CONCORD — The second era of Bill O’Brien as New Hampshire’s Speaker of the House is at hand.
It won’t become official until Dec. 3 when the full House meets for reorganization, but the new House majority Republican caucus voted 116-112 on Tuesday to nominate O’Brien, 63, of Mont Vernon, as its candidate for speaker over current House Republican Leader Gene Chandler.
Chandler told reporters he has no intention of making a deal with Democratic minority to try to win the speaker’s post. He moved immediately after the House GOP vote to make the vote for O’Brien unanimous, ending any lingering doubt about his intentions.
“This campaign wasn’t all good, let’s just say,” Chandler said. “Nonetheless, under no circumstances would I not support the nominee of the caucus. I always will. That’s just who I am, that’s all.”
There was some frustration evident in Chandler, who served as speaker from 2000 to 2004, after the close vote.
Asked how he fell short, he said, “Just get the people who told me they were going to vote for me to vote for me.” A Chandler supporter said that four Chandler supporters did not show up for the caucus and four others who told the Chandler team they would support Chandler ended up voting for O’Brien.
“It used to be that when someone told you something, they meant it,” Chandler said. “Now, unfortunately, it’s not the same anymore, but I guess that’s the changing of the times.”
Chandler, of Bartlett, said his “first order of business” now is “going hunting.” It was Chandler’s second loss to O’Brien, the first coming four years ago. There are 238 members of the House GOP caucus and 228 voted.
O‘Brien won despite support for Chandler from some of the top GOP establishment leaders.
A letter sent last week to Republicans elected to the House by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Govs. John H. Sununu and Steve Merrill, former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass and former House speakers Donna Sytek and Doug Scamman was not enough to pull Chandler past O’Brien.
An Ayotte spokesman said after the vote, “Senator Ayotte supported Gene Chandler in this race, but ultimately it was up to the House to decide. She has reached out to Rep. O’Brien to congratulate him.”
O’Brien was endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, whose chairman, Aaron Day, called the vote “a big win for the liberty movement and an epic loss for Sununu and Ayotte.”
State Senate President Chuck Morse said, “I look forward to working with Speaker O’Brien, along with our Republican and Democratic colleagues, to balance New Hampshire’s budget, improve our economy, and deliver vital state services to those most in need.
“I would also like to thank Speaker Chandler for his continued service to the Legislature and the people of New Hampshire.”
O’Brien left the State House without speaking to reporters after the vote, but his top supporters predicted a kinder, gentler O’Brien in his second stint as speaker than the tumultuous term of 2011-2012, which set up O’Brien as a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats as well as some Republicans.
“You’ll see us working more together as a team,” said former Deputy Speaker Pam Tucker. “We will have a strong majority leader,” yet to be announced by O’Brien. There were reports, however, that O’Brien intends to name Chandler to his leadership team.
Former Deputy Majority Leader Steve Stepanek, another top O’Brien supporter, said, “We’re going to be reaching across the aisle. We need Gene’s supporters. We need the expertise that they have. We will unite as a united caucus with one voice under one speaker and forwarding the agenda that is best for the State of New Hampshire.”
Rep. Lynne Ober, who supported Chandler two years ago but switched to O’Brien, said, “You work for your leadership. I would never not work for the Republican caucus. And I’m sure Gene will not do that either. He is a gentleman. He is a man of class.”
Ober said she backed O’Brien because he told her that he wanted to “develop new leaders and develop the next generation. And I think he’s going to do that.”
Former House Majority Leader and Rep.-elect Pete Silva, an O’Brien supporter, said the letter from Ayotte and the other GOP leaders hurt Chandler.
“A lot of people came up to me and told me that put them over the edge, in our favor,” Silva said. “But it’s over and I’m sure Gene is going to be involved. I think it’s going to be way better than last time.”
There was no formal reaction to the GOP caucus from Gov. Maggie Hassan’s office or the state Senate Democratic caucus. But state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, had a blunt assessment.
He said that during O’Brien’s first term as speaker, there were massive budget cuts, which “hurt children” and education, and confrontations.
He said he would believe that O’Brien’s has changed and will be kinder and gentler only after a “saliva test and blood test.”
The state Democratic Party issued no formal statement but sent out a fundraising email with the subject line, “Back to the Future.” It said “we can expect the same extreme, Tea Party agenda: Draconian cuts to higher education, but cheaper cigarettes. Right-to-work for less. Repeal of marriage equality. Block access to women’s healthcare.”
But state Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn called O’Brien “a proven conservative, a tireless advocate for limited government and an outstanding leader who will stand up for fiscal responsibility in Concord.”
The caucus met behind closed doors for more than an hour, listening to nomination speeches for the two candidates from Ober and Rep. Ken Weyler for O’Brien and Reps. Jack Flanagan and Karen Umberger, and then from O’Brien and Chandler.
O’Brien was overheard telling the caucus the state should no longer be a “slave to federal manates” and said that under his leadership the House could help again make New Hampshire “the crown jewel of New England.”
Chandler said that under his leadership the House would attempt to “get a handle on the New Hampshire Retirement System” and its financial difficulties and would address business taxes.
Also, said Chandler, “I’d stack my conservative credentials up against anyone.”