Blame game rings hollow for O’Brien

It comes as no surprise that when New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien failed to achieve one of his most cherished legislative priorities – passage of a proposed constitutional amendment to strip the Supreme Court’s ability to oversee education policy – he blamed someone else for the defeat.

When criticized for his heavy-handed tactics or questioned about his legislative setbacks, O’Brien is prone to feign innocence and cast aspersions on others. This time, it was Gov. John Lynch’s fault the education amendment failed by 13 votes, after only one House Democrat voted in favor.

“We needed a bipartisan solution the governor offered and didn’t provide,” said a terse O’Brien, moments after the vote.

The truth is there wasn’t much the lame-duck governor could have done to convince House Democrats to support the amendment.

Lynch realized early on that his support for the measure carried as much weight as a malnourished flea. And this governor, especially now that he’s in glide mode, is not one to waste time on hopeless causes.

In the view of House Democrats, there were two strikes against the amendment and no need for a third.

Foremost, Democrats had honest and legitimate concerns over the amendment’s consequences. Even though it asserted the state’s responsibility to provide an adequate education, many Democrats believed it would have granted the Legislature constitutional cover to reduce funding and thereby increase the financial burden on already cash-strapped municipalities.

But it cannot be discounted that after having endured O’Brien’s arrows and insults for the better part of two years, Democrats were not about to gift wrap the divisive speaker a pretty political prize, especially on the same day candidates began filing for public office.

And let’s not forget that 50 Republicans leaned on their nay buttons as well. While the speaker is correct to point out that represents a more than 80 percent support rate, he did better herding his sheep to vote in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment banning an income tax. With only two Democrats voting in favor of that measure, it was an even greater GOP conversion rate that ensured it a comfortable victory cushion.

The education-funding defeat is one of several missteps for O’Brien this legislative session that raise questions whether his propensity to create controversy will spill over and taint other Republicans.

It just may be his demonstrative efforts to build for himself a cult of personality capable of restructuring state government will not only come up short, but create a backlash from which it will take the GOP years to recover.

Perhaps voters will discount that O’Brien’s former chief of staff and close friend resigned from a legislative services job after it was revealed he was reimbursed by taxpayers for travel to recruit Republican candidates.

It may not make a difference that while O’Brien touted a legislative agenda targeting economic issues, party leadership expended an inordinate amount of time on social issues – such as abortion and same-sex marriage – that were eventually voted down.

One thing is certain. Democrats will make O’Brien an issue this fall, and that should make Republicans nervous.