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On the Trail: O’Brien eyes speakership as he bids for a State House return

  • Former New Hampshire speaker Bill O’€™Brien acknowledges the crowd at the Henry J. Sweeney Legion Post #2 in Manchester as he announces his campaign for U.S. Senate. He is now running to return to the N.H. House. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • State Rep. Bill O?Brien speaks to roughly 120 Republicans gathered, Tuesday Dec. 16, 2014 in this photo taken through a window of a closed door caucus led by O'Brien to discuss how they should move forward after refusing to recognize Speaker Shawn Jasper's appointed majority leader, Rep. Jack Flanagan. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)In this photo taken through a window of a closed-door caucus, state Rep. Bill O’Brien speaks to Republican representatives yesterday. They’re seeking a rule change that would effectively install O’Brien as majority leader. Jim Cole

For the Monitor
Published: 6/26/2020 12:27:36 PM

Conservative firebrand Bill O’Brien is best known for his tumultuous 2010-2012 tenure as state House of Representatives speaker, when he shaped and passed massive cuts to government spending that were praised by his supporters and decried by Democrats.

Now – nearly a decade after his controversial term steering the House – O’Brien is running for a seat in the Legislature again and told the Monitor that he would “absolutely” like to serve again as speaker.

Earlier this month O’Brien filed to run for a seventh term as state representative. But O’Brien’s not running in Mont Vernon, where he and his wife Roxanne lived for many years. They moved to Nashua a few years ago and O’Brien’s running in the Ward 9 district.

Before he has a chance at speaker O’Brien must first get elected in a city that consistently sends Democrats to Concord. The Ward 9 district has three seats and all are currently held by Democrats.

“I hope to get up there,” O’Brien said. “I hope to serve in a leadership role up there and contribute as I did putting together the budget in 2011.”

Pointing to the rough fiscal situation New Hampshire and every other state is facing due to the freefall of the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, O’Brien compared the current economic situation to his two years as speaker, when the country was trying to recover from the Great Recession.

“I see very similar circumstances arising as when I when I was Speaker,” he noted. “We’re going to have some real budget problems and the choice is new taxes or right-sizing government. I think that’s a decision I’d certainly like to weigh in on.”

He didn’t hesitate when asked if he like to serve as speaker again.

“I would. I would. Absolutely,” he said. “But there’s a lot that has to be decided first by the voters. And if I do get elected, then by my colleagues up there.”

O’Brien was upended in another attempt to be speaker in 2014 by Republican Shawn Jasper, of Hudson. Jasper is now the commissioner for the state Department of Agriculture.

During his term as speaker, O’Brien became a polarizing figure in New Hampshire politics – his supporters loved his take-no-prisoners approach to achieve the party’s legislative goals, while his detractors called him a bully who was unwilling to compromise.

He was both fiscally and socially conservative. He spearheaded steep cuts to the state budget, including $100 million from the University System of New Hampshire, and opposed attempts to allow gay marriage in the state.

Republicans would need to take back control of the House for O’Brien to even have a chance at becoming speaker. The current speaker of the House is Democrat Steve Shurtleff, of Concord.

“I will certainly talk to folks when the time is right,” O’Brien said. “Right now I have to talk to the voters of Ward 9 in Nashua and to tell them who I am and why I want to be up there and why they should want somebody like me up there.”

When his final term expired in 2015, O’Brien said he wasn’t coming back and instead eyed a chance to run for higher office.

Last July, O’Brien launched a bid for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. He landed the endorsement of his friend Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as well as grabbing the backing of a number of other national and state conservatives.

But he struggled with fundraising in a race that included retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc and attorney Corky Messner – and he ended his campaign in early April.

“The finances weren’t coming together,” he acknowledged.

O’Brien – who owns and runs a internet service business which he noted will soon grow to eight employees – said his desire to return to the State House is about public service.

“It’s not so much that I need an occupation but I do think that all of us, when we can, should serve,” he said.

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