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  • Speaker William O'Brien and Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, confront each other on the floor of the House of Representatives Tuesday.
  • Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

State Rep shouts Nazi salute at Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien

CONCORD – A Manchester state representative who once lived in Germany, shouted a Nazi salute at Speaker William O’Brien during a debate on voter identification legislation.

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, shouted “Sieg Heil,” toward O’Brien after the speaker shut down debate on voter ID legislation being heard in the House.

Vaillancourt left Representatives Hall briefly and then returned, according to state legislators.

O’Brien ruled Vaillancourt was out of order and called Capitol security to have him removed.

Vaillancourt initially stayed put and refused to leave. He eventually left around 1:30 p.m. and the House broke for lunch. After the recess, Vaillancourt apologized and was given his key back so he could cast votes.

“Vaillancourt was definitely out of line when he walked out and said ‘Sieg Heil,’ but it was a good commentary on the dictatorial style of Bill O’Brien,” said Rep. Dick Drisko, R-Hollis.

Rep. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, said Vaillancourt’s remark showed “a disregard for decorum; a disrespect for the speaker,” and reflected poorly on the whole House of Representatives.

“I don’t think this kind of disrespect should be allowed in the chamber,” Daniels said. “There’s no place for it.”

Several motions were made to allow Vaillancourt to stay in Representatives Hall if he apologized, but Vaillancourt wanted to apologize on his own terms, Daniels said.

O’Brien appointed a committee of three representatives to work with Vaillancourt to come up with an appropriate apology.

Meanwhile, Rep Chris Christensen, R-Merrimack, called the “Sieg Heil” remark “totally inappropriate.”

“I think we’ve been under a lot of pressure to do a volume of stuff, and that led to an overreaction from all corners of the room,” Christensen said.

Likewise, Rep. Robert Kingsbury, R-Laconia, a WWII veteran, said shouting “Sieg Heil” was offensive to all the U.S. soldiers, whom he called “his brothers” who died, according to Twitter accounts of the episode from Rep. Jon Richardson, R-Allenstown.

Rep. David Robbins, R-Nashua, said Vaillancourt’s remarks and O’Brien’s reaction were sad and disappointing.

“I hope that we can use what happened to change the direction we seemed to be heading for a while,” he said.

Just after the fracas, a number of past and current legislators held a preplanned press conference in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building, calling for a return of civility in the Legislature.

Robbins was among those who attended the meeting, which he called “a step in the right direction.”

The press conference was organized by Cynthia Dokmo and Paul Spiess, both Republicans and former legislators who represented Amherst and Milford. The idea, Spiess said, was to “encourage, support and promote the candidacy of individuals who recognize the increasing polarization of our political parties, and who want to restore the center of the political spectrum as the place where respect, cooperation and compromise are encouraged and rewarded.”

Spiess, and others who spoke, strongly criticized the polarization caused by party politics.

Former state Sen. James Squires of Hollis, for instance, said that “great danger lurks” because of the unwillingness of politicians to negotiate or compromise. “Consensus has been abandoned or demonized,” he said.

While the flap between O’Brien and Vaillancourt took place just across the street and was the topic of much discussion before the press conference, neither Dokmo nor Spiess nor Squires referenced it at first, but Spiess did respond to a question from a reporter.

He said it showed “how far down the civility of the House has fallen” and called it a “prologue to what we have to say.”

Former Speaker of the House Terri Norelli, D-Portsmouth, who did not attend the press conference, said the tone of disrespect in the House starts at the top.

“When you allow people to boo, when you allow people to clap, when you pick and choose who can be disrespectful or not, when you ignore legitimate parliamentary questions from members or dismiss and demean those who are asking them, you are setting a tone that decorum does not matter,” Norelli said.

“Sieg Heil” translated means “hail victory,” and was a hallmark salute in Nazi occupied Germany. The salute is typically made by extending the right arm out from the body and pointing the hand flat.

In 1992-93, Vaillancourt lived and studied in post-communist Berlin, according to his legislative biography.

Once it got back to the voter ID issue, the House voted 226-115 to require voters to show photo identification or have a picture taken at the polls to vote in New Hampshire.

The bill also allows a voter to fill out an affidavit and let election officials take the person’s picture. If a voter objects to having a picture taken on religious grounds, the person could fill out an affidavit and be allowed to vote.

Michael Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 301, or mcleveland@nashuatelegraph.com. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.