The legislature may not be in session, but House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, is on the warpath and the state Liquor Commission is his target.
O’Brien clearly isn’t pleased with recent developments at the Commission. There was the missing $100,000 worth of fine wine that may or may not have been an accounting error — we still don’t know, though reportedly the attorney general’s office is investigating. There were allegations that the commission hired a lobbyist to, yes, lobby lawmakers, though an attorney general’s report found no such lobbying.
But O’Brien didn’t stop there. In a prepared statement last week, he included allegations of “oppressing state officials” and engaging in “bootlegging activities,” along with hiding documentation from a legislative committee. He did not provide details on those allegations.
He did, however, field an 11-person committee, including three Democrats, to investigate the series of allegations the commission is facing. Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, will be chairwoman of the committee, which also includes Reps. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson, Kenneth Gidge, D-Nashua, and Benjamin Baroody, D-Manchester.
“The numerous and very serious allegations against the State Liquor Commission demonstrate clearly that we need significantly more oversight to determine if this is a rogue agency,” O’Brien said in a statement. “The hardworking taxpayers surely deserve answers about how their money is being spent, and this committee will find out if there is mismanagement, waste or illegal activities taking place in a $550 million a year state organization. Furthermore, this committee will also consider the decision to move the Commission away from oversight in 2009 and whether to reverse that decision or to go in a different direction with liquor sales in the future.”
But what might be masked in all of these allegations is that the committee will also take a look at the 2009 law that provided the commission with more freedom to act less as a state agency and more as a business. The committee will offer recommendations on the “future direction of liquor sales” in the state, according to a press release from O’Brien’s office.
The allegations may be providing the opportunity for O’Brien to get back something from the commission — control. Following the passage of the 2009 law, the $550 million state agency is free from legislative oversight, meaning it doesn’t need the legislature to sign off on its budget. It also doesn’t need the Executive Council to sign off on it.
Mark Bodi, who has since resigned as a liquor commissioner to return to the private sector, was the chairman of the commission in 2009 and pushed hard for the legislation. He was trying to increase sales and give the commission leeway to act “more like a business.” Sales have gone up and the commission does provide a steady stream of revenue to the state. But certainly, not everyone likes the idea of the Liquor Commission operating on an island of its own accord.
According to reports, the committee was expected to issue its findings by Nov. 1, right before the November election.
O’Brien has certainly gone on power plays before. He recently questioned all state agency heads and their deputies to see if they had hired any family members or relatives in their departments. That questioning came after a scandal at the state Department of Employment and Security, in which former commissioner Tara Reardon allegedly had her daughter hired and fired so she could collect unemployment benefits.
The Liquor Commission frequently seems to provide controversial material. Stay tuned.
Amid the controversy swirling around Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, a candidate for U.S. Senate, and his comments about “legitimate rape,” Frank Szabo, a candidate for sheriff in Hillsborough County, told WMUR last week that he wouldn’t reject using deadly force to prevent doctors from performing late-term or elective abortions.
A day later, Szabo issued an apology, stating, “I want to be clear to the people of New Hampshire that I made several comments about the use of deadly force against abortion doctors that I regret, that I apologize for and that I fully retract,” Szabo said. “Clearly, I feel very strongly about life beginning at conception, and that will not change. But, in making comments yesterday, I let my passionate stance against abortion get the better of me.”
The adamantly pro-life Szabo said he was caught off guard by questions about using lethal force.
“What I said was inexcusable, and as sheriff, I would not use lethal force against an abortion doctor,” Szabo said. “To explain my misstatement, however, I want to point out that for someone as adamantly pro-life as me, walking in on an abortion is the equivalent of walking in on someone who is in the process of stabbing someone else. When caught off guard by questions about using lethal force, I answered based on that understanding. While I maintain that abortion is unlawful because it strips the right to life from a helpless unborn child, I recognize it is legal, and for that reason deadly force against an abortion doctor is not justifiable.”
It’s perhaps unfortunate and curious timing to be talking about a topic like abortion with such charged language, particularly considering the backlash Akin has received from just about everyone, including Republicans. Presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney suggested that Akin step out of the race. Akin has refused to do that. House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has suggested Szabo remove himself from his race.