the view … you know, someday we’ll look out and see a bunch of Russian fishing trawlers …”
Bedford School District, 2010 and again in 2011:
Bedford high school student parents Aimee and Dennis Taylor, the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, about the author, Barbara Ehrenreich’s efforts to live on a minimum wage budget. The book was part of the syllabus for a finance class.
The objection of the parents had to do with a quote in the book wherein the prophet of Christians everywhere, Jesus, is portrayed as a wine guzzling socialist, or some such rot. They also cite references to drugs and the use by the Pulitzer Prize winning author of heavy obscenity.
The frenzy reached national media proportions with the tape of the offended parents broadcast in living rooms everywhere. Ehrenreich herself responded to the complaints by explaining the purpose of her Jesus bashing, which the author says was in response to observing a revival meeting, “What I was critical of in the revival was certainly not Jesus,” she said. “It was more the evangelical preachers who were speaking to poor people but in no way ever touching on what (Jesus) said about poverty and the immorality of great wealth.”
Typical of the right-wing, a Chichester resident writes a column in the Seacoast wherein he describes the parents as decent thinking people and assails those who descended upon the innocent parents’ rights to be ignorant, “What should have been a reasoned and dispassionate discussion about whether a particular political book is the right choice for a personal finance class instead was twisted into an ideological fight over “book banning.”
This language is of importance as many on the right have started to learn how to use the media as a tool to turn the victimization and trampling of our free speech rights and our secular culture into the victimization of god fearing Christians. The writer fails intentionally to point out to the reader that the two Bedford residents, spurned by nothing but the expectation that anything funded by a municipality should never stir within their gut funny feelings of personal confusion or distaste.
As noted by the Concord Monitor in a staff editorial, the issue was picked up nationally by Fox News and other outlets. The Monitor offers this summary straight from the mouth of the NH Tea Party, “Our government schools are promoting the UN’s agenda with books that are anti-capitalism, anti-business, anti-religion, anti-borders, anti-family and anti-sovereignty,”
Interestingly, the Tea Party, that likes to promote itself as a party that protects the fundamentals of the constitution seems to have a very disturbing misunderstanding of the secular, open environment that supported the free-flow of ideas envisioned by the Enlightenment schooled founders. In addition, as noted by the author of the blog, God Discussion, the point of studying the book in a finance class was entirely overlooked, “The book was about how the “other half” lives, the masses of Americans who work for minimum wage. In wealthy Bedford, where the median 4-person family income is, $127,415, working for minimum wage and having to survive on it is not something Bedford’s children seem to be familiar with.”
Which, when we look at the Tea Party response about the book supposedly promoting “anti-capitalism”, apparently anyone who mentions income inequality is anti-capitalist. Thus then, one is pro-capitalist when one ignores starving and homeless people?
But it doesn’t end there. Possibly puffed up by the fame of their first tussle, the Taylor’s confront the school board in 2011, this time over the novel “Water for Elephants” by author Sara Gruen. As described in a write-up in the Nashua Telegraph, “Taylor said he was appalled by the “graphic descriptions” of oral sex and masturbation in “Water for Elephants,” which is a historical novel about an old man remembering his time as a circus veterinarian during the Great Depression.”
Think one moment, these parent’s child is in high school. Consider the popular culture that most high schoolers are exposed to. In this day and age of mass media consumption, there is no conceivable way that a parent could mask their child from exposure to references to drug use and abuse, sex in all its forms, parodies of cultural images of reverence and authority and a lot of bad language.
Taylor is further quoted in the Nashua Telegraph, “I intend to fight every similar book that crosses my path,” Taylor said. “We need to change the false notion that a bit of garbage in a book may be overlooked if the rest of the book is fine.”
Consider the danger of this statement. Overlooking the obvious prejudice in the loaded adjective “garbage” to describe portions of literature, take a minute to consider the many versions of now famous literature that Taylor and is ilk might have changed. What would that have looked like? Or worse, what does it look like? Would Mark Twain’s seminal work, Huckleberry Finn have had the same impact were the racist language Twain used deleted as some groups on the left have proposed in the interest of not offending students of color? But would it not be in the interest of students of color to understand the racism of Twain’s time?
How many books would feminists have to censor to remove disparaging statements about women? Fortunately most feminists don’t make such a proposal as they know full well, literature provides one of the best markers of a culture’s social progression or regression in the area of human rights. To wipe out disparaging portrayals or comments about women would be to wipe out the history of oppression that feminists find themselves having to point out repeatedly anyway.
The net effect of hissy fits of the Taylor family was to get a lot of attention and have two books, one very good, one so-so, removed from a school curriculum. They also afforded the general public in New Hampshire to view in all its glorious splendor, the vulgarities of New Hampshire wingnuttia and its Talibanesque world vision.
William “Bill” O’Brien
William “Bill” O’Brien, Speaker of the House from 2010 – 2012. The article below this update was written shortly after his demise when he was voted out of office in 2012. O’Brien came from New Hampshire but practiced law for a time in Massachusetts and then returned and got his license to practice law in New Hampshire. O’Brien served in the house of representatives for a time gaining support from the incoming hard-right libertarian Free Stater movement. O’Brien has some videos on Youtube showing him supporting libertarian extremist positions as linked in the profile written below. There’s no need to go into his personal life or larger career. O’Brien never really presented as that interesting; he was just an opportunist with a personality so tyrannical that he provided plenty of comedy for political watchers in New Hampshire.
Unfortunately, as the profile shows below, his tendency toward childish tantrums and self centered reactions and opportunistic stunts and his eager alignment with the most self-centered elements of the libertarians exposed a very narcissistic, little man, easily goaded into a fight and easily ready to grab the simplest path to his own aggrandizement, no matter what the cost to others. Thankfully, a lot of the worst policies and legislature he managed to get passed with his lackeys was overturned in the 2012 session, some wrongs remain to be righted.
O’Brien and others attempted a political/electoral coup of sort in 2014 in an effort to restore O’Brien as speaker, but with enough Democrats voting, moderate Republican Shawn Jasper got the position. O’Brien’s cadre of sore losers encamped themselves across the street in an office, gave themselves a phone and a title and vowed to make a bunch of trouble in the upcoming session. Instead they faded away, a few months later the landlord took possession of the office space after it was found they had failed to pay rent for about three months. O’Brien has slithered away to some dark space to lick his wounds or suck someone’s blood, we’re not sure which and his entourage, such as Al Baldassaro (R) Londonderry, having lost their dear leader has chosen to focus on the general political foolishness we know them for.
But we will keep this profile up for posterity and for the younguns to learn from, whatever lesson they may glean, such as it is.
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. (2010 – 2012) 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.
Called a “political gad-fly” by writers at the Union Leader at once during his colorful career, Levasseur has made himself a political fixture in Manchester’s city politics. He’s also made his share of enemies.
Owner of a downtown sub-shop known as “Joe Kelly’s”, Levasseur first broke into the political scene with his leadership on getting a civic center into the city.
More to come…