Nov 19, 2014 10:13 AM
CONCORD - The road to redemption was complete Tuesday with the wheels set in motion for Mont Vernon Republican Bill O'Brien to return as speaker of the New Hampshire House after two years in exile.
After an hour-long, closed door caucus of House Republicans, O'Brien, 63, narrowly edged another former House Speaker, Gene Chandler, 67, for the nomination.
"It is the highlight of my life to look over at all of you,'' O'Brien told his colleagues right after the close, secret ballot vote.
"I appreciate your vote and I will work to earn that support from all of you.''
Despite the tight, 116-112 vote, Chandler moved to make the vote unanimous.
Also Chandler stressed he would not entertain any move by House Democrats or Gov. Maggie Hassan to work together to deny O'Brien the gavel when the full House officially names the speaker on Dec. 3.
"I hope we're able to keep it together, put up a good front and get some responsible legislation passed,'' Chandler said.
O'Brien brought Chandler up to the podium after the victory and vowed both would be part of the next House leadership team.
Governor Hassan congratulated O'Brien on the victory and vowed to work across the aisle with him over the next two years.
"I will continue to work with legislative leaders from both political parties in order to solve problems and make progress for New Hampshire's people, businesses and economy,'' Hassan said.
But Republican State Chairwoman Jennifer Horn of Nashua, who moderated the House speaker contest, said O'Brien can be counted upon to block Hassan moves.
"Speaker O'Brien is a proven conservative, a tireless advocate for limited government and an outstanding leader who will stand up for fiscal responsibility in Concord. The Republican State Committee looks forward to working with Speaker O'Brien to hold Governor Hassan's accountable for her reckless tax and spend agenda and promote responsible Republican policies that will benefit all Granite Staters,'' Horn said in a statement.
Both O'Brien and Chandler had campaigned to reduce regulations on New Hampshire small businesses and perhaps cut business taxes.
"We can make New Hampshire the crown jewel of New England,'' O'Brien said.
During an interview with NH1, O'Brien dismissed the notion part of his job would be to snuff out Hassan's ambitions. Many prominent Democrats identify Hassan as the only one in their party who could take out Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, in the 2016 elections.
"I don't know what Governor Hassan's motives are; I'm going to assume they are to do what's best for the state of New Hampshire,'' O'Brien said.
But during the private caucus Tuesday, reporters could hear O'Brien rail against Hassan's spending in the current budget and the fact two Wall Street rating agencies had last spring put New Hampshire on a credit watch.
O'Brien also pushed for welfare reform.
"We now have a welfare system that requires a family of four to earn $60,000 a year to replace the benefits they receive,'' O'Brien said.
The win for O'Brien came despite the fact Ayotte, former Governors John H. Sununu and State Merrill and ex-House Speakers Doug Scamman and Donna Sytek, all endorsed Chandler.
"Senator Ayotte supported Gene Chandler in this race but ultimately it was up to the House to decide,'' Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Ayotte said after the vote in a statement.
O'Brien supporters like Hudson Republican Rep. Lynne Ober said the second time around O'Brien will be in the background and let key members of his leadership team carry issues.
In 2010, Ober backed Chandler who lost to O'Brien in that caucus battle by nine votes.
On Tuesday she switched to O'Brien.
"Both are class acts,'' Ober said. "One of the things that Bill said to me is I want to develop new leaders, I want to develop the rest of the caucus and I wasn't you to help me do that.''
But critics like Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, can't forget O'Brien pushed through a state budget that cut spending by more than 11 percent and nearly wiped out a program giving services to run away, truant or delinquent children.
"There was no cooperation, there were some very, very foolish things done in the budget process that had a dramatic effect on the people of the state of New Hampshire, most notably of course was the elimination of social programs where kids were left literally unattended. We had to scramble to take care of them,'' D'Allesandro said.
"If the modus operandi of the former speaker is going to be that of the new speaker then we are all in trouble.''
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