Rubens Stumps For Valley Votes
Hanover — U.S. Senate hopeful Jim Rubens is accustomed to a tough crowd.
As a two-term state senator in the 1990s, the Etna Republican held one of the most left-leaning districts in New Hampshire.
So it wasn’t a shock for Rubens when he faced some critical questions from a group of about 50 people in Kendal at Hanover’s community center on Thursday evening — his first public event in the Upper Valley since he officially declared his candidacy last month for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s Senate seat in 2014.
After hearing a bevy of Rubens’ proposed solutions for some of the nation’s toughest dilemmas, Kendal resident Dennis Kelemen calmly took the microphone.
“Let’s pretend for a moment that I’m greatly in favor of everything you’re proposing,” Kelemen said. “Nevertheless, it seems to me that if your election, for example, tipped the balance of control in the Senate from ... Democrat to Republican, the chances of passing things like a carbon tax, for example, are absolutely zero.”
Kelemen concluded, “Because you, as a single Republican, are not going to change the outlook of the Republican Party, I think I will continue to vote Democratic.”
Rubens is indeed an anomaly in his own party — at least on the national scale — as a climate change activist who advocates for a “revenue neutral” carbon tax and rails against Wall Street’s influence over Congress.
Responding to Kelemen’s skepticism, Rubens insisted that “one person in a body of 100 can definitely make a difference.
“I can change the culture,” Rubens said. “ ... If I can show that you can win an election, there are other Republicans who I know personally who are frightened to express their personal views because they’re worried about getting shellacked by the Koch brothers and the coal industry.”
Rubens continued, “They will turn around. This is why this state is so darn important: we’re a swing state where voters can make a difference and you can send a signal.”
In general, Rubens said the event at Kendal went “pretty amazingly well.
“This is a crowd that I’m going to estimate is 90 percent Democrats,” Rubens said on Friday. “ ... The case I’m making is that the incumbent doesn’t match their core ideals at all.”
In his pitch to the residents at Kendal, Rubens switched the order and emphasis of his talking points, spending more time on fiscal matters such as the national debt — which he pins on Shaheen — and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which he argues was crafted by the biggest 10 Wall Street banks as a “one-size-fits-all” solution and is now hurting small New Hampshire banks and businesses.
But Rubens, who describes himself as equally comfortable exchanging ideas with liberals and Tea Party Republicans, emphasized that he doesn’t tailor his message depending on the audience.
Speaking to an older, more Democratic group, Rubens maintained his stance that social welfare programs such as Medicare and Social Security need to be reined in and means-tested for cost savings. And while some higher-profile Republicans — such as U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. — have campaigned for “entitlement reform” with the qualifier that the system as it exists should be preserved for those of retirement age and older, Rubens advocates for those programs to be reformed for everyone “in the near term.
“Does that mean this month? No, but it means that everyone is going to have to belly up to the bar if we’re going to fix America’s fiscal problems,” Rubens said on Friday.
The plank in Rubens’ platforms that draws perhaps the most attention is also his most unique: a tax on carbon dioxide that would be offset by reductions in the corporate and payroll tax rates.
“We need more factories in America, we need more jobs in America, and we need more capital investment in America,” said Rubens, who has worked as a consultant for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “When you reduce taxes on jobs and you reduce taxes on corporate capital investment, you get more of the stuff you’re reducing taxes on, and you’re increasing taxes on carbon dioxide, which is causing other problems.”
Rubens also argued on Thursday evening for the public financing of elections as a way to combat a “corrupt, bought and paid for, gridlocked Congress.
“There is a quid-pro-quo,” Rubens said as he emphasized that U.S. Senators spend about half of their time in office fundraising. “It’s not written, and it doesn’t even need to be spoken, but there is an implied deal.”
Rubens linked the influence of money in elections to “pork barrel spending” and government subsidies that he said are adding to the national debt. He added that public campaign financing would cost $3 billion annually, “so much less than the tax breaks and the pork given to the special interests in these quid-pro-quo deals.”
In addition to public campaign financing, Rubens also advocates for term limits, both of which he said could be accomplished by amending the Constitution. He pledges that he would not stay in Washington for more than two terms in the Senate.
Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and civic scholar at Southern New Hampshire University, said given that it’s still more than a year out from the election, Rubens is at the point in his campaign where he is still trying to build visibility and gain some traction.
“He was a reasonably well-known politician up in the Upper Valley in the 1990s, but it’s kind of been a little while,” Spiliotes said. “So in some sense, he’s kind of reintroducing himself to the community.”
As for his less-than-orthodox platform, Spiliotes said Rubens’ views on issues such as climate change and even his advocacy against casino gambling allows him to play to the center and “makes him a little more interesting.
“You can’t really say he’s kind of a cookie-cutter right-wing candidate, because he’s a little bit harder to pin down,” Spiliotes said. “He speaks both the language of conservatism and moderation, and in a sense, Jeanne Shaheen does the same thing.”
Kendal resident Letitia Ufford, a self-described “very left wing Democrat,” quizzed Rubens about whether he was in favor of changing the amount of foreign aid given to Israel.
Rubens responded only that he supported “Israel and its territorial integrity,” but declined to specify what he feels the ideal borders are for the nation state.
“Those problems are to be worked out and they need to be worked out,” he said.
After the event concluded, Ufford described Rubens’ talk as “appealing.
“I thought some of the things were unexpected from a Republican, but I wouldn’t vote for him,” Ufford said, citing the examples of Rubens’ stance against single-payer health care and “how blind he was to the need to end inequality.”
Though she wasn’t swayed to vote for the Republican candidate, Ufford said that Rubens and his ideals were a “pleasant surprise.
“I would prefer him to (U.S. Republican Senator) Kelly Ayotte,” she said.
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.