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Hodes leaves supporters fired up in Plymouth

State Sen. Deb Reynolds introduces U.S. Senate hopeful Paul Hodes to an enthusiastic crowd during a campaign stop in Plymouth Tuesday night. (Brendan Berube) (click for larger version)
September 08, 2010
PLYMOUTH — U.S. Senate hopeful Paul Hodes left an energized audience behind him following a campaign stop in Plymouth Tuesday evening.

Speaking to a small but enthusiastic crowd of supporters over dinner at the Pease Public Library, the two-term Democratic Congressman, who hopes to claim retiring Sen. Judd Gregg's seat in November, laid out his strategy for re-building America's middle class and moving the country toward energy independence.

On the cusp of an election that he believes will "define the character of the country where our soul is," Hodes said he wanted to relate the two most important lessons that a lifetime spent living in New Hampshire has taught him about public service.

Explaining that he was first drawn to New Hampshire as a young law school graduate by an advertisement for an opening in the state Attorney General's office, Hodes said the first person he encountered after arriving in Concord was former Attorney General and U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

His interview with Souter proved to be a "life-changing experience," he said, explaining that while Souter was well known as a conservative, he impressed the young Hodes with his integrity and independence and his willingness to apply the law as it was written, not as the governor, the legislature, or any other special interest group suggested he apply it.

It was from Souter that Hodes said he learned his first lesson in politics — that as a public servant, "you answer to the people, and only to the people."

His second lesson in public service, he said, came at the conclusion of a six-year stint as a member of the board charged with restoring Concord's Capitol Center for the Arts in the early 1990s — a project that many said could never be completed, but that he and his fellow board members were able to see through to fruition with the cooperation of community members who volunteered their time and labor in support of the project.

After seeing unpaid volunteers lie on their backs for hours on end painting the building's ceilings, Hodes said he learned that "the people have the answers," and that real change comes from the bottom up, and not from the top down.

A recent example of the power of individuals to affect change, he said, is the case of Michelle Morse, a Plymouth State University student who was diagnosed with cancer, and was unable to take a leave of absence to undergo chemo therapy because her mother's insurance company refused to cover her unless she remained enrolled as a full-time student.

In the wake of Morse's death, Hodes explained, her mother, believing the insurance company's policy to be wrong, initiated a "one-woman crusade" that led to the passage, at the state level and later at the federal level, of Michelle's Law, a bill protecting the right of students to take a leave of absence for medical treatment without losing their insurance coverage.

Michelle's Law, he said, also made it into the health care reform bill passed by Congress last year, in the form of a provision allowing students to remain on their parents' insurance plans until they reach the age of 26.

"That's how change happens," Hodes said, adding that it is the courage and imagination of the people that will re-build America's middle class, reform the political system that has been unresponsive to the needs of the people for too long, and move the country forward.

The Republicans, including his opponents in the Senate race, he said, "want to take us screaming backwards" into the 20th Century rather than push ahead into the 21st.

"I've always said that politics is like driving a car when you want to go backwards, you put it in 'R,' and when you want to move forward, you put it in 'D,'" he said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Questioning several of his opponents' denials that there is a climate change problem in the face of record temperatures throughout the Northeast and unprecedented weather patterns and natural disasters across the globe, Hodes suggested that "the science is in."

The country that takes the initiative on the development of cleaner and more efficient sources of renewable energy will lead the rest of the world into the 21st Century, he said, adding that the United States should be setting that example, and promising to make it his "highest priority" if elected.

Quoting the final passages of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln linked the outcome of the Civil War to the survival of "government of the people, by the people, for the people," Hodes said he viewed it as his job, if elected, to stand up for that vision and represent the will of the people.

"That's my pledge, and I will carry it to the U.S. Senate," he said to an enthusiastic burst of applause.

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