Burrow through the 2012 archives for year-in-review stories and one name keeps cropping up. Instead of a "Person of the Year," this file search steered NH Patch editors more toward a "Personality of the Year."
And that personality is William L. O'Brien.
The former House Speaker (R-Mont Vernon) wielded the gavel for one term, but it was a vital, memorable term. He inspired some Republicans and Tea Party members and infuriated opponents. He emerged as a Mel Thomson-like Speaker of the House. He began with a focus on limited government and low taxes and soon became a lightning rod for a canopy of issues – economic and social.
"To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing," as the wisdom goes. That very quote has been on display before in the Speaker's Office on the third floor of the New Hampshire Statehouse.
It could have been an anthem for Bill O'Brien.
The Republican red wave in 2010 was a message from the people, he believed. And, he acknowledged in interviews, he aimed to do what he thought was right, not take hopscotch steps here and there to ensure re-election. Turns out, he almost didn't win re-election to the House of Representatives.
In 2012, with his feet firmly planted on the right, O'Brien pushed his political chips into the middle.
He confronted unions in trying to pass right-to-work legislation. He was an architect of the voter ID bill. He fought for welfare reform to tackle cases of fraud. Critics labeled him but as the broadsides came his way, he showed he had no qualms of returning fire.
Then there was that "Sieg Heil" controversy with a state representative criticizing his leadership from the House floor. Soon after that, he blocked Concord Monitor reporters from attending a news conference in his office, piqued as he was over an editorial cartoon in the newspaper that depicted him with a Hitler-like mustache.
As he raised his profile, he essentially mobilized Democrats in the state – candidates ran against him, and Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan regularly tried to use O'Brien as a political pin-cushion.
O'Brien returns to the House as Representative O'Brien. He declined to pursue any House Minority Leadership post, instead directing more of his attention to his law practice. Still, in the next legislative session, he plans to fight for some of the legislation that got derailed, such as a right-to-work bill.
This "Personality of the Year" designation does not endorse anything the former Speaker has done, nor any policy he has promoted. It reflects the definition of personality..."the quality of being a unique person."
Bill O'Brien was remarkable in 2012. He was, well, a real personality.