New Hampshire Anti-Bullying Proposal Takes Aim at Lawmaker

PHOTO: House Speaker William OBrien, left, speaks with Republican leaders during session at the Statehouse, in this June 22, 2011 file photo, in Concord, N.H.
Share
Copy

It's an anti-bullying proposal unlike any other in the nation, and it has caused an uproar in one of the oldest state legislatures in the country.

Rather than take aim at bullies in the schoolhouse, the proposed law targets the most powerful lawmaker in the New Hampshire statehouse -- House Speaker William O'Brien.

"People are calling him 'Bully' O'Brien," said state Rep. Timothy Copeland, a supporter of the legislation.

State Rep. Susan Emerson, a widow serving her fifth term in the House, introduced the anti-bullying measure after a now-legendary confrontation with O'Brien.

O'Brien, 60, summoned Emerson to a meeting in the statehouse, and then dressed her down for offering budget amendments to restore heath care funding he was trying to cut, Copeland said.

"I heard the yelling, the screaming ... and then she came out of that room crying and visibly shaking,'' Copeland said. "This is a woman in her 70s or 80s. I thought she was going to collapse. ... I went to console her. She kept saying, 'I can't believe it. I can't believe it.'

"There was a teacher with about 16 to 20 high school students sitting there in the anteroom listening to all of this," he added. "She went over to console Ms. Emerson and then asked, 'Is this the way they do business in the House?'"

Emerson retaliated by introducing the anti-bullying legislation, which would ban lawmakers from conduct which "physically harms a member," "causes emotional distress to a member," or "creates a hostile environment." Violators could face a $2,500 fine for each offense.

Stories of backroom arm-twisting and cajoling in Congress and statehouses are legion.

Before he became president, Lyndon Johnson had extremely sharp elbows as the U.S. Senate majority leader, subjecting fellow members to the "Johnson Treatment" to force them to support his legislative causes.

More recently, Tom Delay, R-Texas, earned the nickname "The Hammer" for his hard-nosed tactics enforcing party discipline as he climbed the ranks from backbencher to House majority leader.

And then there are politicians like N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, celebrated for their "tell it like it is" ways with the public.

What's unusual about the New Hampshire arm-twisting is that lawmakers are talking so openly about it. Usually, such confrontations are rarely confirmed.

O'Brien, a Republican, could not be reached for comment by ABC News, but in an interview last week with The Nashua Telegraph, he denied bullying Emerson.

"There were no loud voices, no abuse, no bullying. We were having a conversation, and I made clear to her the House was not going to adopt any of her amendments," he said.

"She was emotional about it -- but not because of anything I said," he added. "It pains me to this day to say Rep. Emerson has fabricated all of this."

The speaker accused the Democratic Party of spreading "this incorrect narrative."

New Hampshire Democrats are delighting in the allegations, but what is giving the accusations weight is that both Emerson and Copeland are Republicans.

Indeed, Copeland claims that moments after Emerson received her dressing-down, O'Brien threatened him, too, demanding he withdraw a budget amendment that the speaker opposed.

"He was very angry, very red in the face," Copeland said. "He raised his voice and said that if I continue with this course of behavior and should I seek re-election, he would do everything in his power to thwart my re-election effort.

"I said, 'You do what you have to do Mr. Speaker, and I will do what I have to do. I don't work for you, I work for the people,'" Copeland added.

Copeland said his seat in the House was soon moved, apparently in retaliation, from a choice aisle location that he requested because of a disability to a spot in the middle of a row.

Emerson has been recovering from surgery and could not be reached for comment, but she sent a statement to a legislative committee that held a hearing last week on her proposal.

She wrote, "The formation and presentation of this bill is an attempt to ensure that no other state legislator should have to endure what I have experienced, nor should any member of the New Hampshire House ever feel threatened or intimidated by the speaker of the House."

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...