With little fanfare, Republican lawmakers who control the New Hampshire legislature are passing bills to enact what many conservatives consider a goody-bag of policies – all without drawing the same type of national attention — and controversy — as states like Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio that have approved similar measures.
“What we’re doing is transformative,” New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien said.
The list of the GOP’s legislative accomplishments reads like a conservative wish-list following the 2010 elections in which Republicans swept into power in both the state House and Senate: The reduction of state-funded spending by 17.6 percent. A balanced budget that doesn’t raise or fees. Cutting cigarette taxes by 10 cents a pack. A plan to give the feds back approximately $666,000 in funds from President Barack Obama’s health care plan. Passage of Medicare malpractice reform and anti-welfare fraud initiatives that now sit on the governor’s desk awaiting action.
Republicans in the state legislature also OK’d a right to work bill, which Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed. Later this month, the legislature also is expected to vote on whether to override Lynch’s veto of two school choice bills.
O’Brien has been in Washington, D.C., this week to “make sure we have some support. The gains we’ve made are substantial, but they’re fragile.” On Wednesday, he spoke before the influential Americans for Tax Reform’s weekly morning meeting, hosted by Grover Norquist.
The House speaker notes that little national attention has been paid to New Hampshire despite the conservative victories.
“Unlike a John Kasich, a Scott Walker, who you can say [are] bringing forward conservative policies, we don’t have [a Republican governor],” explains O’Brien. If the governor were Republican “and we were doing this, we’d have a popular governor with a nationwide profile. How many states have taken state-funded spending and reduced it 17.6 percent?”
O’Brien slammed Lynch for being unwilling to negotiate with the large majorities in the Republican-controlled House and Senate; and when Lynch is willing to negotiate, O’Brien charges, the governor is unable to deliver Democratic votes.
“This is the way he’s always been,” the speaker crows. “This Republican legislature is the first legislative majority that has challenged him… so what does he do? He’s not going to run again [for reelection]. He’s been called out on issues. I think what he’d rather do is function as a symbolic head of state than a head of government.”
Lynch spokesperson Colin Manning said that the opposite was true — that Lynch had traditionally met regularly with the head of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, but that early in his first legislative session O’Brien had declined to continue meeting. Manning added that Lynch had worked cooperatively with Republican-held legislatures in the past.
And another populist selling point that he can boast about? His annual salary is $125, the same as it has been for the House speaker since 1888.
Most politicians decline to frankly state their broader political ambitions, and that may be the case here. But O’Brien makes the case that he doesn’t quite care to move up.
“I’m not running for governor, I’m not running for Congress, what I’m trying to bring back is limited, market-oriented government,” he said. “I gotta go back and try and see if I can keep my law practice going.”
He quips, “The worst thing that can happen to you as a state legislator in New Hampshire is they vote you out, in which case you just go fishing.”