During the last two years, House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has been used to getting his way. With that in mind, it probably comes as no surprise that O’Brien will seek reelection — not only for his House seat, but also for his role as speaker. O’Brien made the announcement earlier this month.
Two years ago, O’Brien faced off against Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who is now the House Speaker Pro Tempore. Chandler was seen as the more moderate, establishment Republican, while O’Brien was seen as more extreme, more of the activist end of the party. O’Brien prevailed. This time around, O’Brien rolled out a list of five co-chairmen for his reelection effort, and Chandler is one of those chairmen. So is Finance Committee Vice-Chairwoman Lynne Ober, R-Hudson.
“I look forward to having an open conversation with the citizens of New Boston and Mont Vernon, and with my colleagues of the House about the important issues facing New Hampshire and the extraordinary achievements of this legislature,” O’Brien said in a statement. “I appreciate the support of those who have stepped forward to be co-chairmen of my committee and I will work hard to earn the trust of my constituents and my fellow representatives. We’ve accomplished some great things, in terms of creating an environment to grow jobs, making government live within its means and bringing accountability back to Concord, and we will continue these efforts in the next biennium.”
Voters were expecting big changes under this Republican regime in Concord. And most Republican voters probably got their wish, with sweeping cuts to the state budget, a slew of changes to business laws, and retirement system reforms, to name just a few items.
There was a hiccup on right-to-work legislation — it was one of the few bills O’Brien couldn’t get through, and he failed twice on that measure. Many are probably angry the House wasn’t able to pass a repeal of same-sex marriage. O’Brien and the GOP leadership in the House never appeared to be fully behind the legislation — that might help O’Brien’s reelection effort.
Then there’s education funding. O’Brien, Senate leadership and Gov. John Lynch all appear to want to get something done. O’Brien’s version, which would essentially give the Legislature all the control and discretion over education funding, is the most extreme. The House and Senate are slated to work out their differences this session.
Playing the radical card
Democrats have attacked O’Brien as being extremist. They’ve made that charge essentially since O’Brien took over as speaker. Those attacks are sure to continue. Take Exhibit A from state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley: “In his announcement, O’Brien stated he wants to have a conversation about the ‘extraordinary achievements of this legislature.’ Unfortunately for Bill O’Brien and his cronies in the legislature, families across New Hampshire are paying attention to the ‘extraordinary achievements’ of the Tea Party-led legislature and they are fed up.”
Buckley goes on to criticize O’Brien for pursuing a radical agenda. He pointed to legislation that allows guns on college campuses, de-funds Planned Parenthood, and cuts higher education funding, and the attempt to repeal gay marriage. There will likely be more attacks like that from Democrats.
It will be interesting to watch where Republicans draw their battle lines of support for O’Brien. Some Republicans have voiced criticism of O’Brien’s sometimes heavy-handed approach to legislative battles. Others say political hardball is par for the course.
Rep. Lee Quandt, R-Exeter, said in a Seacoast Online report that he was testing the waters on whether he would run for speaker this year. Quandt got into a much-publicized spat with O’Brien after Quandt was removed from the House Finance Committee. Quandt was the only Republican on the committee to vote against the state budget. Quandt also spoke out against right-to-work legislation.
But O’Brien will easily be able to contend that his Republican-led House did what voters demanded it do. There was some dabbling in much-dreaded social issues, but O’Brien will be able to say the House focused on getting the state budget under control, creating jobs and improving the economy.
Of course, O’Brien’s becoming speaker again is contingent on Republicans’ retaining control of the House. Yes, the GOP has nearly 100 seats on Democrats, but some pundits, including Quandt, are predicting Democrats will gain 75 to 100 seats in the House. Political analysts have said we’ll see some balancing out this election, following several swings in one direction or another. That Democrats would re-gain control of the House seems possible — perhaps not likely, but a whole lot can change between now and the election.
Along with Chandler and Ober, O’Brien’s other campaign co-chairmen are House Republican Alliance Co-Chairwoman Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem; Ways and Means Committee Chairman Stephen Stepanek, R-Amherst; and Freshmen Republican Caucus Co-Chairman Dan Tamburello, R-Londonderry.
Even the support of folks like Chandler and Ober doesn’t necessarily mean O’Brien’s support is going to be solid for the long term. Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, writing on NHInsider.com, suggests that it is well within the realm of possibility that either Chandler or Ober could change his mind and end up supporting someone else or running for speaker themselves. Vaillancourt said both Ober and Chandler had been working to build support for themselves prior to joining O’Brien’s effort. In April, in a presidential election year, things are fluid.
Still, from O’Brien’s view, things look a lot better for him if people like Ober and Chandler are on his team, rather than declining to participate at this point.