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By Paul Briand

You have to wonder about House Speaker William O’Brien’s thinking..

He continues to support a conservative social agenda that includes the repeal of the state’s gay marriage law. Yet the very constituency he wants to please -- the business community -- as leader of the Republican caucus thinks the Legislature is spending way too much time on social issues.

The juxtaposition of competing interests was evident this week in two different forums: 1) O’Brien’s interview by Laura Knoy on New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange program on Tuesday and 2) the release of a survey of New Hampshire businesses in which they gave the Legislature a grade of a B.

And the reason for the B? "The House talked a good game when it comes to business, but there were cases -- like with the R&D tax credit -- when they let other priorities get in the way of their pro-business message," Chris Williams, the president and CEO of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, told the New Hampshire Business Review, which did the survey of business owners in the Granite State.

During his radio interview (see NHPR picture), O’Brien equated gay marriage with increased state spending:

“If our families are weak, then we’ll never be able to have final fiscal responsibility, because if government needs to step up for weakened families then

there’s going to be an unlimited call on government resources. One of the things that makes our families strong is a traditional definition of marriage and I firmly believe that.”

Even though polling from the survey center at the University of New Hampshire consistently shows voter support for the gay marriage law and even though repeal was beaten back by both Republicans and Democrats during this past session, O’Brien insists he’ll lead the charge again in 2013 (assuming his re-election as both a state representative from Mount Vernon and as speaker).

Conservative groups back his efforts. Moderate GOP groups don’t.

"Republicans in the House have already rejected this Speaker's anti-gay agenda, with a majority voting against repeal last time," Sean Owen, Chairman of New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality, said in an emailed statement.

"What is driving his anti-gay obsession? He is not representing his constituents, or the interests of the Republican Party.  His fixation will weigh down the GOP heading into the elections this fall and will risk other very important items on the Republican agenda."

The GOP majority in Concord has built its political agenda on the economy and jobs.

But the obsession over social issues has undermined that agenda, in the eyes of some businessmen.

The NHBR survey specifically cited SB 295, a bill to expand the research and development tax credit. The measure had bipartisan support. However, the House voted to amend it to include the "Women's Right to Know Act," a bill defeated in the Senate that required a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion. It was a deal killer. The bill failed to pass.

Since the 2013 Legislative session is a non-budget year (New Hampshire’s budgets are biennial), it’s likely the social issues will bubble to the top once again, if the GOP retains its majority and if O’Brien is back at the helm as speaker.

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