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In Hanover, Aide Defends Ayotte Vote

Residents Question Why Senator Voted Against Gun Control Bill

Hanover — Two days after county residents lobbed angry questions at U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., about her recent vote against expanded background checks for gun purchases, a group of constituents challenged the senator’s aide on the same issue.

Michael Scala, Ayotte’s special assistant, took the heat for his boss in the Selectboard chambers at Town Hall yesterday as 18 area residents — mostly from Hanover — peppered him with sharp questions and demanded explanations for Ayotte’s vote.

Seated in the front row, Rose Miller, 92, of Hanover, told Scala that Ayotte’s vote on the Machin-Toomey background check bill was a “terrible thing.”

“In my opinion, she sold her soul to Republicans by voting the way she did on guns,” Miller said. “She needs to stop thinking about being a young, beautiful, up-and-coming Republican and think about her country.”

Frank Lesher, 64, of Hanover, asked Scala to explain why Ayotte voted the way she did. Lesher said he knows at least a dozen hunters and none of them think they need a semi-automatic weapon, and that his friends support background checks because it closes loopholes of unregulated gun shows and Internet sales, Lesher said.

“It boggles my mind,” Lesher said. “Is she in the pocket of the NRA or lobbyists? This is setting up the next Newtown, the next Aurora. The next Columbine.”

Lesher later added, “Will it take an assault in her own town or New Hampshire for her to wake up?”

Scala did not respond directly to Lesher’s questions.

Much to the frustration of the questioners, Scala said he didn’t know the answer to many of the queries, such as whether Ayotte has received contributions from the National Rifle Association.

When Scala said it wasn’t his job to know whether Ayotte takes money from the NRA, a woman stormed out of the chambers after saying, “I don’t know the point of being here if you can’t talk about the politics.”

Ayotte did attend a constituent forum herself on Tuesday in tiny, out-of-the-way Warren, N.H.

Dena Romero, 64, of Hanover, was at that meeting and said she was disappointed with Ayotte’s responses. She said the senator failed to offer specifics on how she would bolster health care for the mentally ill.

“It was non-response,” Romero said.

While Scala yesterday refrained from providing detailed answers, after 30 minutes of being bombarded with hostile questions, he began to push back.

Ayotte, he said, had co-sponsored legislation — the Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act — that would have increased criminal penalties for straw purchasers and gun trafficking.

Additionally, the legislation sought to close gaps in the mental health care system and strengthened the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“You can have background checks and a good mental health system,” someone shouted from the audience.

Deb Nelson, 59, of Hanover, noted Ayotte still had an opportunity to vote for expanded background checks.

“She had that easy opportunity, and she blew it,” Nelson said. “She could have done the right thing. People were waiting.”

More than one attendee yesterday asked whether Ayotte would ever come to Hanover herself, and others asked whether Scala would convey their sentiments to her.

“Absolutely,” Scala said, reassuring them that he would write a memo to Ayotte.

Not everyone was convinced. About 50 minutes into the hour-long meeting, a woman in the front row pointed out that Scala wasn’t taking notes.

“It’s the same concerns from a lot of people,” the aide replied.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.