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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sources reluctant to go on the record about O’Brien

By MICHAEL BRINDLEY

Staff Writer

Tracking down sources willing to give their opinions on the tenure of House Speaker William “Bill” O’Brien was no easy task.

“I had an unusually large number of Republicans in the House and in the greater community that were reluctant and often refused to speak on the record about Speaker O’Brien,” said Kevin Landrigan, The Telegraph’s Statehouse reporter.

Landrigan and political reporter Jake Berry took part Wednesday in a live online chat to talk about their reporting on The Telegraph’s series, “Bill O’Brien: Rise to Power.” The four-day series, which concluded Wednesday, examined O’Brien’s ascension to the role of speaker, his controversial methods and what shaped his political ideology.

As Landrigan explained during the live chat, even members of O’Brien’s party were reluctant to speak on the record about him.

“It says a fair amount both about Speaker O’Brien and about those who won’t speak,” Landrigan said. “We’re talking about a very different cat here, a legislative leader who is unafraid to get into the face of someone who stands in the way of an important policy principle.”

That is a different approach from previous speakers, who have carried a strong gavel but publicly have not been outspoken, Landrigan said.

In interviews with Telegraph reporters for the series, O’Brien did not apologize for his views or his tactics. O’Brien has been accused of bullying and manipulating the timing of votes to fit his agenda.

“He acknowledged his strong conservative views, but he contended that with a 400-member House, he can’t possibly guide or manipulate votes,” Berry said. “Instead, he said he’s there simply to preside over the will of the House.”

Landrigan said that in their discussions, O’Brien opened up, saying he was willing to put himself in a vulnerable position by taking an aggressive approach.

“He was quite open that he expected a lot of criticism and remarked, during one quote I didn’t use, that articulate and determined conservatives in the media are typically targets for attacks,” Landrigan said.

In the series, the question was raised whether O’Brien’s approach to the speaker position was the new norm or an aberration. Berry said only time will tell.

“It strikes me that the volatility in Concord has changed the rules a bit,” Berry said. “The makeup of the Legislature has swung back and forth so much over the last few elections that it has allowed for an inexperienced, bulldog of a speaker to take charge and dig in. If we continue to see these sort of swings in the Legislature, these changes will continue.”

The online chat gave an opportunity for readers to ask questions of the reporters.

Commenter Bob Welch asked whether there was any evidence O’Brien was instructing representatives to minimize any expenses after attending American Legislative Exchange Council sessions.

Landrigan responded, saying O’Brien has been an opponent of taxpayer spending for these groups.

“It’s true that ALEC gets little support from its members and has primarily corporate and special interest groups underwriting it,” Landrigan said.

Landrigan said O’Brien was not a member until two weeks ago, when Granite State Progress, a liberal interest group, called on all House Republican members to disassociate from the group.

“One House Republican who’s a longtime ALEC member claims their New Hampshire ranks have nearly doubled due to the incident,” Landrigan said.

Mary Welch, another commenter, asked whether there was anything to indicate O’Brien would have trouble getting re-elected in his own district.

Landrigan said O’Brien has reason to fear being knocked out in the November election. He lost his seat in 2006 after only being there for two years.

Landrigan said that’s in part why he changed the district that he will run in this fall, eliminating from it the three most Democratic-leaning towns of the five he represents, Wilton, Lyndeborough and Temple.

“Speaker O’Brien only has the last election to know the lengths the Democrats will go to try to knock him off and not just in the general election,” Landrigan said.

O’Brien is scheduled to be the guest speaker at the Amherst Republicans Monthly Meeting, scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday.

Telegraph readers will have the chance to ask O’Brien questions directly when he sits down for an interview with The Telegraph editorial board 10 a.m. Monday. Visit at www.nashuatelegraph.com to submit your questions for O’Brien.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.