Tag Archives: Speaker O’Brien

From the Desk of Jackie Cilley: Important Information on Ballot Questions

From the desk of Jackie Cilley :

Election Alert for October 9, 2012

28 Days and Counting…..

 New Hampshire needs you – please be sure to vote on Tuesday, November 6.


Ballot Question 2 

O’Brien’s Excellent Adventure to the Colonial Era – Taking Back the Courts!

In an attempt to erase decades of statutory and judicial work on separation and balance of powers, the whiz-kids of the current legislature muscled through a constitutional amendment that will appear as Question 2 on your ballot as follows:

2. “Are you in favor of amending article 73-a of the second part of the constitution to read as follows: [Art.] 73-a [Supreme Court, Administration.] The chief justice of the supreme court shall be the administrative head of all the courts. The chief justice shall, with the concurrence of a majority of the supreme court justices, make rules governing the administration of all courts in the state and the practice and procedure to be followed in all such courts. The rules so promulgated shall have the force and effect of law. The legislature shall have a concurrent power to regulate the same matters by statute. In the event of a conflict between a statute and a court rule, the statute, if not otherwise contrary to this constitution, shall prevail over the rule.” (Passed by the N.H. House 242 Yes 96 No; Passed by State Senate 19 Yes 5 No) CACR 26             Yes                  No

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!

The O’Brien legislature has taken a number of actions with very dangerous consequences for our citizenry. Underfunding our court system has caused delays in our citizens’ ability to obtain justice. They have also created a competing mechanism, the Committee of Redress, that reviews court decisions filed by petitioners (without the bother of such little things as court procedures, equal protection for all parties, or even hearing the other side of a case). To date, the Committee of Redress has recommended the impeachment of four justices on virtually the sole testimony of a petitioner who claims to have been wronged (or otherwise simply didn’t like the verdict). The concept of due process seems hopelessly lost on this crowd.

Ballot Question 2 will give over to the legislature complete and final authority over our judicial system, turning it into little more than another political body. Although, as you can see from the question above, the ability to write rules will still reside with the judicial branch, the legislature will be able to concurrently change statutes relative to these rules and the latter will “shall prevail.”  Does anyone really doubt that a legislature wedded to the extreme ideology of the current one will fail to turn our courts into an extension of themselves?!

Scholars who argue for a well-functioning judiciary, one that functions objectively and in the pursuit of the rule of law, without undue influence of the political climate, cite the critical need for a clear separation of powers. G. Alan Tarr, professor at Rutgers University and a scholar in constitutional law, state constitutions and the courts and judicial process, puts forth four principals that should form the foundation of any reform of our judicial system. These include: judicial independence from political institutions, interest groups and the general public; judicial autonomy with the power to govern and manage its own affairs; effective delivery of judicial services with access for all citizens and expeditious administration of justice; and, accountable to the rule of law and to the people and their representatives (we already have a process in place when a justice violates his/her position in any way and that is the impeachment procedures). For more information on this topic, see G. Alan Tarr, The State Judicial Article, http://camlaw.rutgers.edu/statecon/judicial.pdf

Ballot Question 2 violates every one of these principles. The first two are self-evident. Violation of the remainder stems from the fact that by underfunding and interfering with the judicial process hobbles our court system’s ability to effectively deliver its services and makes it difficult to appropriately hold it accountable.

Nothing New Under the Sun

 For those who may have imagined that with the writing of the US Constitution, and subsequent state constitutions, the establishment of three branches of government was a settled matter, a reading of history on this topic immediately disabuses one of that notion. As it turns out, there has been a protracted battle between the legislative and judicial branches of government for decades and longer following independence.

New Hampshire’s own history in this regard is instructive of the desire of past legislatures to exert significant control over the judiciary. Our legislature once had a participatory role in dispensing of justice through an archaic device called the Committee of Redress (yes, similar to the one mentioned above!). This legislative body heard complaints by our citizens and ruled on those. It didn’t take long, however, for our forebears to recognize that there was a bit of a conflict of interest in having those who wrote the laws also interpret the laws and dispense with justice – not to mention write the laws to settle cases. It was a rather circuitous way of administering justice fraught with a host of problems for both public policy and justice. (Consider just one example of someone who has a complaint against the state, one that might result of in an injured party being awarded a judgment against the state. And, all of this being heard by the a unit of the same body that formulates a budget for the state.)

Even after the establishment of a separate judicial system, however, past New Hampshire legislatures grappled with the concept of a judiciary over which they had little control. Consequently, at least twice over the course of our history, “New Hampshire legislated out of office all justices of its supreme court by repealing the statute the created the tribunal and establishing another court in its place.” (G. Alan Tarr, “Contesting the Judicial Power in the Statest,” http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/TarrFinal.pdf

For those interested in an in-depth discussion of the tensions between legislatures and the judiciary, Tarr’s 19 page article on the topic provides a great overview of the topic.

Just Say No!

 If you want to defeat Question 2, you must cast a “No” vote. Passage requires two-thirds approval by those who vote on the Question. Please help to spread the word of the dangers of this constitutional amendment. Encourage your friends, family and neighbors to make plans now to vote and also to vote “no” on this question.

Update on Ballot Question 1:

Hold onto Your Seats – Here Comes the Money


As you may recall, the previous Election Alert covered Question 1, a constitutional amendment banning an income tax for “natural” persons and concerns analysts have expressed over the potential passage of this amendment. I warned about a last minute push for passage of Question 1. Sadly, almost immediately after the send button was hit on the Election Alert, the news broke that a new PAC has been set up to do precisely that.

The “No Income Tax” PAC is headed up by former gubernatorial candidate and former Executive of Cornerstone Policy Group, Kevin Smith. The PAC is chaired by three former Governors, Steve Merrill, John E. Sununu and Craig Benson.   The PAC can take unlimited amounts of contributions from individuals and organizations. You can count on this being a very well financed effort to get voters to approve the passage of this very dangerous constitutional amendment.

For some additional updated information on Question 1, visit the podcast of Attitude with Arnie, October 5, 2012, Hour 1 starting about 31 minutes in to hear the interview with Jeff McLynch of the NH Fiscal Policy Institute: http://www.nhnewsviewsblues.org/podcasts/Attitude_with_Arnie_Podcasts.xml Jeff responds to a number of questions about this ballot initiative that you may find of interest.

NOTE: Remember that it takes two-thirds of those who vote on the question for it to pass. If you want to defeat Question 1, you must vote “no” on it. Moreover, with the influx of influence and money to push for passage, it is now more important than ever that you spread the word about the pitfalls of this constitutional amendment and get your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to the polls to vote on November 6.

 Voting Tip of the Day:

Unregistered voters may register to vote on General Election Day and will be allowed to vote in that election. If you wish to register before the General Election you can do so up until October 27. That is the last day to register until the General Election.

As mentioned in the last Election Alert, you will be asked to present a valid photo ID (see http://sos.nh.gov/ for list of acceptable forms of ID). NOTE: If you do not have a valid photo ID you will be permitted to vote after executing a “challenged voter affidavit.” 

Opinion Piece of the Day:

Buying the Election?
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Published: October 09, 2012

….Not all that long ago, the ability to partake of public financing was a sign that you had arrived as a serious candidate; today no candidate in his right mind would want to be so constrained….This election season, Mitt Romney and President Obama could end up spending more than $1 billion each. They seem to spend more time fund-raising than pressing the flesh with voters.

And that doesn’t even account for what’s truly different about this election: the rise of the “super PACs” and 501(c)4s, which are essentially a form of campaign money-laundering, allowing wealthy people to contribute millions toward supposedly “independent” spending on campaign advertising, polling and other expensive campaign goodies…

Although individual contributions to a particular candidate remains severely restricted – no more than $5,000 – the amount someone can pour into a super PAC is limitless. The means by which the country finances its campaigns is utterly broken. In a recent cover story in The Atlantic, James Bennet, the editor, traces how that happened. He focuses on a man named Jim Bopp Jr., a lawyer from Terre Haute, Ind., who has largely devoted his life to freeing the nation of campaign spending limits…What is astonishing is the way Bopp makes unlimited spending seem actually democratic. “Most people don’t even know who their congressman is,” Bopp tells Bennet. If there were more spending on campaigns, voters would be more educated about the candidates. The Supreme Court majority, meanwhile, has essentially said that, by definition, campaign spending that is independent of the candidate cannot be corrupting.

What we also know in the real world is that unlimited spending will not serve to enlighten voters. It will deaden them to political argument – as is happening in just about every swing state, where the ads are running with such frequency that people are tuning them out. Finally, we know from hard experience that the money that comes into politics has the potential to corrupt.

“This can’t be good for Democracy,” Bennet told me in an e-mail. It’s not.

For full article see: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2012/10/09/opinion/nocera-buying-the-election.xml

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Freedumb and Libertea

Excellent summary of the current state of New Hampshire’s higher education under the unwatchful eyes of the conservative legislature who never saw a penny they didn’t want to keep for themselves — at the expense of growth to the state:

Freedumb and Libertea by Susanthe

One surprising bit of information from the report is that NH’s high school dropout rate has continued to decrease, reaching a low of nearly 1%. I was skeptical of Governor Lynch’s plan to keep kids in school when they didn’t want to be there, but clearly, the plan is working. A high school diploma is essential these days, and so is some form of higher education or training, if one wants to be able to live indoors.

As I’ve written before (endlessly) NH ranks in last place for state funding of higher education. That was true before the last biennium when the Freebaglicans cut the already embarrassingly low level of funding in half. Tuition at our two and four year colleges is amongst the highest in the nation. NH may be in 50th place for state funding of higher education, but we are number one in student debt. Yay! We’re number one!

The report shows that 5% fewer NH students are staying in state for their education than did a decade ago.  click here for the rest…

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O’brien the Butcher — Hack That 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.  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?]

While these sites here , here and here put forward a good list of O’Brien’s history, here are some highlights:

– turning away citizens who attempt to enter the house gallery during public session,

– nationally embarrassing incident in which birthers demonstrate their inability to distinguish a legislative session from a bar room and O’Brien backs them up

– 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.

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