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May 16. 2012 7:07PM

House decorum: Bluster and blame

Claiming that an offensive outburst by Manchester Rep. Steve Vaillancourt is evidence of bad practices on the part of House Speaker Bill O’Brien is absurd on its face. Vaillancourt, who uttered the Nazi salute “Sieg Heil” to O’Brien on the House floor on Tuesday, is a law unto himself, as close followers of the New Hampshire House know. That said, there is plenty of blame to be shared for the state of decorum in the House.

The Democratic Party and the professional left have provoked and demonized O’Brien from the start. Perhaps the best example came during last year’s carefully orchestrated public employee protests of right-to-work legislation. In blatant violation of the rules, unionized firefighters shouted from the House gallery during a legislative debate.

It was a great bit of agitprop, for it elicited its intended response: O’Brien cleared the gallery during the duration of the debate so the people’s business could proceed undisturbed. The Democrats and public employee unions then crowed that they had been silenced and bullied by the speaker they had tried to silence and bully.

O’Brien, though, is far from blameless. He has contributed to the problem with an attitude that has come across as coldly dismissive of opponents both without and within his own party. And in his aggressive quest to win political battles, he has sometimes lost sight of the bigger picture. Commanding nearly three-quarters of the 400-member House does give one a mandate to pursue one’s policies. But it is not wise to use too heavy a hand in doing so.

Political rhetoric about civility is mostly noise. Democrats didn’t care about bipartisanship when they had the majority, and Republicans don’t care about it now. That’s how it goes, and that’s OK. But as the fourth-grade tours of the State House continue through the end of the school year, let’s at least try a little bit to act like we care about getting along.


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