First District candidates make their case
May 19, 2010
BARNSTEAD — From homeland security to healthcare, the five Republican candidates vying for a chance to oust incumbent U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in November fielded a wide range of questions from local voters in Barnstead last week.
All five candidates appeared before a packed house at J.J. Goodwin's on May 11 for a Candidates' Night hosted by the Barnstead-Alton Republican Committee (BARC) and moderated by former WMUR-TV news anchor and political analyst Scott Spradling.
Thanking BARC for organizing the event and the audience for attending, former Manchester mayor Frank Guinta touted his successful efforts to institute the city's first tax cut in a decade and re-organize its government (which he described as "a $300 million operation") to address the concerns that mattered most to its citizens as proof of his commitment to serving the best interests of voters.
Guinta said he had chosen to step down from his position as mayor, a job he loved, and turn his eyes to Washington because he shares many of the same concerns that voters throughout the First District have about the growing deficit and the idea of the federal government extending its reach into the private sector and into its citizens' private lives.
"They want to tax us and tax us and tax us, and this has to stop," he said, assuring the audience that he would work to cut down the deficit.
"We need to bring balanced budgets back to America, make sure that the taxpayers are served, and that we are good stewards of your money," he added.
Bob Bestani was greeted by laughter and applause from the audience when he declared, in his opening remarks, that his principal mission was to "unseat Carol Shea-Pelosi."
"She's an embarrassment," he said of Shea-Porter, adding that the incumbent assured voters during her first campaign that she believed in small government and fiscal responsibility, but, like many of her fellow Congressmen, sold herself to lobbyists and bought into the Democratic party line "hook, line, and sinker" when she arrived in Washington.
"She decided that 'All I have to do is vote with Nancy Pelosi because Nancy's always right,'" Bestani said.
"We don't need San Francisco politics here; we don't need those kind of liberal values here," he added. "What we need is to restore this country to fiscal responsibility."
That task, he said, will involve setting a "decent" energy policy, concluding "unnecessary wars" in the Middle East, and getting the United States "back on good footing … back to the premier country that we know can be again."
Introducing himself as a small businessman who currently owns two businesses (one in Manchester, the other in Portsmouth), Sean Mahoney said his chief concern was the impact the healthcare reform bill passed by Congress earlier this year might have on small businesses across the country.
"I'm one of those small businessmen who are terrified of what the Obama-care bill will do to this economy because I'm one of those small businessmen who'll be footing the bill for it," he said.
Describing himself as "a conservative Republican in the truest sense of the word" and a believer in the fiscal and social conservatism that former president Ronald Reagan stood for, Mahoney said he chose to step down from a position on the Republican National Committee after spending time in Washington and seeing the party stray from what he felt should have been its values.
"I was tired of the reckless spending — the irresponsible spending — and the arrogant culture that's gripped Washington," he said, suggesting that the Democrats are not the only party that bears responsibility for what has taken place in Washington over the past decade.
"We need people to stand up for conservative values," he said, adding that his three primary goals were to repeal the healthcare bill, support tax cuts aimed at stimulating the economy, and use unpaid Stimulus funds to pay down the national debt, which currently stands at nearly $14 trillion.
Peter Bearse said his reasons for entering the race were to help people and "lead the way to the fulfillment of the American dream."
What voters in New Hampshire need, he said, is a representative who will serve "real people who have real problems in real places," not a politician who will cater to the special interests or public figures "made by the media" who inhabit the "phony city" of Washington.
"I'm running to empower people more than myself," Bearse said, explaining that solutions to real-world problems have "always been from the bottom up, not from the top down."
The best way to develop a reasonable solution to any problem, he said, is to talk to the people "on the factory floor" and gather ideas from them.
Congress, he added, did not do that when it came to the issue of health care.
Rich Ashooh said he chose to throw his hat into the ring and campaign to unseat Shea-Porter because he, like many voters throughout the First District, has "had enough."
"The country's heading in the wrong direction, and we need to take drastic action to turn it back," he said.
With his son currently involved in Little League, Ashooh said he has taken lately to looking at the situation in Washington "in baseball terms."
"Carol Shea-Porter went to Washington, and we lost 10 million jobs — strike one," he said. "The national debt has increased to more than $13 trillion — strike two.
"Congress passed, and the President signed, an unaffordable and misguided healthcare bill that raises government interference up to new heights — what strike am I up to?"
"Three!" an audience member shouted in response.
"What happens?" Ashooh asked. "You're the ump."
"She's out!" the audience member replied.
"Carol's out," Ashooh said, nodding in agreement. "She's out."
First District voters, he added, need to send people to Washington "who reflect New Hampshire values, and don't fight New Hampshire values."
As the youngest of seven children raised on a farm near Manchester, Ashooh said New Hampshire values such as individual liberty, individual responsibility, and limited, accountable government were bred into him at an early age.
"My family came to this country looking for those values, and you know what? Our current leaders have squandered them," he said.
"It's time to send someone to Washington to represent those values," he added. "I believe we can turn our country around. I believe New Hampshire can lead the way."
Posing questions to the candidates from local voters, Spradling turned first to current events, asking each of the candidates for their thoughts on the recent nomination of U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan for seat on the Supreme Court.
Bestani said he was concerned by the fact that Kagan has "no [judicial] record at all," making it all but impossible to know what her judicial views and philosophy are.
With the Supreme Court becoming increasingly "activist" and "drifting to the left," he said, something needs to be done to bring it back to the center or the right, where it would more accurately reflect American values.
While he acknowledged that President Barrack Obama has the right to appoint whomever he sees fit to the Supreme Court, Bestani noted that Obama had promised during his campaign to be "the leader and representative of all Americans."
The more conservative segment of the population needs to be represented alongside those with more liberal leanings, "and I'm not sure Elena Kagan can do that," he added.
Mahoney said he was opposed to Kagan's nomination on the grounds that she, as a past dean of Harvard Law School, has voiced her opposition to allowing military recruiters onto college campuses.
Stating that he found it "appalling" for the dean of any university that receives funding from the federal government to bar recruiters from their campus, Mahoney suggested that Supreme Court justices should be "strict constructionists" who understand that the U.S. Constitution "needs to be interpreted literally," and who will not "read some sort of activist agenda" into the language set down by the Founding Fathers.
Bearse suggested that the central issue surrounding Kagan's nomination was her liberal mindset.
Liberalism, he said, is "the politics of good intentions — I have good intentions; you can pay for them."
While he felt that Kagan should be given a fair hearing, Bearse said he would vote against her.
Agreeing with Mahoney that the American people have condoned a tendency on the part of Supreme Court justices to drift away from a strict interpretation of the Constitution in recent years, Ashooh suggested that the time has come "for us to stand up for the Constitution" by appointing jurists (who he described as "our last line of defense") willing to preserve it.
Given the fact that Kagan has never served as a judge and never heard a case, Guinta suggested that "she is not uniquely qualified to serve on the highest court in this land."
The Court, he added, needs justices who will safeguard the Constitution, and will not attempt to "legislate from the bench."
Following up on several candidates' earlier comments about the growing deficit in the federal budget, Spradling asked each candidate what percentage of the budget they felt needed to be cut, and how they would go about making those cuts.
Mahoney said his first course of action would be to push for a moratorium on bail-outs and entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans' Administration activities, and unemployment.
The next step, he said, would be to repeal the healthcare bill, which he said could cost the country $700 billion by 2019, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Mahoney said he would also work to institute tax cuts aimed at helping businesses grow and create jobs.
Touting himself as the only candidate with a doctorate in Economics and a comprehensive strategy for addressing budgetary issues, Bearse said his focus would be on eliminating federal departments that are not Constitutional, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Energy.
Bearse said federal salaries, which are, on average 30 percent higher than those in the private sector, also need to be brought under control, and suggested that Congress should undertake a "wholesale revision" of the tax system.
He would be willing to consider a consumption (or value added) tax, he said, but only as a substitute for the federal income tax.
Ashooh said his first order of business would be to push for a spending freeze at pre-bail-out levels.
He would also work, he said, to modernize entitlement programs in order to make them more cost effective and eliminate bureaucracy by shutting down departments like the Department of Energy, whose activities discourage entrepreneurship by making it impossible for private sector businesses to compete with the federal government.
Guinta said he inherited an out-of-control city budget from his predecessor in Manchester four years ago, and set about reigning it in by instituting zero-based budgeting and conducting "top to bottom" audits of every department, which led to cuts on the basis of "what the function of government is supposed to be."
Those actions, he said, allowed him to enact the city's first tax cut in a decade and institute a tax cap with the approval of voters.
If elected to Congress, Guinta said he would push for a spending cap at the federal level and zero-based budgeting, and would work to eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy.
"That's $200 million immediately that would be back in your pockets … back in your pockets," he said.
Since former President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the New Deal during the Great Depression, Bestani said, the American people have been clinging to the notion that the federal government should be providing its citizens with certain goods and services.
Suggesting that the government has repeatedly failed in its attempts to do what would ordinarily be attempted in the private sector, however, Bestani stated his belief that the government should not be in the business of providing goods or services.
If elected, he said, he would work to free up the private sector and help the economy grow by rolling back the federal stimulus package and bringing an end to entitlement programs, which he said are making the economy "weaker by the day."
Turning to the candidates' earlier comments about the healthcare bill, Spradling pointed out that a complete repeal may not be possible unless the Republican party is able to secure a majority in both the House and the Senate.
If repealing the bill were not an option, he asked each candidate, what aspects of the bill would you consider keeping, and what aspects would have to go?
"If you have to put a dress on a pig, what does that dress look like?" he added.
Calling the healthcare reform legislation "a bad bill" and a "good example" of why things need to change in Washington, Bearse noted that an outright repeal will not be possible as long as Obama, who has the power to veto any measure passed by Congress, remains in office.
Bearse felt that the healthcare bill included some "good features," drawing groans and laughter from the audience when he cited a provision allowing children to remain on their parents' health insurance plans until the age of 26.
Identifying a provision that will prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions as another positive aspect of the bill that he would vote to keep, Bearse noted that although repeal may not be an option, Congress does have the power to "de-fund" any portion of the bill that it does not agree with.
Suggesting that the healthcare bill had "missed the mark," Ashooh said the American people simply wanted healthcare made more affordable.
"People want affordable healthcare — not universal health care; not a public option," he said. "We don't want any of those things, and that's exactly what was passed."
"I don't accept the thesis that it can't be repealed because quite frankly, the answer's in this room … it's in rooms like this all across the country," he added, suggesting that voters will ultimately determine what happens to the bill.
Stating that he favored re-booting the bill more than repealing it outright, Ashooh said he wanted to re-visit issues that he felt had not been addressed, such as tort reform (which would prevent attorneys from bringing frivolous malpractice cases forward), allowing small businesses to access insurance plans outside their own states, and empowering consumers to make choices when it comes to health care.
"Let's not kid ourselves … what this bill represents is a movement toward a socialistic, European nation, and we don't support it," Guinta said to a burst of applause from the audience.
The focus of the bill, he said, should have been on targeted reforms aimed at helping small businesses, such as allowing business owners to access plans not available within their home state, and to pool with other businesses in an effort to reach the 100-employee threshold often necessary for a cheaper plan.
Stating his belief that the healthcare bill "must be repealed," Bestani suggested that it might not be a bad idea for Republicans to take back the House, the Senate, and the White House.
In the short term, he said, Congress can refuse to fund the bill and have a "serious discussion" about healthcare in the meantime while the matter reverts back to the private sector, "where it belongs."
"We can't afford Obama-care," Mahoney said. "Our economy can't afford Obama-care."
Suggesting that the bill will hurt small business owners most of all, he agreed with Guinta that businesses need to be given access to more affordable plans outside their home states.
Posing one final question to the candidates, Spradling, commenting on the undertones of anger and mistrust of government that he saw in many of the questions forwarded to him by BARC, asked each of them why voters should trust them.
Guinta pointed to his accomplishments in Manchester, such as the spending cap, as proof of his willingness to listen to and address the concerns of voters.
"I was given a second term because I listened," he said. "I was able to look people in the eye and say 'These are the things you want, and I will do it.'"
Bestani, who said his father owned a small business, recalled being taken by his father to a gathering of business owners when he was eight years old.
When he asked his father what some of the men, who he was not familiar with, did for a living, Bestani said his father replied "They're all in the same business … presenting their integrity to the marketplace."
His father, he said, explained to him that if a man can live by his integrity, he will be successful.
He still lives by that philosophy, he said, assuring the audience that if voters ultimately decide to honor him by placing their trust in him at the polls in November, "I will never violate it."
Mahoney pointed to his willingness to buck the Republican party line by resigning his position on the RNC in protest of the reckless spending in Washington as proof of his independence and ability to "stand on principle."
Bearse encouraged voters to visit his Web site, where he has posted a list of specific pledges his constituents will be able to hold him accountable to.
"Accountability and transparency are my middle names," he said.
Ashooh said that when he sat down to talk to his 16-year-old daughter about the subject of boys, he warned her not to listen to the words they say, but rather to "look at the actions they do."
Urging voters to judge him on his actions, Ashooh said he assisted in his first Congressional campaign at the age of four, and has always had a love for the New Hampshire and for the country as a whole that drives him to do all he can to make it a better place.
Regardless of the outcome of the September primary or the general election in November, he said, he will find some way to make New Hampshire a better place.
Editor's note: The BARC Candidates' Night can currently be seen in its entirety on LRPA-TV's Channel 26. Check Channel 24 at the top of each hour for program listings.
Copies are also available on DVD at the Gilman Library, located on Main Street in Alton.
Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org