By JOHN DiSTASO, News Editor
(Monday, June 2)
CONCORD – The 2nd District Republican U.S. House primary intensified Monday as former state Sen. Gary Lambert of Nashua received the backing of a group of officials from opponent Marilinda Garcia’s hometown of Salem and neighboring Windham.
About an hour after state Reps. Bob Elliott, Ron Belanger, Joe Sweeney and others gathered in Salem to tell reporters they are backing Lambert as a “man of integrity” and criticized Garcia for her anti-gambling stand, Casino Free New Hampshire spokesman Steve Duprey hosted a Concord news conference to call her vote “courageous.”
Duprey is one of the state Republican Party’s three representatives on the Republican National Committee and is forbidden by state party by-laws from endorsing in a GOP primary. He said he was not endorsing Garcia, who did not attend the Concord news conference, but he did point out that the state GOP platform has long opposed casino gambling.
The 31-year-old Garcia was among only three state representatives from Salem who opposed expanded casino gambling for the state in a recent 173-172 vote killing the bill.
With Salem’s Rockingham Park a leading a candidate for a casino should gambling be legalized, Lambert, 54, favors it on the basis that it will create jobs.
The officials who backed Lambert instead of their hometown representative also noted that more than 80 percent of those who voted in a non-binding referendum in the border community last year backed a casino for the town.
State Rep. Bob Elliott, who organized the news conference at Gourmet Bites restaurant in Salem, called Lambert “a warrior-patriot” who understands how to create jobs and is a recently retired member of the U.S. Marine Reserves, he “understand what war and peace is all about.” Lambert retired from the reserves on Sunday after more than 35 years of service.
“He does not live in an ivory tower and is a man of vast, mature experience. And the key word here is being mature,” said Elliott. “This isn’t about expanded gambling. We’re here today because we want to support the most qualified candidate.”
Former Rep. Gary Azarian of Salem said, “We need to be able to trust in our representatives in Washington that when the majority wants something, he’s there to represent them and not himself.”
“We need to send a man there that represents the State of New Hampshire and not their own ideals,” said Azarian.
“The issue has gone way past gaming now,” Azarian said. Voters “need to know the representatives they elect are going to do what they want.”
Veteran Rep. Ron Belanger called Lambert a “man of your word,” and said that while he may not vote on gambling in Congress, it’s ”a matter of trust.”
Salem Selectman Steve Campbell said, “He’ll listen to the people. He’s not a person who will put his views ahead of the what the people who elected him want.
Salem Planning Board Chairman Ed DeClerq also backed Lambert for his pro-gambling stance because of the jobs it will bring to the town.
“It’s a lifeline to economic redevelopment in Salem and will provide relief for the taxpayers,” he said.
Windham selectman Bruce Breton said Lambert “will do what our wishes are,” adding, “No politician should think they’re smarter than all the rest of us.”
Later in Concord, Duprey said, “We’re here to thank (Garcia) for her independence and her vote in what we think was in the very best interest of New Hampshire. We who have been opposed to casinos appreciate the fact that somebody in Salem had the courage to stand up against what we think was great local pressure.”
Duprey noted that the anti-gambling coalition comprises Democrats, Republicans liberals and conservatives.
“We are not going to get engaged in partisan political contests,” Duprey said. “On the other hand, when we see people try to poke one candidate or another, using as a weight their vote on gambling, we’re going to speak up in defense of those who we think voted the right way for New Hampshire, regardless of their political philosophy or party.”
Overall, he said, gambling will not be a federal issue and he will support the nominee of the party against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kuster in a general election.
With Duprey was Salem businessman Steven Goddu of Goddu Printing, who had tough words for Lambert’s supporters and Garcia’s detractors.
Goddu charged Lambert has “gone negative. He’s got some Salem reps focused on this one issue, acting like punks.”
He explained later that he used that tough term because, “They’re just trying to pressure her on this one issue. They’re just out to get her.
“This is truly political payback and I don’t think they have really taken a good look at Marilinda and made a good evaluation. They’re just angry at the one vote,” Goddu said.
Duprey, while distancing himself from Goddu’s comments, said that while the Salem officials cited the lop-sided referendum, a delegate should vote “for what your local parochial interest wants.
“If you are a trustee or a representative,” he said, “”then you consider not only your local interest but also the greater good, and we think she did that.”
Police Chief Michael Sielicki of Kensington, president of the New Hampshire Police Chiefs Association, also praised Garcia’ vote without endorsing her, saying , “This is about what New Hampshire needs, this is not about what Salem wants.”
Lambert, reacting to Duprey’s defense of Garcia, said, “If I ever have to take a tough vote in Congress, I hope I don’t have to have the GOP establishment standing next to me in my own home town defending me.”
Asked whether he believed Duprey’s praise constituted a de facto endorsement of Garcia, Lambert said, “I’ll leave it up to Steve to figure that out.”
Garcia campaign manager Tom Szold said Lambert has “chosen to go negative,” while Garcia “has always been 100 percent clear with the voters on where she stands (on gambling). One has to wonder if Mr. Lambert plans to be as clear with voters during his campaign about his support for an onerous cap and trade scheme that raises energy prices on New Hampshire businesses and families.”