The most drama in the New Hampshire House this Valentine’s Day Eve didn’t concern any legislation but whether or not Speaker Terie Norelli was going to have former Speaker Bill O’Brien dragged out of the hall, never to return until he apologized for bad behavior. Yes, perhaps I overstate the drama; but not by all that much.
Read on. I serve my self up as a reporter here, not a score settler.
In a seemingly endless parliamentary inquiry regarding the right to work bill, O’Brien was interrupted not once, not twice mind you, but three times by Norelli.
He then responded with the kind of lippy retort which had anyone given him when he was Speaker, would have led to the sergeant at arms being called to remove him from the hall.
The bill, named the Franklin Parting right to work act, had no chance of being passed. The 13-5 Labor Committee recommendation of inexpedient to legislate was confirmed by a 212-141 vote by the House (after O’Brien finally stopped talking and sat down) with only one Democrat, Michael Garcia of Nashua, voting for the bill and 18 Republicans voting against it.
Here’s how parliamentary inquiries (PIs) work in the New Hampshire House. We’re not talking about your usual inquiries attempting to elicit information from the chair. No, not at all. There’s a tradition here in New Hampshire that after the speeches for and against a bill have all been heard, a BRIEF parliamentary inquiry is allowed.
Here’s an example, carried to an outrageous extreme, but it’s meant just to give you a flavor of the purpose of the effort.
“Madame Speaker,” someone might ask, “if I believe in apple pie and motherhood, would I now press the green button and vote in favor of this bill?”
Or, “Madame Speaker, if this bill would lead to the ruination of our society, would I now press the red button and vote against it?”
If you want to give a speech, you should sign up to speak for or against a bill. These final PIs are meant to consolidate support; to summarize an issue.
During her previous four years as Speaker, Terie Norelli (rightly so in my opinion) encouraged Reps to limit their PIs to 30 seconds. In his two years, O’Brien tended to let Reps ramble on with longer PIs.
Today, even Republicans in the back of the hall realized O’Brien was going on far too long with his inquiry. I sat quietly in my seat, just wondering how long Speaker Norelli was going t allow him to ramble. When she first cautioned him about the form and purpose of a PI, O’Brien simply ignored her and kept asking a series of questions, arguing the issue of how we need the right to work bill.
When Speaker Norelli interrupted O’Brien to second time, again he ignored her and reverted back to his prepared remarks.
Wow, I said to myself, how long is this going to continue? Is she going to let him continue on and on? He would have been gaveling a Rep (including yours truly) into silence had such insolence been displayed when he was Speaker.
The third time Speaker Norelli interrupted O’Brien; she informed him the purpose of a PI was to pose a question to the chair…briefly.
By this time, O’Brien became petulant.
“Yes he did,” a fellow Republican (no names please) agrees with me as I sit here writing this.
Rather than simply continue reading his inquiry, O’Brien lectured Norelli that she should be attentive to his questions.
“People were just stunned,” this Rep tells me. “If he had been the Speaker and it were Terie Norelli doing that, he would not have put up with it at all,” this Rep tells me. “I was surprised by his lack of discipline.”
High drama once again in the New Hampshire House thanks to the Bully Without a Pulpit, no wonder that a member of the main stream media asked me just moments prior to that whether I had heard that some TV types are trying to sell a reality TV show based on the goings on here.
I kid you not; I hadn’t heard of such a thing, but this will certainly provide fodder for such an idea!
Speaker Norelli scored major points with both Democrats and Republicans when, as if to indicate that she was not singling out O’Brien or any Republican, she then interrupted the next lengthy PI giver, Labor Chair Andrew White, of Lebanon.
She’s treating everyone the same; that was the general consensus. Beyond that, I told those around me that she’s simply reverting to what she tried to instill in us before—these inquiries are supposed to be short and to the point. If you want to make a speech, sign up to make a speech.
So back to the issue at hand, right to work had no chance. Two years ago when Republicans had a 298-102 advantage, enough pro labor Republicans (more than 40 as I recall) joined Democrats to sustain John Lynch’s veto, a major defeat for the Bully Then With The Pulpit.
The fact that only 18 Republican voted with Democrats today simply reflects the fact that Republicans ate their own in the September primary (Julie Brown for example) and then more pro labor Republicans (my dear friend Irene Messier for example) lost to pro labor Democrats in November.
Here are the 18 Republicans who voted against right to work today:
Emerson, Richardson, Danielson, Devine, Hopper, Mike McCarthy, Stroud, Takesian, Kidder, Amy and Larry Perkins, Copeland, Khan, Nigrello, Saparetto, Webb, St. James, and Bickford.
Two absent Republicans (Lockwood and Bishop) most likely would have voted against the bill, but that’s just a guess.
Every House session is available any time on streaming audio. The Norelli-O’Brien confrontation occurred about an hour and a half into the session. If you listen and want to offer a play by play description here, feel free.
Remember that I did sports play by play for many, many years (seven sports at Plymouth State and high school football and basketball in the Plymouth area including the quadruple overtime championship basketball battle of the Bobcats, Plymouth vs. Oyster River, 1980ishs—don’t get me going on that subject…) so you can probably trust me.
"I was just amazed that he kept going and going; I'm not a fan of Terie Norelli, but she handled that very well," this Republican Rep is still telling me as I post this. "And he lost his message by doing so."