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File photo. New Hampshire House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt (left) and House Speaker Bill O'Brien.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O’Brien seeking second term as House Speaker

CONCORD – House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, kicked off his campaign for re-election and to remain as House leader Monday, attracting to his team two potential GOP rivals.

O’Brien, 50, stormed onto the scene after the 2010 tidal wave at the polls that gave Republicans a 3-1 majority in the House and Senate.

Despite never having served as a subcommittee chairman, O’Brien quickly rose to the top by dogged person-to-person campaigning and the election of more than 160 new Republicans.

On Monday, O’Brien confirmed he’s seeking a fourth term in the House and a second one as speaker this November.

“We’ve accomplished some great things, in terms of creating an environment to grow jobs, making government live within its means and bringing accountability back to Concord, and we will continue these efforts in the next biennium,” O’Brien said in a prepared statement.

O’Brien’s speakership has attracted plenty of controversy as his critics have claimed he’s used the power of the gavel to bully his enemies, punished allies who’ve disappointed him and pushed the legal bounds to gain advantage in his veto fights with Gov. John Lynch.

For his part, O’Brien said he did not become speaker to be a glad-handing, seat warmer and he’s used all political capital he’s given to try to return fiscal conservatism to the political norm in New Hampshire.

In November 2010, O’Brien only won the GOP election as speaker by nine votes on a second ballot victory over former Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett.

O’Brien responded by giving Chandler the ceremonial post of speaker pro tem and having him head the House Committee on Public Works and Highways.

Chandler answered that Monday by agreeing to serve as a co-chairman of O’Brien’s re-election as House member and speaker.

“We should focus on the good things Republicans have done in the House this session, such as passing a balanced budget, living within our means without raising taxes, and easing the burden on businesses,” Chandler said.

“In other words, we as Republicans have done exactly what we promised the voters we would do and that is why I am supporting Rep. O’Brien in his bid to be re-elected speaker.”

Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, has been given three committee leadership assignments by O’Brien and is widely seen as a potential replacement to one day wield the gavel.

Ober, a four-term member, said she wouldn’t seek to become the second woman speaker of the House unless O’Brien did not run. She took a co-chair slot on O’Brien’s committee Monday.

“Speaker O’Brien has been a focused leader and led New Hampshire back to the path of fiscal responsibility,” Ober said. “Since Republicans came into leadership, 10,000 more Granite Staters are now working, 4,500 fewer citizens are unemployed, there are 43 fewer regulations on our employers and 11 tax decreases have been implemented.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley claimed O’Brien has stood out as a tyrannical leader, removing committee members for voting their consciences against his leadership agenda and playing politics with the timing of vetoes from Lynch.

“As speaker, Bill O’Brien has pursued a radical agenda: cutting funding for higher education in half, cutting health care for seniors and children, pushing for guns in college dorm rooms, as well as the Statehouse, and trying to cut access to contraception for women,” Buckley said. “New Hampshire can’t afford two more years of Speaker Bill O’Brien.”

The other three co-chairs for O’Brien are longtime friend and Rep. Steve Stepanek, R-Amherst, and Reps. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, and Dan Tamburello, R-Londonderry.

All three lead a faction of the House GOP caucus; Stepanek the leadership camp as head of the House Ways and Means Committee, Garcia the fiscal/social conservatives as co-chair of the House Republican Alliance and Tamburello the new turks as co-chairman of the large freshman Republican Caucus.

“I appreciate the support of those who have stepped forward to be co-chairmen of my committee, and I will work hard to earn the trust of my constituents and my fellow representatives,” O’Brien said.

In an interview with The Telegraph, O’Brien said the bigger challenge for him will be to win back the House seat with Mont Vernon and New Boston electing two of its own House members this fall.

House redistricting has cut into the number of towns in which O’Brien must run. His current district also includes the towns of Lyndeborough, Temple and Wilton.

After serving one term, O’Brien lost a House race in 2006 but came back to win in both 2008 and 2010.

Also, Jennifer Daler, a Temple Democrat, easily won a special election last spring to replace Mont Vernon Republican Robert Mead, who resigned the House after O’Brien named him as House chief of staff.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter and don’t forget The Telegraph’s new, interactive live feed at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/livefeed.