It was a chaotic afternoon at the Statehouse in Concord Wednesday as the House voted to override Gov. John Lynch's veto of the House's redistricting plan amid a great deal of controversy.
The controversy began when House Speaker Bill O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, called for a recess for a 15-minute private caucus for Republicans, forcing Democrats, media and the public to leave the House chamber.
When the House reconvened, a motion was made to take up Lynch's veto, a move that rankled Democrats who argued that the governor's veto message needed to be entered into the House journal before any attempt to override.
According to a release from the House Democratic office, O'Brien called for the private caucus "to present a legal opinion that he said allowed him to override the New Hampshire constitution and centuries of New Hampshire House tradition."
The veto message was voted into the House's journal and then debate began on the override.
During the debate on the veto override, Democratic leadership attempted to call a 15 minute recess of their own to caucus. O'Brien declined the request, and a later official motion on the matter was denied consideration as it did not have priority over the overall motion on the override.
O'Brien argued Democrats had been notified the vote would be coming up because of "text messages" the Democrats had received.
The House voted 246-112 to override Lynch's veto and after a reconsideration motion failed, members (mostly Democrats) lined up en masse to file written protests of the way the voting procedure was handled.
In handing in her protest, Democratic Rep. Susan Almy read one sentence from what she had written: "This is simply tyranny."
Democratic House leader Terie Norelli blasted both the bill itself and the procedure of the veto override in a statement this afternoon.
"(The bill) denies several of our towns and cities the representation to which they are entitled under Part II, Article 11 of the New Hampshire Constitution," Norelli said. "And today Speaker Bill O’Brien, with his abuse of power, denied those elected officials a chance to come to Concord and be heard.”
Yet one Republican did not agree.
"Democrats did the same thing to us when they were in the majority," said Salem Republican Rep. Ron Belanger.
O'Brien and House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, also issued a statement this afternoon on the override.
O'Brien had this to say:
“This redistricting plan returns our state to the type of local representation that the voters expected when they passed the constitutional amendment in 2006 to we have smaller representative districts. By going from the current 103 districts to 204, our residents will have more of a chance to have a close relationship with their House members, and our representatives will have a greater chance to know their friends and neighbors who elect them. In fact, prior to the last redistricting effort in 2002, the House had only 195 districts, so we have exceeded that high standard for local representation. This is a good plan and the House has done a great job of giving the public even greater access to their elected officials.”
Bettencourt, meanwhile, added the following statement:
“The Governor’s veto was ill-conceived and purely political. House Republicans have sent a clear message that if the governor wants to play partisan games with a great redistricting plan, he will get shot down. Our caucus has put forth a redistricting plan that will ensure that our friends and neighbors will elect people in their communities to represent them in the State House. Today, the voters can now be assured they will get people who will be in touch with their communities.”