A New Hampshire state representative sent the statehouse into chaos on Tuesday when he responded to what he regarded as an autocratic procedural maneuver on the part of the Speaker of the House by yelling out the Nazi salute, "Sieg Heil!"
Now he has apologized "for using two German words, which I understand has negative ramifications" and has promised, "I will never use a German word again."
The uproar began when Rep. Steve Vaillancourt was ruled out of order during debate on a Voter ID bill and was told by Speaker Bill O'Brien that it was impermissible to discuss committee deliberations during debate on the House floor.
Vaillancourt responded by calling out "Sieg Heil!" and was ordered removed from the chamber by O'Brien. He left the chamber for a few seconds, then returned to his seat.
At that point, as described by the Concord Patch, "Vaillancourt rose to apologize but was reportedly shut down by O’Brien when he did not immediately apologize. O'Brien then attempted to have Vaillancourt removed from Representatives Hall by the sergeant at arms and later, the New Hampshire State Police. Vaillancourt, however, refused to budge from his seat, and stayed through the rest of the session and into the recess."
During the recess, a committee was formed to discuss how to resolve the incident, and the full House voted to allow Vaillancourt back into the chamber if he agreed to apologize for his inflammatory language.
Vaillancourt's initial apology, during which he promised never to use a German word again, was deemed unacceptable, with O'Brien suggesting that Vaillancourt had insulted members of the legislature who had fought in World War II or had relatives who had died in the Holocaust. O'Brien also rejected Vaillancourt's second attempt and demanded a direct apology, which Vaillancourt finally provided.
Both men involved in the incident are Republicans, but there are indications that even members of his own party consider O'Brien something of a bully. Rep. Dick Drisko told the Nashua Telegraph, “Vaillancourt was definitely out of line when he walked out and said ‘Sieg Heil,’ but it was a good commentary on the dictatorial style of Bill O’Brien.”
O'Brien has also come under attack for his support of partisan right-wing interests, particularly after he wrote a letter to the Nashua Telegraph in April supporting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has been promoting legislation similar to the Voter ID bill that set off the current uproar.
In the letter, O'Brien claimed that ALEC has been "the target of a special-interest intimidation campaign ... by the same people who continually advocate for big-government policies that will keep us mired in slow growth."
"This entire campaign is an attempt to silence conservatives," O'Brien claimed, "and it has been going on for more than a year. Free-market, open-government legislators who are members of ALEC are tired of it and fighting back."
In response, one blogger at the progressive "Blue Hampshire" website commented, "Well, at least he's coming out as the corporate lickspittle we all knew he was. It doesn't occur to him that it goes against the spirit of 'live free or die' to have corporations write the laws of our state."
Photo of New Hampshire Legislature by Deutsch Fetisch (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons