Candidates take the stump

Last modified: 8/12/2010 12:00:00 AM
An idyllic farm setting in Canterbury and a dinner of homegrown vegetables and meat couldn't quite mask the tension between New Hampshire's Senate candidates last night.

"This 111th Congress is well on its way to becoming the worst Congress in the history of our country," said Republican candidate Jim Bender - to an audience that included Democratic U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes. Referring to the pledge by representatives at the end of the Declaration of Independence, Bender continued, "Can you imagine our current congressman having the audacity to say those words, 'sacred honor'?"

"Listening to Jim Bender," Hodes responded. "(I think) is he talking about me? I don't recognize that person."

Bender then confronted Hodes during a question-and-answer session over Hodes's views on earmarks, health care and congressional ethics.

But overall, the picnic sponsored by the New Hampshire Farm Bureau and Timberland Owners Association at Grand View Farm gave the Senate candidates a chance to talk to nearly 200 attendees about issues affecting the farming industry. In addition to Hodes and Bender, speakers included Republicans Bill Binnie, Ovide Lamontagne and Dennis Lamare. Republican Kelly Ayotte left early because of a scheduling conflict. Tom Thomson, an Orford tree farmer and son of former governor Meldrim Thomson, spoke on her behalf. The candidates delivered their stump speeches from atop an actual tree stump.

For Lamontagne, the issues were personal.

"I'm a fourth-generation New Hampshire native, proud son of New Hampshire farmers, mill workers and dentists," Lamontagne said. "In 1891, my great-grandfather purchased a 69-acre farm in Rochester. . . . That farm's still in the family."

Lamontagne said his family also built a camp on Lake Umbagog, in the far-flung Northeast corner of the state - an area owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"An important part of what we do in America, federally and locally, is preserving and utilizing our natural resources," Lamontagne said.

In law school at the University of Wyoming, Lamontagne said he was editor in chief of the land and water law review.

If elected, Lamontagne said his advisers on farming would be his campaign co-chairs, Doug and Stella Scamman - New Hampshire legislators who also run a dairy farm.

Binnie said he too is familiar with the farming industry. The first business he started, Binnie said, made half-gallon and gallon milk bottles for the dairy business.

"I know what it's like to talk to a farmer, sell him a product," Binnie said. "Sometimes you may as well talk to the cow. It can be tough to do."

Binnie said he worked his way through college, and he knows what it's like to try to make a living and meet a payroll. Binnie said he would not support financial incentives in which the government sets aside forest land and subsidizes it. He would also not support a cap-and-trade emissions program.

"These programs don't involve the free market," Binnie said. "People in Washington telling you how to do things is wrong."

Binnie said when it comes to technological problems, such as increasing fuel efficiency in cars, innovation and entrepreneurship lead to solutions, not government intervention.

During a question-and-answer session, Jon Huntington of Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon called out Binnie for a negative radio ad Binnie's campaign recently released against Ayotte.

"I heard an ad this morning that was down and dirty and nasty," Huntington said. "Live by your morals and don't slam other people."

In his speech, Hodes said he had been lobbied by members of Future Farmers of America who were at last night's event.

"That's the good kind of lobbying," Hodes said, referring to a request to create an FFA coin.

Hodes said he has pushed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to "fix what's wrong with the dairy support system" and has co-sponsored legislation that would bring more money to farmers.

"Farm policy is upside down, controlled by Midwest corporate farmers and big corporations," Hodes said. "I'll be an advocate for small, local farming like we do in New Hampshire."

Hodes said he opposes subsidies for high-fructose corn syrup and opposes a system in which food production is centralized in factory farms. He said he supports federal tax credits to burn wood pellets.

Bender stuck to the core message of his campaign: lowering government spending and borrowing. He referred to the current government as a "Franken-government."

"The Department of Agriculture has more employees than there are farm owners in America," Bender said.

Asked what he would do to improve the viability of farming, Bender said he would have the same prescription for helping any industry: lessening government regulation.

Most attendees said they did not know whom they would vote for.

Seth Wilner, who owns a farm in Newport and works for the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said he is looking for a candidate who will re-examine federal regulations.

"Rules and regulations make farming more difficult, harder to make a living in," Wilner said.

For example, Wilner said that food safety regulations should not be "one size fits all" and that the current method of milk pricing is not working.

Others had more general concerns. Gail Wheeler, a Hill farmer, said she wants a candidate who will address the economy and stop "spending money foolishly."

"We should keep it here in the U.S.," Wheeler said.

John Salo, a teacher who owns a farm in Marlow, said prices have gone up and people must cut their own budgets.

"Government has to cut back, too," Salo said. "We need to turn over a new leaf."

For some attendees, the draw was the locally grown produce more than the candidates. Dick Chase said he won't pay attention to the race until after the primary election is over. Last night, he was too busy cooking beans.

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