Katy Burns: I admire my old friend Ovide, but I can’t vote for him
My political involvement and activities took place in another life, in another time and place.
Thus, in years of writing about political office holders and/or candidates here in New Hampshire, I usually have what, to me, is an advantage. I rarely know the subject. Certainly none is a friend. So I can opine freely, not constrained by personal dislikes – or personal loyalties.
Not so in the race to see who will be New Hampshire’s next governor.
When we moved to New Hampshire 23 years ago this week, my husband met Ovide Lamontagne on his first day at work in his new Manchester law firm. They took an immediate liking to and admiration for each other.
Until Don retired 11 years ago, he and Ovide had adjoining offices. They shared a secretary. They spoke often, conferring about cases, kicking around various theories that they might apply to various knotty legal problems. Don got to know Ovide and to appreciate not only his legal smarts but his professional generosity. Ovide did not hesitate to credit others who helped him from time to time in his work – a lawyerly courtesy not necessarily common in the profession.
They even talked about politics, about Ovide’s desire to serve politically. It was always clear to the two men that they weren’t on the same wave length, but that didn’t keep the discussions from being cordial and, I think, educational to each.
I got to know and to admire Ovide as well. We became friends.
Ovide is a man of exceptional kindness When Don was housebound and unable to drive after an operation one December, Ovide volunteered to take an afternoon off to take him to the mall to do a little personal Christmas shopping.
I admire Ovide’s probity in life. He is a good, decent man. We supported him with modest contributions in primaries when he ran against people we thought didn’t share his high ethical standards.
And it is precisely because I know Ovide is a man of honor, a man of his word, that I cannot support him for governor.
Ovide Lamontagne is not just another politician, saying –
à la shape-shifter extraordinaire Mitt Romney – whatever his audience wants to hear, willing to change his positions as often as a normal man changes his socks.
He means what he says
Ovide means – really means – what he says. And some of what he believes is antithetical to what I’ve come to value in modern American life. Which should be fine. What friends don’t disagree?
Except that if Ovide is elected governor, particularly if the current reactionary activist Republican legislators are reelected, he will be in a position to effect changes in policies that I think would be disastrous for many Granite Staters. Because Ovide is a principled person. And he really does mean what he says – admirable in the abstract but scary in practice.
I’ve seen a lot dramatic changes in American society in my lifetime.
One, the 1965 addition of Medicare to the national safety net for older Americans significantly improved their lives, eliminating much chronic poverty as a permanent condition of old age and freeing them from significant anxiety.
The lives of women, too, were improved. The development of The Pill – interestingly, developed by a devout Catholic scientist to help stem abortions – helped women to move fully into the academy, business and industry. With Roe v. Wade, abortions became legal nationally, further freeing women from the biological constraints that had kept them second class citizens. Jobs and professions once closed to women became targets of female opportunity.
More recently gay men and lesbians began coming out of the closet, showing themselves to be our aunts or our uncles, our children, our neighbors and friends. And, for me, my sister. New Hampshire’s allowing them to marry acknowledges, at last, their full humanity.
I applaud these changes for helping to make this a freer, happier society, where vast numbers of people have opportunities they’d never have had in more repressed, stunted times.
But Ovide Lamontagne apparently doesn’t agree.
He would push to turn Medicaid and Medicare into federal block grants to allow New Hampshire to design its own medical insurance programs for poor people and seniors – a disquieting prospect, given our Legislature’s propensity for stealing from one program to fund another and for under-funding virtually all programs.
He advocates for a repeal of the law allowing gay men and lesbians equal marriage opportunity – the gay marriage law. Repeal is still a top priority for the GOP legislative’s leadership. And he supports a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationally.
He wants to deny Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, which is a major provider of free or low-cost women’s health care in this state. He wants to allow any employer to refuse to offer women employees health insurance that covers prescription birth control.
Based on sincere, deeply held beliefs, he is unequivocally anti-choice. He supports a myriad of restrictions on legal abortion. While he has been guarded about his complete opinion on abortion, in a 2010 debate he emphatically described himself as “pro-life, period.” This was about the time that, after a long interview with him, the editors of Foster’s Daily Democrat wrote that he “is pro-life with no exceptions.” And the last time he ran for governor, on a candidate survey by Project Vote Smart, he checked as his position the “Abortions should be legal only when the life of the woman is endangered” option.
Citizen Ovide Lamontagne is free to have whatever positions he wants on issues like this, but if he wants to be Governor Ovide Lamontagne they should be part of the campaign.
Now he insists that the subject of legal abortion is a distraction, that Roe v. Wade is “established law,” that social issues should be off the table, that we should be talking about the economy. But the campaign has to be about social issues as well, as we have returning legislators determined to promote these same policies.
And the fact is the legality of abortion is hanging by a thread. A U.S. Supreme Court with one more conservative justice appointed by a President Romney could easily overturn Roe v. Wade, letting the individual states sharply restrict or even outlaw it. People who think otherwise are deluding themselves.
It’s entirely likely that if Roe v. Wade is overturned and legislation outlawing abortion reaches a Governor Lamontagne’s desk he would sign it. He has already said he supports a U.S. Constitutional amendment banning abortion altogether.
New Hampshire, despite the aberration of the last two years of Tea Party dominance, is a traditional New England state – frugal when possible, but moderate to liberal on social positions, with a cherished history of tolerance and social progressivism.
Despite his long family history here, Ovide doesn’t sign onto all New Hampshire traditions. And voters, especially those who cherish the same beliefs and values I do, would be well-advised to understand that he really is a man of his word. If he is elected, a lot of things we think of as settled are suddenly in jeopardy.
The Ovide Lamontagne I know is an honest and ethical lawyer. He’s also a wonderful human being – generous and thoughtful.
If my husband would ever again need a helping hand, I’d be grateful if Ovide would be there.
I just don’t think he should be our state’s next governor.
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)