Remember the good old days when votes of House committees actually meant something, when committees were almost never overturned on the House floor? Those days are gone--if not forever, then certainly for as long as Bill O'Brien wields the gavel.
For the second week in a row, the House overturned a near unanimous committee recommendation yesterday, but this time it was even more stunning since nearly all of Speaker O'Brien's leadership team pulled out all the stops (including a flagrant and unprecedented attempt by the Speaker to deny free speech on the House floor) to pass the bit of corporate welfare contained in House Bill 1305, the attempt to rob $6 million from the tax base of cities and towns by reenaticing a special exemption to telephone companies for their poles.
I know it's complicated grammatically, but reread that last sentence if you have any doubt where I stood on this terrible bill which resurfaces year after year. And yes, since the move of Tom Fahey from scribe to lobbyist, I am quoted in many Union Leader stories these days. Gary Rayno got my quote right although the reporter erred by ending his story saying the bill will now go to the Ways and Means Committee. That's where it would have gone had it passed, but it was killed...killed...killed rather handily in fact...no trip to Ways and Means needed. In a successful attempt to get rid of this bill completely, I moved for reconsideration (a bill may only be reconisdered once so we often move it immediately and ask members to vote no, so the bill cannot resurface later).
Stick a fork in this sucker, it's dead. Of course, the Speaker could break the rules--he's been known to do that--in an attempt to resusitate it, but the vote was so lopsided, not even this Speaker would likely expend his capital by such a shady maneuver.
The most important vote was 133-161, not to accept the Science and Technology recommenation of ought to pass. Phone companies and their corporate welfare brethren did less well on each succeeding vote, but keep in mind that 133-161 number. That's a 55-45 percent margin, rather astounding since the committee vote was 13-1 in favor.
People asked me if I was surprised at the vote or the margin. Only slightly. I thought slightly more Democrats would side with the phone copanies (only 10 of 73 did) and slightly more Republicans would defy the Speaker (it was 123 for the phone companies, 98 Republicans for cities and towns).
I guess I should be happy that as many as 98 Republicans had the courage to defy not only the Speaker but the Majority leader D.J. Bettencourt, who has become known as the clown prince of the House, the one who called the bishop a "pedophile pimp", the one who loves to scream roll call as if that will intimidate Republicans to falling in line. Also for this travesty of a bill was the prince's deputy Sean Jasper who was last seen about 8 p.m. standing in the sidewalk outside the legislative office building bemoaning how they let this one get away.
It was never close, Your Vileness, never close even though sponsors included not only Bettencourt but Finance Chair Ken Weyler, Ways and Means Chair Steve Stepanek, and former W/M Chair Norm Major.
The fact that such a team went down in flames speaks volumes about the power of cities and towns who lobbied hard through the Municipal Association to kill this bill.
Look at the roll call.
After being asked to kill the bill, four Laconia Republicans defied leadership and voted no.
Ten of 15 Mancheser Republicans voted against the bill (the Manchester delegation was 6-18 overall with Jeff Goley the only Democrat to vote for it--the five Republicans siding with leadership were Jerry Bergevin, Cathy Cusson Cail, Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Proulx, and Connie Soucy--they are all on my list of people Democrats will target and most likely defeat come November although Proulx sides with Democrats on right to work so they may give him a pass).
Former Municipal and County chair Betsey Patten, of Carroll County, deserves top marks for the most outsanding parliamentary inquiry I've heard in years opposing the bill. Former Speaker Gene Chandler also voted against the bill as did Transportation Chair Sherm Packard, and Finance Division Chairs Neal Kurk and Bill Belvin. Most other chairs and vice chairs stuck with leadership.
My quick count is that Republicans on the Finance Committee were split 9-9.
The McGuires of Merrimack County canceled out each other's votes, EDA Chair Carol voting for the bill, Finance member Dan voting against it.
Twas a most interesting roll call vote. If you want to ponder it (afer all, everyone should display a tad of macochism), it's sequence number 94 in House records.
Republicans were 55.7 percent for the bill (123-98); Democrats were 86.3 percent against it (10-63 with former Chairs Susan Almy, Nadia Kaen, and Tara Sad three of the ten--Democratic leader Terie Norelli for some reason took a walk; she had said she was for the bill, but didn't stick around to vote for it).
102 Representatives were absent for the vote (it came at 6:09 p.m.) which led to Speaker O'Brien soon calling in state police to keep members from leaving the chamber lest the number fall below 266 which would have required a two-thirds vote for anything to pass (and O'Brien still had has Executive Council gerrymander to ram through at that late hour).
Truly, you just can't make this stuff up. The sargeant of arms staff barred the doors but if any rep managed to slip past them, armed police were at the next set of doors.
As Jack Paar used to say, "I kid you not."
Certainly this will serve as more media ammunition to make the House look bad. Hey, you don't need to work hard to make this House look bad. The Speaker has succeeded in doing that in spades, to such an extent that talk around Concord is not whether O'Brien will be back as Speaker next year (he most assuredly will not be), but whehter he can even hold his own seat. (Actually one does not have to be a member to be elected Speaker, but it just doesn't happen).
Democrats left the session praying that nothing will happen to O'Brien since they've made the judgement that every day he presides over the House, Democrats win more support statewide.
That comment was given credecne this morning as we picked up the paper to read about the feud between the House and Senate led by the clown prince who, just to repeat, was one of the sponsors--shamefully--of the corporate welfare bill which lost yesterday.