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House majority leader dresses down 'birther'

Last modified: 11/22/2011 12:00:00 AM
As House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt seeks to distance his Republican caucus from the so-called "birther" movement, House Speaker Bill O'Brien is scheduled to meet today with a group of lawmakers angered by the state's decision not to remove President Obama from the primary ballot over renewed questions about his citizenship.

Over the weekend, Bettencourt sent an email to Orly Taitz, a California lawyer who challenged Obama's eligibility last week before the state Ballot Law Commission by alleging the incumbent president is using a fake birth certificate and Social Security number. The commission unanimously rejected the complaint, which resulted in state representatives and other attendees shouting their displeasure at the five-member panel.

Bettencourt said the response was "unbecoming of any legitimate political dialogue, nevermind one as ridiculous as the continued obsession over President Obama's birth place."

"I have spoken to the Representatives who were present and expressed to them my strong desire that they immediately disassociate themselves from you and this folly," Bettencourt wrote to Taitz, a message that was copied to the House Republican caucus.

Bettencourt said he decided to write Taitz after she sent O'Brien a letter demanding the removal of Secretary of State Bill Gardner for "egregious elections fraud, aiding and abetting fraud, forgery and possibly treason." The Republican from Salem said Gardner is "a New Hampshire treasure who has worked tirelessly for Granite Staters and the (preservation) of our special political culture."

"It takes an extraordinary circumstance for me to bother taking time to respond to the gobbledygook that is the 'birther' movement," Bettencourt wrote. "However, your call on House leadership to begin the process of removing Secretary of State Bill Gardner calls for such response."

Following the commission's decision Friday, a group of House members requested a meeting with O'Brien to discuss their frustration over the board's dismissal of their complaint. Nine Republican state representatives have signed on to the complaint challenging Obama's candidacy in the Democratic primary: Harry Accornero of Laconia, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, Susan DeLemus of Rochester, Laurie Pettengill of Glen, Larry Rappaport of Colebrook, William Tobin of Sanbornton, Moe Villeneuve of Bedford and Lucien and Carol Vita of Middleton.

O'Brien is scheduled to meet with the legislators in his State House office at 1 p.m. House Policy Director Greg Moore said O'Brien's job entails listening to the concerns of all 400 members of the New Hampshire House.

"Members can come in at any time they want and sit down with him," Moore said. "He'll give them a chance to come in and make their case."

Rappaport and Accornero denied in interviews yesterday that they are true "birthers," a term some view as pejorative that has been used to describe doubters of Obama's American citizenship. However, both said Obama hasn't definitively proved his citizenship despite releasing a long-form Hawaiian birth certificate earlier this year.

"What I've said repeatedly is I want an answer," Rappaport said. "The birth certificate that was released, that I saw at least, was a forgery. I can say that with complete confidence."

Accornero said he is more concerned with Taitz's claim that Obama's Social Security number was never assigned to him.

"When you tie the two together, you start questioning everything," Accornero said. "My main concern in this whole thing is to make sure that he was the person he says he was."

Rappaport said he was "not happy" about Bettencourt's email. Accornero said if Bettencourt wants to dismiss his concerns, "that's his problem."

"D.J. can think it's an embarrassment, but I'm sorry - I have a right to speak out," Accornero said. "I didn't give my power of attorney over to D.J. or the state of New Hampshire to speak out on national issues."

Accornero said he would be "remiss in my duty as a legislator" not to continue to question Obama's eligibility to seek the presidency. He hopes O'Brien agrees with his group's desire for further investigation into the Obama case, but he also wants the state to adopt a more aggressive policy for investigating elections law complaints so future concerns like his don't get "swept under the rug."

"I would be just as insistent if it was for Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney," he said.

Baldasaro, chairman of the House Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs committee, said he hadn't seen Bettencourt's email.

"Any reaction I have, I'll talk to him face-to-face about it," Baldasaro said.

In a statement last week, New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein criticized Taitz for "coming to our state to bring up ridiculous old mistruths about the President."

"Rather than focus on issues that matter to American workers, like creating jobs and strengthening the middle class, the GOP continue to push an extreme right wing agenda that is completely out of touch with voters," Kirstein said.

Bettencourt said in an interview yesterday that House Republicans should be concentrating on other matters.

"I think it's critically important that the caucus focus on the issues that are on the minds of Granite Staters and that they not clog up the lines of communication to the public on the hard work we are doing to improve New Hampshire's economy and get people back to work," Bettencourt said.

Taitz criticized Bettencourt yesterday as a "corrupt politician."

"He's just an establishment puppet who is told he's not allowed to talk about certain issues," she said.

Taitz said she believes there was an agreement between leading Republicans and Democrats during the 2008 presidential election that neither side would question the constitutional eligibility of the opposing candidate. (Republican John McCain has been determined, like Obama, to be a natural-born American citizen despite being born in the Panama Canal Zone where his father, a naval officer, was stationed.)

"I think there was a deal made at the top," she said.

In Bettencourt's email, he told Taitz that if the secretary of state were to entertain her request that Obama be taken off the ballot, "he would be putting New Hampshire's 'First in the Nation' Primary in grave danger."

"Please, Dr. Taitz, go away and leave New Hampshire alone," he wrote.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)


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