Speaker of the House William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, has more or less had his way in getting legislation through the state House of Representatives this session. Of course, he’s got historically large Republican majorities to work with, but it’s his first time at the helm and he’s gotten bills passed at a pretty efficient clip.
Even on the state budget, it appears the Senate had to cave to some extent to the House’s budget proposal, while many had expected the Senate to add back in many of the items the House proposed to cut.
The right-to-work bill seems to be the only sticking point so far. The House passed it, as did the Senate, but the House wasn’t able to do so by a veto-proof majority. And so Gov. John Lynch vetoed it. His veto wasn’t supposed to mean anything, but so far it has on this measure.
O’Brien was reportedly about a handful of votes away from overriding Lynch’s veto. There was supposed to be a vote a few weeks ago. When O’Brien held off on that vote, it was seen as a signal that he didn’t have the votes he needed. Waiting for a time when there’s a more advantageous mix of lawmakers in the House for a vote is not a new tactic, but it has angered opponents of the bill who could smell the speaker’s defeat on this measure.
It’s not as though there’s some uprising in the Republican caucus, though Democrats will try to paint it that way. O’Brien still got 225 legislators to vote for the legislation. It’s maybe a little surprising the last few needed votes have been so hard to come by.
“And the opposition has dug in its heels,” said former state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen. “The pressure has been counterproductive. The more pressure that has been put on wavering members, the more they’ve dug their heels in. And the less likely they’ve become to get the votes they needed.”
New Hampshire would be the 23rd state in the country and the first in the Northeast to enact right-to-work legislation, which would eliminate requirements that state workers join unions and that workers who opt out of unions be forced to pay any portion of union dues. Opponents say there are already legal protections in place for people who opt not to join a union. They say no one can legally be forced to join a union.
Opponents, in particular Democrats, have charged that right-to-work is Southern legislation that isn’t needed in the Granite State.
How big a statement?
Cullen said he’s in support of the right-to-work bill and hopes the legislature overrides Lynch’s veto, but he’s not sure how big a deal the issue is in terms of policy.
“It’s kind of much ado about nothing,” Cullen said. “New Hampshire is not a big union state. That’s not going to change, whether this passes or not. There’s not a big car manufacturer or an airplane manufacturer saying
‘we’re poised to move to Portsmouth if New Hampshire passes right-to-work legislation.’”
Cullen said it’s mostly an ideological statement.
“I think statements are important sometimes, but I don’t think this makes a big difference in job creation in the short run, one way or the other,” Cullen said.
Either way, Cullen figures right to work wouldn’t be what O’Brien and Republican leadership would be remembered for after this session.
“He’s had one success after another for most of this session,” Cullen said.
“A defeat on the right-to-work bill would be the exception, not the rule. It’s been a very good session on balance from a policy perspective.”
Bullying or pushing hard?
Some are saying O’Brien and his team are being too heavy-handed in persuading lawmakers to vote for right to work.
Cullen said he wasn’t sure the issue had been mishandled.
Reps. Marshall and Matt Quandt, both Republicans of Exeter and father and son, have had their differences with the O’Brien leadership team. First, Marshall “Lee” Quandt was removed from a committee post presumably because he spoke out against O’Brien.
Then Matt Quandt recently resigned from his leadership post saying in a statement, “it is evident now that pro-worker Republican views like mine are not respected under this leadership team.” He sharply continued, “We are not here to blindly follow a leader who is rejecting those values to please a group of transplants who have no understanding for New Hampshire tradition.”
Another representative, Rep. Tim Copeland, R-Stratham, resigned from his position as House Whip. Copeland said he couldn’t condone the disrespect O’Brien has shown to members of his caucus.
It got uglier, though perhaps O’Brien was able to remain somewhat above the fray. Deputy Majority Leader Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, accused Matt Quandt of being drunk in the House chamber.
That might all end up just being noise, though.
“If [O’Brien] weren’t pushing hard, you’d have supporters say you’re not doing enough,” Cullen said. “I think some of the criticism goes with the territory and part of the price of being a leader.