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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Editorial: Series examines O’Brien the man

Telegraph Editorial

William O’Brien rattled the Republican Party establishment in November 2010 when he cleverly outflanked opponents and won the coveted leadership post of speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

By year’s end, he made bold moves to reshape Granite State government to reflect his ideals, while establishing a blistering leadership style reminiscent of that 1980s’ firebrand, Senate President Robert Monier.

In recent decades, speakers of the House usually have sought to be consensus builders as optimized by Salem’s Donna Sytek or Stratham’s Doug Scamman. No so O’Brien, who unapologetically takes a much harder line against legislators of either party who cross him.

His detractors call him a “bully,” and even his supporters admit his willingness to take disciplinary measures into his own hands instead of leaving the dirty work to underlings is unique.

O’Brien has established cutting government spending as his top priority. He believes collecting taxes is a necessary evil that must be done with great prudence to protect personal liberty. He believes that much social-welfare spending is a crutch that serves to undermine personal responsibility and stifle economic prosperity.

As a consequence, O’Brien was the driving force behind the current budget that reduced state spending by 17 percent.

The speaker’s agenda doesn’t stop at fiscal restraint. He is also a leading advocate for preventing out-of-state college students from voting here; ending a 40-year ban on carrying guns on the House floor; repealing same-sex marriage; passing right-to-work legislation, and granting committee chairs the power to seek subpoenas.

This kind of activist agenda from a legislative leader in unprecedented. No wonder O’Brien says the job is more “intense” than he envisioned it would be.

Regardless of one’s personal politics, it cannot be denied O’Brien is one of more intriguing and influential politicians in recent New Hampshire history.

For these reasons, The Sunday Telegraph kicks off a special four-day series today, chronicling O’Brien’s rise to power.

The eight-story package includes a review of his conservative roots, an examination of his tactics for keeping legislators in line, interviews with his Mont Vernon neighbors, comparisons with former speakers and a look to what lies ahead.

The package is supported by a rich multimedia package online, featuring interviews with O’Brien, Statehouse insiders and Telegraph reporters Kevin Landrigan and Jake Berry, who wrote the series. Readers can add their comments at www.nashuatelegraph.com/topics/obrien-rise by tweeting #obrienrisetopower.

Wednesday at noon, Landrigan and Berry will conduct a live chat about their reporting and research. And on Monday, May 7, at 10 a.m., The Telegraph will live stream and take reader questions during an editorial board meeting with O’Brien and House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt.

This series and extended online coverage are part of The Telegraph’s ongoing commitment to providing the most thorough news coverage for Greater Nashua.