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Etna’s Rubens Plans Run In GOP Senate Primary

  • Jim Rubens, of Etna, looks to his wife Susan Locke after announcing his run for U.S. Senate in Concord, N.H., on Sept. 18, 2013. Rubens served two terms in the state Senate in the 1990s and unsuccessfully ran for governor. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)

    Jim Rubens, of Etna, looks to his wife Susan Locke after announcing his run for U.S. Senate in Concord, N.H., on Sept. 18, 2013. Rubens served two terms in the state Senate in the 1990s and unsuccessfully ran for governor. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)

  • Etna resident Jim Rubens, who served two terms in the state Senate in the 1990s, announced his run for the U.S. Senate in Concord, N.H., on Sept. 18, 2013. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)

    Etna resident Jim Rubens, who served two terms in the state Senate in the 1990s, announced his run for the U.S. Senate in Concord, N.H., on Sept. 18, 2013. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)

  • Jim Rubens, of Etna, looks to his wife Susan Locke after announcing his run for U.S. Senate in Concord, N.H., on Sept. 18, 2013. Rubens served two terms in the state Senate in the 1990s and unsuccessfully ran for governor. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)
  • Etna resident Jim Rubens, who served two terms in the state Senate in the 1990s, announced his run for the U.S. Senate in Concord, N.H., on Sept. 18, 2013. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)

Concord — In a stump speech that drew on his experience as a center-right fiscal conservative in the left-leaning Upper Valley, Etna resident Jim Rubens on Wednesday declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in 2014.

Rubens kicked off his Senate announcement in the crowded lobby of the Legislative Office Building, and emphasized how he was advised against running when he first decided to seek a state Senate seat nearly two decades ago.

“The political experts told me I could never win,” Rubens said. “And I did just that by working my tail off and listening to the people in my district, and explaining how our state could be a much better place.”

Rubens, a 63-year-old investor who went on to serve two terms in Concord during the 1990s, is perhaps best known now as the head of the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, which earlier this year helped to turn back a proposed casino in the House. He has also consulted for the Union of Concerned Scientists as an advocate against global warming — a rarity among the Republican Party. Rubens also supports abortion rights and marriage equality in New Hampshire.

“I’m not your typical candidate,” said Rubens, who highlighted his work on education policy — such as the so-called “SB2” all-day school voting option — as his proudest accomplishment from his time in the state Senate.

As for the issue of climate change, Rubens painted himself as a pragmatist that could unite the believers and skeptics. He said he is against the Environmental Protection Agency regulating carbon dioxide and providing government subsidies to alternative energy companies. Instead, Rubens said, he would advocate for a “pro-growth tax swap,” where payroll taxes are reduced and corporate taxes are streamlined, to be replaced with a carbon tax “dollar for dollar.”

“Even if you don’t buy one inch of climate science, we’d reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we’d reduce conventional pollution, we’d reduce asthma and we’d reduce imports from countries that despise us,” Rubens said. “We’d create more jobs in New Hampshire by producing energy here from forms of energy that we have here in New Hampshire. Total win-win, no downside, even if you don’t buy climate change and think it’s some kind of conspiracy.”

Taking questions after the speech, Rubens defined how he would have voted on landmark bipartisan legislation weighed by the Senate in recent months, such as the so-called “gang of eight” immigration bill and the “Manchin-Toomey” bill that would have mandated universal background checks for the sale of firearms.

Rubens said he would have voted against both the immigration bill and the gun violence legislation that stalled in Congress earlier this year, offering little distinction between himself and more conservative Republicans.

Asked whether he would support shutting down the government in order to de-fund the Affordable Care Act, however, Rubens said Republicans would instead be “better served” to “repeal and replace” the health care law.

“Republicans must offer reforms that lower health care costs, improve health care quality, and give us more control and choice over our own health care decisions,” Rubens said.

As for Shaheen, Rubens labeled his opponent as a “career politician and party rubber stamp ... who is wrong in so many ways.

“During her four-and-a-half years in office, the national debt has exploded by $6 trillion,” Rubens said. “ ... Shaheen and President Obama have told us that this tidal wave of printed money would stimulate the economy — they have failed.”

Rubens also attacked Shaheen for what he described as the “deciding 60th vote” on the Affordable Care Act health care reform legislation, her vote to authorize the use of military force in Syria, and acting as an “apologist” concerning the newly-revealed surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency.

Democrats, for their part, were quick to pounce on the first candidate to enter the race against Shaheen. Before Rubens had even taken the podium, the state Democratic Party sent emails to reporters characterizing him as “out of touch” with Granite State voters, using excerpts from his personal blog.

“I am the prototypical American success story. Not quite a hedge fund billionaire or rock-star politician, but comfortably in the first percentile. I live in a million-dollar home with eighty-mile views in a top-ranking little knowledge-economy town of meticulously restored brick federals, nickel hardware and granite counter tops,” Rubens wrote in the blog post. “I do venture capital and real estate deals. My family and I just returned from a not atypical vacation of private charter flights, organic meals on white linen and a private bungalow nestled between wilderness rainforest and Pacific beach sand.”

Rubens confirmed that the blog post was his own writing, though he said he was taken out of context. He said, following the economic crisis, his net worth “went down quite a bit.

“Being at the bottom of the one percent as I was at the time, I’m looking up at a bunch of people who have far more lavish lifestyles than my own,” Rubens said, before adding that the quote was meant to be a set-up for his larger point: “If you seek to measure your life by seeing yourself more famous or more powerful than other people, you will wind up being extremely dissatisfied, no matter who you are.”

Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and civic scholar at Southern New Hampshire University, said Rubens faces an uphill battle in unseating Shaheen, and added that his name-recognition may not be up to par for a Senate run.

Rubens has started his campaign by hammering Shaheen on health care reform, NSA spying and her Syria vote. Spiliotes said those are “reasonable” issues to run on, but more directly related to the executive branch than the Senate.

“It’s really all about the presidency and the Obama administration,” Spiliotes said. “None of those are really driven by Shaheen or Democrats in Congress.”

Rubens drew the support of some area Republicans in the Statehouse, such as state Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, who said it was too early to endorse Rubens without knowing who the other candidates might be. But Ladd added that he is “hopeful” about the Etna Republican’s candidacy.

“I think that what he brings is a willingness to work with divergent thought and to capture the middle ground,” Ladd said. “And I think that’s important.”

State Rep. David Kidder, R-New London, said he is undecided about whom he might support in a GOP primary, not knowing who all the primary candidates might be. But Kidder said Rubens is the type of person who could stand up to Republican leadership in Congress.

“For anybody that can go down there and do that, it’s what the American people so desperately are looking for,” Kidder said. “Don’t play the game. Somebody’s got to start. I hoped (U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.,) might do that, but she didn’t.”

Kidder said that in the wake of former House Speaker William O’Brien’s rocky tenure, the state’s Republicans are looking for “reasonable, moderate people,” such as Rubens and former U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass, who is also considering a run.

“I think people are a little fed up with the hard right,” Kidder said.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213