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Drew Cline: Former Speaker Bill O'Brien says a decade in the NH House is enough

July 22. 2015 10:42PM
Rep. Bill O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, raises his hand to speak about House rules for choosing a speaker at the State House in Concord in December. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Rep. Bill O'Brien, the provocative former Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, will not seek re-election to a sixth term next year. After a decade in the House, O’Brien said in an interview Wednesday that this term will be his last.

“It’s a temporary contribution that we all make. It’s a community service,” he said.

“I think there is a hope you go up there with some principles in mind and the courage to explain what you’re doing and not try to hide it, and then to leave after a while.”

A movement conservative with formidable skills at organization and political knife-wielding, O’Brien was co-chairman of the conservative House Republican Alliance when he beat former Speaker Gene Chandler by nine votes to become the GOP nominee for Speaker after the Tea Party wave election of 2010. O’Brien was elected to the top post on December 1 and immediately Democrats attacked him as “right-wing” and “dangerous.”

He could have replied, like Maverick in “Top Gun,” “That’s right... I am dangerous.”

As Speaker, O’Brien pursued an aggressive reform agenda. He led a fight over spending that saw the state budget actually shrink. He led the fight for a right-to-work law (which did not pass), a tightening of voter registration laws, and a host of other conservative priorities. By March of 2011, a state labor leader was calling New Hampshire “Wisconsin on steroids,” referring to the labor reforms pushed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. O’Brien’s push for right-to-work legislation drew death threats and state troopers stationed outside his Mont Vernon home for protection.

O’Brien says he feels good about his speakership, especially the budget that avoided a broad-based tax. “I felt good that we were able to show there was an opportunity to reduce government in ways that were measurable and explainable, that government doesn’t have to be growing all the time. For decades and decades, government had always grown.”

Democrats might find it hard to believe, but O’Brien does not relish the controversies.

“Obviously I would have like to have had a lot less controversy involved. I truly think a lot of the controversy was the pushback that came from having such a shock to the system. Unfortunately, I think the parties have been a little more attentive to their fringes. It makes it harder for either side to reach good solutions when it’s all name calling. That’s unfortunate, it really is.”

Among his proudest accomplishments, he said, is expanding the death penalty for home invasion murders, which he championed after the murder of his constituent, Kimberly Cates, in 2009.

O’Brien says he will not run for any office in 2016, and that includes federal ones. Translation: no challenge to Annie Kuster or Kelly Ayotte.

For now, he wants to run the business he and Rep. Steve Stepanek bought two Fridays ago, Acton, Mass., software firm Brainloop, Inc., which O’Brien runs.

As for politics, O’Brien will remain state co-chair of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire, and he says he will find some way beyond his Facebook posts to stay involved.

“I probably should just set up a blog so I can stay off Facebook,” he said. He was only half joking.

He also has outlines of a few history books he would like to write. Then there is the business to run.

“It’s too bad you don’t have two or three lives,” he said.

With his one political life, he seems at peace. “I think I can look back and say, indeed, I met my community obligations, not like that guy who leans across the fence and gripes but doesn’t do anything.”

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. His column runs on Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewhampshire.

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