Lamontagne: The Paradox of the Good Person in Politics
People who know Ovide Lamontagne personally don’t recognize the caricature of him being presented in negative TV ads. Ask anyone who really knows Ovide and you’ll hear the same thing over and over: He’s a good man. Some add a backhanded caveat: Maybe too good a person for politics.
It’s a political paradox. We lament that politics attracts a disproportionate number of scoundrels and half-wits and not enough selfless community leaders of deep character. Then when good people step into the public square, their real record and life story gets grotesquely distorted while some dismiss them with the observation, nice guys finish last.
Being the good man in politics isn’t the only paradox he brings to the campaign for New Hampshire governor. Another is how someone identified as a strong conservative puts so much of his time, talent, and treasure into social service organizations not thought of as conservative causes.
Lamontagne is the model of the compassionate conservative. He’s been a leader in Easter Seals, Catholic Charities, Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Boy Scouts, and the list goes on. Whenever a Manchester non-profit has a capital campaign to fund, they want Ovide on the committee. Non-profit leaders describe him as an invaluable connector and catalyst.
These causes are a more personal commitment for Ovide and his wife, Bettie, than many may be aware. After getting married at age 21 – the Lamontagnes have been married 33 years – the couple adopted their first child though Catholic Charities. Two years later, they were approached privately on behalf of a young woman who was pregnant, and in time they adopted a second baby.
In between, a foster child came into their lives. The infant was placed in the Lamontagne’s care after spending several weeks in the hospital during which his natural parents proved unable to care for the baby themselves. At first the boy seemed healthy, but after several months it became apparent he was not developing normally. He was physically and mentally disabled, and prone to self-abusive behavior. The Lamontagnes raised the boy as foster parents until he was six. He never learned to talk and requires 24 hour care, which he receives today as an adult in a community setting. The Lamontagnes have continued as his educational and legal guardians.
Lamontagne’s commitment to non-profit work has contributed to another paradox. Had Lamontagne, 55, not chosen to conduct his personal affairs so much like a non-profit himself over the span of his accomplished law career at a prominent firm, giving away literally years of billable hours to non-profits and being a generous donor to countless causes, Lamontagne would probably be in a position to self-finance his campaign.
“Making money was never something that motivated me,” Lamontagne says. “I’m more interested in the service I do. I told the firm (Devine Millimet), ‘You have to let me do public service or else I will suffocate’.”
So instead of getting rich and moving to a big house in Bedford, the Lamontagnes live in the same home in the modestManchesterneighborhood he grew up in. His parents, who raised eight children, live literally next door. The neighborhood has changed over the decades – it can be a little rough around the edges – but the Lamontagne family stayed within St. Anthony’s parish. His children attended the same parochial schools, including Trinity High, that he did. A person who is conservative in such ways in his personal life can be counted on to stay that way in public office.
A final paradox: Despite the law partnership, the non-profit boards, a vast personal network, a sunny disposition and being respected and well-liked, Lamontagne has never been the establishment’s candidate. Lamontagne’s always had plenty of faith. First the establishment ignores you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then they attend your swearing in.
Note: An earlier version of this profile first ran in the New Hampshire Union Leader.