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Sunday, November 20, 2011

House Speaker O’Brien warmly received in Mont Vernon

MONT VERNON – The red balloons and the “We Love House Speaker O’Brien,” signs at the entrance to the Village School were a clue that this Town Hall meeting would be different than the one House Speaker Bill O’Brien held last month in Lyndeborough when he got into heated exchanges with members of the public.

This time there were many O’Brien supporters among the approximately 200 people who turned out for the house speaker’s Town Hall meeting in his home town, including a number of Republican legislators and Ovide Lamontagne, who is running for governor in the Republican primary.

There was none of the shouting that characterized the Oct. 22 meeting when attendees from out of town were accused of hijacking the meeting. This time speakers signed up ahead of time, and Mont Vernon residents were asked to speak first.

With O’Brien were House Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker and House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, and the three spent much of the two-hour meeting defending the Republican agenda, including their efforts to balance the state budget and pass a Right-to-Work bill.

One of the first speakers was Bill Archibald, a Mont Vernon School Board member, who said the legislator has “dumped back pension spending onto the towns.”

“My taxes have gone up $700 in two years,” he said. “Towns can’t continue to fund education.”

O’Brien told him town officials should realize that when they increase the compensation of town employees they increase pension costs. He called reliance on property taxes fair because it is a tax on wealth.

“We are spending more on education than any country other than Switzerland,” he said, “and the results are abysmal.”

O’Brien has declared his opposition to New Hampshire’s gay marriage statute.

O’Brien said he has “relatives and friends who are gay,” and supports the right of everyone to choose the partner they want, but “being together as a marriage – I just can’t do that.”

Jean Stapleton, of New Boston, criticized the House Speaker for a mailing for the special election that she called “misleading and deceptive.” O’Brien told her he was “trying to make points,” and Tucker and Bettencourt spoke in his defense.

Kathleen Coakley, of Wilton, said she owes her life to the state’s CHINS (Children in Need of Services) program, which was affected by budget cuts.

“New Hampshire invested in me, and I pay it back every day when I go to work,” she said, but O’Brien told her, “We can’t legislate entirely from anecdotal evidence.”

Bettencourt said it took courage for the GOP legislators to tackle state spending.

“We didn’t kick our challenges down the road,” he said. “You may agree or disagree, but know we are fighting to do what’s best for New Hampshire.”

O’Brien said “group after group” came to him to ask “Why are you targeting us?” especially Health and Human Services, but “at some point the spending has got to stop. Our obligation is to meet the core functions of government, and we did.”

“Jobs will come back to New Hampshire if we control spending and show commitment to deregulation.”

Fourteen people who say they lost money from the collapse of FRM, a Meredith mortgage brokerage firm, were in the audience, and their spokesman, Kent Miller, of Amherst, spoke at length.

Bettencourt told him the Legislature is holding hearings and taking testimony and will come up with recommendations “to make sure it won’t happen again.”

Tom McKinney, of Mont Vernon, thanked the legislators for balancing the budget and keeping “us from falling into the Massachusetts trap.”

“One role government should not have is helping people,” he said, and organizations like SHARE and Mont Vernon’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor program “are much more effective.”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 21, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.