New Hampshire's Virtual Town Hall
Without question, Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt’s “sieg heil” outburst toward House Speaker O’Brien this week was inappropriate.
But the outburst speaks to a fundamental issue in the New Hampshire House: O’Brien is a my-way-or-the-highway tyrant who has created a level of political dysfunction in the chamber.
He expects to be treated with respect. Indeed, his position as speaker of the House earns him a large measure of respect.
But, with all due respect, it is a one-way street. The Republican from Mount Vernon does not show respect or patience or empathy for anyone or anything with whom he disagrees.
If he doesn’t get his way -- as has been the case with certain piece of legislation in the two sessions he has been speaker -- he can be petulant and vengeful.
O'Brien (pictured left) is quick to punish members of his own GOP caucus if they step out of what is a very narrow line of loyalty to him and his pet projects, such as right-to-work, redistricting, abortion and welfare.
A transcript of the proceedings involving Vaillancourt, of Manchester, opens a window into the frustration that many reps probably feel in their dealings with the speaker.
House members on Tuesday, May 15, were discussing a voter ID bill - one that is more stringent (and some say more strident) than the state Senate is willing to accept.
Vaillancourt, according to a the audio available on NHPR, challenged O’Brien that he wasn’t giving both sides of the argument equal time.
Said Vaillancourt: “Are you willing to treat everybody fairly or not?”
Said O’Brien: “Representative Vaillancourt, another outburst like that and you will be removed from the hall.”
Said Vaillancourt (after a short pause): “Sieg heil.”
The Nazi salute of “hail victory” evokes a terrible, murderous, fascist regime that was Germany in the World War II era.
To address the speaker in the manner that Nazis saluted Adolf Hitler is wrong.
Vaillancourt and the public discourse would have been better off had he made a statement on the House floor similar to the statement he made outside after being removed from the hall:
"It's about time we rise up and say, 'No more tyranny. No more autocracy,'" he said. "Everybody should be treated fairly in this House and any democratic body."
That is the truth that gets to the heart of the matter of what is happening inside our House.
There is tyranny. There is autocracy. There is no democracy. There is no bipartisanship. And the New Hampshire House - indeed, the entire state -- is worse off for it.