Gubernatorial candidate Lamontagne wants to be hands-on leader
Ovide Lamontagne (R) editorial board. October 26, 2012. Running for governor. (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor Staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Ovide Lamontagne wants to be a hands-on governor, holding regular town-hall meetings and wading into the thick of contentious topics like the Northern Pass project.
“This is a difference between the way I would govern and the way Gov. (John) Lynch governs,” Lamontagne, a Manchester Republican, said of the Democratic incumbent last week during an interview with the Monitor’s editorial board. “I’d be hands-on. I’d want to be at some of these meetings, and I’d want to be meeting with the proponents and understanding what their plan is, before there’s a press conference and it’s rolled out. I’d want to be close to this, because this is a significant issue.”
Lamontagne has expressed concerns about Northern Pass, a proposal to transmit hydropower from Quebec to the New England power grid on 180 miles of power lines through New Hampshire. And the debate in the North Country has been intense, he said.
“I think, when you have intensity like that, you have to be present,” Lamontagne said. “You have to be a facilitator.”
Lamontagne, 55, is a lawyer, fourth-generation New Hampshire resident and former chairman of the state Board of Education. He unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1992, governor in 1996 and the U.S. Senate in 2010.
He faces Democrat Maggie Hassan of Exeter in the Nov. 6 election to replace Lynch, who announced last year that he wouldn’t seek a fifth two-year term in office.
Lamontagne has focused his pitch to voters this fall on economic issues, including his “Prosperity Agenda,” which includes a new tax credit for companies that create full-time manufacturing jobs and a reduction in the business-profits tax rate from 8.5 percent to 8 percent.
A conservative, he has also weighed in on social issues, though he has repeatedly said they are not his focus. He is pro-life but says he wouldn’t have any power as governor to overturn Roe v. Wade; Hassan opposes restrictions on abortion. She supports the state’s gay marriage law; he said he’d support repealing it if existing marriages were maintained and civil unions were offered.
Last week, Lamontagne also mulled the possibility of doing away entirely with civil marriage in New Hampshire, offering civil unions to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and leaving it to churches and other institutions to perform religious marriages.
“I’m open to that. . . . I think that creates the framework pursuant to which everyone is treated the same. Same-sex or heterosexual couples, whatever the civilunion law provides is what the state or civil law offers,” he said. “Now, your status as being married is a religious one, for your church or wherever you’re married, but it attaches the rights, the legal rights and remedies of civil unions. And I think it’d be worth looking at that, because we are in an unusual situation as one of the only states (in) which the Legislature has passed a gay-marriage law. So we need to look carefully at how we take the next step.”
On the issue of expanded gambling, Lamontagne and Hassan both support allowing a single casino in the state. Hassan has described a casino as a source of revenue for the state. Lamontagne said he wants to limit any gaming revenue to pay for existing government commitments, such as the widening of Interstate 93, or priorities like education aid or lowering business taxes. He also said he wants the casino to be located at Rockingham Park in Salem.
But the burden of showing that a casino can work for New Hampshire, Lamontagne said, rests on advocates, not the chief executive.
“It’s incumbent on the proponents to meet that challenge. As the governor of the state of New Hampshire – I’m not a proponent of moving in this direction,” he said. “I know there are interested parties, and I know the community wants it. It’s incumbent on them to come forward, through the legislative process, to present something that I can support.
Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement this month said an increase in New Hampshire’s gas tax – it has stood at 18 cents per gallon since 1991 – could provide millions of badly needed dollars for road paving, bridge repairs and the I-93 project. Lamontagne said he opposes raising taxes, including the gas tax, but wants to hear differing points of view.
“Whether or not I would encourage a commissioner to go out in the public square and contravene, potentially, a policy position I have, I certainly would invite it and want to hear it,” he said. “If someone believes in a particular agenda or a particular strategy, I want to hear about it. And I’m not going to be somebody who wants to be just paid lip service to, at all. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Lamontagne also said he favors higher proficiency standards for high-school students in New Hampshire, such as an exit-exam certification at graduation similar to New York’s Regents program. “I think we should be looking at a high-school diploma with independent verification,” he said. The details would have to be worked out, he said, but such a “scholar” certification could, for example, guarantee the student admission at a state college.
Lynch has granted just one pardon, so far, during his four terms as governor. Lamontagne said he’d want to evaluate petitions on a case-bycase basis, but that the bar for a pardon would be set high.
“It would have to be pretty compelling,” he said. “I would not want to substitute my own judgment for that of the criminal justice system.”
Lamontagne and Hassan agree on the death penalty – both oppose it. Lamontagne said last week he’d prefer to retain capital punishment for narrow cases where “the state is essentially defending itself,” such as the intentional murder of a police officer. But, he said, he’d sign an outright repeal of the state’s death penalty.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)