New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that Rep. Pete Silva, R-Nashua and the former House Majority Whip, would be the new majority leader. It was a move made necessary by the resignation of Salem Rep. D.J. Bettencourt, who had to vacate the majority leader position after having been forced to admit that he misled the UNH School of Law about an internship. If the speaker hopes this move will quell the recent storm, which goes beyond the Bettencourt affair, his hopes are probably too high.
It is not just that Democrats will never stop talking about the resignations of the majority leader and Director of Legislator Services Bob Mead. It is that a series of unforced errors makes it easy to caricature the speaker, as the Concord Monitor did by outrageously depicting him as Hitler.
Speaker O’Brien deserves praise and credit for leading the fight for a budget that spent only what the state had and sent a strong signal to business owners that the days of reckless spending and the ad hoc taxing to pay for it were over. He also succeeded in focusing the House on budgetary and economic issues first, holding others until later.
But the speaker’s handling of House business in the last few months has needlessly angered allies as well as foes. Provoking the Senate and the governor, both needed to pass critical legislation, was a mistake. So were his mishandlings of Mead and Bettencourt. The speaker has a difficult job managing nearly 300 House Republicans. It is made more difficult when handled with less than the necessary amount of political acumen.