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Republican senate candidates spar in Barnstead forum


September 01, 2010
ALTON — Republican senate candidates advanced platforms of fiscal responsibility and states' rights recently during a Barnstead-Alton Republican Committee-sponsored forum inside a crowded J.J. Goodwin's Restaurant in Barnstead.

Senate hopefuls Kelly Ayotte, Jim Bender, Ovide Lamontagne and Dennis Lamare attempted to separate themselves from the political field before the Sept. 14 Republican primary.

Bill Binnie did not attend the forum after withdrawing July 27.

The winner of the primary will likely face Rep. Paul Hodes, the expected Democratic senate nominee, in the general election.

The forum consisted of two-minute opening and closing remarks and 90-second responses to prepared questions. Each candidate spoke in turn and they did not debate each other directly.

Opening remarks

Lamare, a political dark horse in the senate race, began the forum by touting his New Hampshire roots and everyman appeal.

"You can have a true representative of who you are," he said.

Lamare said he wanted to become a doctor when he was younger. However, he abandoned the pursuit to take care of his Vietnam veteran brother who was afflicted with psychological problems.

"I've always believed that family comes first," he said.

Lemare has worked in a variety of occupations, but now identifies himself as an insurance salesman.

He used his opening remarks to push for less government control.

"I want to be left alone by the government," he said.

Ayotte, former New Hampshire Attorney General, toed the Republican party line more so than Lemare.

"I have a simple message for Washington, and that is stop," she said. "That is my message to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama."

Ayotte's husband served in Iraq, and many of her stances seemed to originate from her experience as the mother of a military family.

She also supported low taxes and private enterprise.

"It's the small businesses in this country that keep the economy going," she said.

Businessman Bender praised New Hampshire for being a welcoming home over the past quarter century.

"I think New Hampshire is the best possible place to live, to raise a family, and to start a business," he said.

Bender evoked American idealism in many of his remarks.

"I think we're losing the American dream," he said.

He criticized those in Washington D.C. for interfering in the American economy.

"The American dream does not come from a monthly check," he said. "There is nothing they (the federal government) can give you without first taking it from someone else."

Republican activist Lamontagne began his opening remarks with a few quips about his unusual name before launching into a conservative platform that echoed the revolutionary rhetoric of Tea Party followers.

"This is a new era, a Constitutional Renaissance is under way where the states and the citizens of this country are reclaiming their rightful role as sovereign of the nation," he said.

He said he supported balancing the federal budget, term limits for Senate and the line-item veto.

ObamaCare

The first question posed to the candidates was whether they supported the controversial ObamaCare health reform passed earlier this year.

Ayotte favored repealing all of ObamaCare.

"I do not believe in ObamaCare," she said.

Ayotte relied on her background in law to argue that the healthcare reform was unconstitutional.

"What limits are there on federal authority?" she asked rhetorically.

Ayotte believed that other measures would better improve the healthcare system, such as tort reform and open insurance markets to promote competition and lower costs.

Bender, too, opposed the ObamaCare legislation because he felt it unjustly extended federal control over the American people.

"I will do everything in my power to repeal ObamaCare," he said.

Lamontagne took the most aggressive stance against ObamaCare.

"I don't want to repeal ObamaCare, I want to kill it," he said. "It takes us down the road of socialism."

He favored taking funds out of Medicaid and Medicare and giving the money back to the states. He also said he would join the states that are suing the federal government over the ObamaCare issue.

Lemare took a more cautious approach to ObamaCare, taking note of the realities of national legislative rules and regulations.

"It is a statistical improbability (to repeal it)," he said.

However, he still opposed ObamaCare, but thought it better to gradually take away its funding.

"We have to defund it and get rid of it," he said.

Like Ayotte, Lamare believed tort reform might provide a solution to high healthcare costs.

Mosque near Ground Zero

The next question involved the proposed construction of a Muslim religious complex in the vicinity of Ground Zero in New York City.

Bender opposed the construction of the mosque on moral grounds.

"Building a mega-mosque at the site of Ground Zero is very, very wrong," he said. "It's in poor taste."

Lamontagne went one step further by saying that the attempted construction of a Muslim place of worship near "hallowed ground" was an agitating ploy.

"It's clearly an attempt to inflame us," he said.

Once again, Lamare took a slightly different approach, acknowledging the legal right to build the structure, but still opposing its construction on moral grounds.

"Constitutionally, they do have the right to build it there but morally — that's another issue," he said.

Ayotte echoed Lemare's remarks.

"We all believe in freedom of religion, but no mosque there," she said.

Ayotte also questioned the individual who is supporting the construction of the mosque.

Bailouts

The candidates were then asked about their stance on recent government-sponsored bailouts of various private American industries.

Lamontagne argued that all bailouts are "fundamentally wrong."

He encouraged businesses to go to bankruptcy court rather than receive federal funds.

Lamare believed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that supported various financial institutions should never have happened.

He also complained that some federal money went to European countries instead of being reinvested in the American economy.

Ayotte opposed the overarching philosophy of government-sponsored relief programs.

"Stop the bailout mentality," she said. "It's not the role of the government to pick the winners and losers of the private sector."

Bender repeated the other candidates' criticisms of federal bailout programs.

"Well it's unanimous, TARP and the bailout were wrong," he said. "The government is just not good at this."

Bender took aim at Democratic programs that he said prevented businesses from hiring, and favored both lower taxes and lower spending.

Departments of Education and Energy

The next question asked the field whether they would support, change or do away with the Departments of Education and Energy completely.

Lamare again advocated for a gradual decrease in funding.

"We should be drawing down the Department of Education," he said.

As for the Department of Energy, he said the solution to America's energy problems was to drill domestically.

"By us buying foreign oil, we're funding terrorism," he said.

Ayotte advocated for an in-depth review of No Child Left Behind, citing concerns over what she called the "one size fits all" mentality of the federal education program.

She also favored merit-based pay for teachers.

She also proposed drastically cutting back the Department of Energy and increasing nuclear power.

Bender told an anecdote about his experience with the Department of Energy when it first appeared. According to him, the department was just one building at the start, but quickly grew to house "over 110,000 employees."

"We would lose nothing to get rid of the Department of Energy," he said.

He did not mention education specifically in his response.

Lamontagne touted his leadership experience in education and supported "abolishing" the Department of Education altogether.

He said he would support the elimination of the Department of Energy, reassigning its most important projects to other agencies.

Term limits

A question was posed about whether the candidates would support legislative term limits.

Ayotte supported term limits and pledged to serve only two terms.

Bender similarly supported term limits of only 12 years.

"Our founding fathers never envisioned a ruling aristocracy in America," he said. "We've got to get back to a democratic republic."

Lamontagne and Lamare also supported term limits.

Environment

The candidates described their stances on recent efforts to limit greenhouse gasses.

Bender believed the government's desire to sell carbon credits is "another way to take money" from the populace.

Lamontagne echoed Bender.

"Once again, the federal government is proceeding on a false premise," he said.

Lamontagne believed the only end of the national government should be national security, which he thought also meant energy independence, supported in part by nuclear power.

Lamare said that the carbon credit program is a "scam" and supported paring down the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ayotte again took aim at Democratic leadership.

"I say no to 'cap and tax,'" she said. "Do you think China and India are going to tax their carbon? No."

Power of the judiciary

The senate hopefuls were asked whether they would support impeaching judges in light of the gay marriage controversy in California.

Lamontagne again articulated the conservative viewpoint, saying that the judicial branch is "too powerful" and "thwarted the will of the people" in California.

He also supported a federal marriage amendment.

Lamare believed in the judiciary, and thought that unpopular rulings should be met with legislative action.

"We must let the system work its way through," he said.

Ayotte agreed more or less with Lamontagne's stance.

Bender used the question to say he would have opposed recently appointed Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan

Representing New Hampshire

Someone asked whether the candidates would represent all of New Hampshire rather than just the population-rich areas in the south and southeast.

Lamare said he valued rural New Hampshire and primarily staged his campaign in those areas.

Ayotte listed her stops throughout the state.

In particular, she described her visits to town as part of the "Dump Paul Hodes" tour.

She also pledged to have at least 10 town hall meetings every year in every county and promised not to move to Washington, D.C.

Bender said he went through "five pairs of shoes" in his campaign efforts that spanned the entire state.

He also touted his willingness to speak to traditionally Democratic-leaning audiences.

Lamontagne, like Ayotte, pledged to remain in New Hampshire and assured onlookers that he would represent the entire state.

"I know our state goes beyond the southeastern corner," he said.

Firearms and the second amendment

The candidates were asked whether they supported keeping and bearing firearms.

Ayotte opposed restrictions on firearms.

"We have firearms in our family," she said. "I'll make sure that nothing is done to undermine the right to bear arms."

Bender said he supported the second amendment and more.

"I like the entire Constitution," he said.

Lamontagne paraphrased the Constitution itself.

"It is an unalienable right of men and women to keep and to bear arms for self defense and recreational uses," he said.

He also stated that he is a proud National Rifle Association member.

Lamare repeated the sentiment of the candidates who had spoken before him.

"One of our most sacred rights is to protect ourselves," he said.

Abortion

The moderator asked the candidates whether they supported abortion.

Bender favored limiting abortions, but not outlawing them.

"We want to do everything we can to limit the number of abortions," he said.

He said he favored parental notification for minors and opposed federal funding of abortion.

Lamontagne referenced the Declaration of Independence in support of his pro-life stance.

He said he believes that life begins at the moment of conception

"I am pro-life. Period," he said.

He also opposed stem cell research.

Lamare opposed abortion in general, but did not believe that outlawing abortion falls under the jurisdiction of the legislature

Ayotte cast herself as pro-life and referenced her anti-abortion track record as attorney general.

Arizona immigration law

Another hot topic surrounded the controversial immigration reform instituted by Arizona leadership.

Lamontagne strongly supported Arizona's efforts to thwart illegal immigration.

Lamare said the federal government "sided with Mexico."

He supported putting troops on the border to prevent the entrance of more "illegal trespassers."

He also proposed making it a felony to hire illegal immigrants.

Ayotte said, "We need to stand with that state (Arizona)."

She argued that the federal government should help secure the southern border and enforce existing immigration laws.

She added that she was in favor of English being the official language of the United States.

Bender defended Arizona's choices to stymie illegal immigration.

"Arizona had to act," he said. "America is a 50-state border state nowadays."

He opposed amnesty for illegal aliens and was against children of illegal immigrants automatically obtaining citizenship.

Iraq

Each candidate in turn answered questions about whether they supported the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Lamare opposed the Iraq invasion and wants to withdraw after stabilizing the country.

Ayotte mentioned that her husband served in Iraq. She supported the conflict and the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

She also supports the war in Afghanistan.

Bender believed President George W. Bush was trying to protect American lives in his decision to invade Iraq.

He argued that a successful Iraq democracy would help stabilize the entire Middle East.

Lamontagne questioned President Bush in 2002 about the reasons for going into Iraq.

Now, however, he wants to stabilize the country before withdrawing troops.

Federal budget programs

The candidates were asked how they would help reign in the burgeoning federal deficit.

Ayotte described the federal financial situation as a "crisis."

She favored making cuts and having an up or down vote on budget items.

Bender criticized the federal government for having "no discipline."

He maintained federal spending has increased by one trillion dollars since 2007.

He said his experience as a businessman made him "uniquely qualified" to cut the budget.

Lamontagne reiterated the other candidates' points, saying the government "spends with reckless abandon." He favored going through and abolishing each budget item that failed to meet a certain set of requirements.

Lamare proposed getting rid of the federal reserve and government-sponsored enterprises.

Current reading

Moderator Charlie Arlinghaus asked the candidates what they were currently reading.

Lamare replied the U.S. Constitution.

Ayotte said she was reading "The Road to Serfdom" by Friedrich Hayek.

Bender responded "Founding Brothers" by Joseph Ellis.

Lamontagne said "How Capitalism Will Save Us" by Steve Forbes.

Closing statements

Lamare wrapped up his remarks by saying he wanted to earn the trust of the people of New Hampshire.

He once again advertised his everyman status.

"I don't have money to send you stuff in the mail you're going to throw away," he said.

Ayotte condemned the Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C.

"We are headed in the wrong direction right now," she said.

She also assured the crowd that she would remain one of the people should she be elected senator.

Bender reviewed his extensive campaign efforts and tried to articulate the concerns of the American people.

"We're fearful, we're angry, we're mistrustful," he said.

He promised to foster a better job climate and bring businesses to New Hampshire.

Lamontagne urged the people to vote, arguing this election may determine whether the republic is "saved."

He cast himself as the most conservative candidate in the race.

But rather than use the final remark to distinguish himself from the others, he used the opportunity to remind the Republicans in the room that his ultimate goal is to defeat the Democrats in the fall.

"Let's work together and win in November," he said.

Arlinghaus, President of the non-partisan Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, moderated the forum.

Chairman of the Barnstead-Alton Republican Committee Alan Glassman organized the event.

The recording of the forum can be seen on Lakes Region Public Access

Weston Sager can be reached at 569-3126 or wsager@salmonpress.com

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