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Lamontagne goes beyond extremes N.H. hopeful pushes values, local power, Oct 13, 1996

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Lamontagne goes beyond extremes N.H. hopeful pushes values, local power
[City Edition]

Boston Globe (pre-1997 Fulltext) - Boston, Mass.

Author: Royal Ford, Globe Staff
Date: Oct 13, 1996
Start Page: B.5
Section: METRO/REGION
Text Word Count: 1081

Document Text


MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Critics have a field day with Ovide Lamontagne. Some brand the Republican candidate for governor an "extremist." One newspaper columnist tagged him a "a wingnut male from the far right."

But once you see him in debate or on the stump, visit him in his posh law offices or walk the blue-collar neighborhood where he grew up, it is quickly apparent that pinning this man on the far edge of the political spectrum is simplistic at best.

Lamontagne emerges instead as a clear conservative whose politics are rooted in his firm values, his French Catholic heritage and his overriding belief that political decisions are best made locally.

It is, in fact, his absolute faith in local control -- he would, for instance, allow local school districts to decide on isues as controversial as prayer, condom distribution and the teaching of creationism in the classroom -- that makes some call him extreme. Others, however, say his is just a strain of the libertarianism that so colors New Hampshire politics.

"I believe in New Hampshire traditions, a state that is business-friendly where spending and taxes are low," the chairman of the state board of education said in an interview this week. "I believe in respecting the right of people to make their own decisions on education, things like fire protection and police."

Lamontagne, at 39, lives in the same southern end of Manchester where he grew up. It is a sprawl of tidy woodframe homes, a hockey arena, an old ballpark, apartment houses, a scattering of industrial buildings. His children are the third generation of Lamontagnes to attend the neighborhood parochial school. Just blocks away, drugs and violence have begun to seep onto the streets of Manchester. President Clinton is expected to appear in this very neighborhood tomorrow.

Gritty Manchester must be a pocket of strength for Lamontagne if he is to win his battle with Jeanne Shaheen, the Democratic nominee whose appeal will likely be strongest in more upscale cities like Keene, Concord and Portsmouth.

He hopes to keep his own appeal simple.

He said he admires Ronald Reagan because the former president was "very sincere on some very important but simple propositions."

He likes to talk up his conviction that "given opportunity, people will do what is best for them." He holds to that view, even though he knows it is a policy that sometimes carries a price.

"I understand that this is a two-edged sword," he says, "because it means some communities will decide to do things I would not agree with."

Richard Winters, a professor of politics at Dartmouth College, says it is hard to parse Lamontagne's broad agenda because, except for his tenure at the board of education, his political background is not deep.

"He's got no hooks or handles," said Winters.

While some have called him a calculating ideologue, Republican State Rep. Donna Sytek, who almost certainly will be the next speaker of the House, calls him "a warm man, serene in his skin."

He is selling himself as a New Hampshire native who likes to hunt, fish, ski and snowmobile, and one as concerned for the next generation as his parents were for him.

"I am the next generation of the last generation," he told a gathering of students at Belmont High School during a mock political convention.

Lamontagne, like nearly a third of the population in New Hampshire, is a descendant of a family that emigrated here from Canada in the late-1800s to work the mills. He is proud that he speaks French and he has worked to cultivate Franco-American culture.

He attended Manchester parochial schools and graduated from Catholic University in Washington in 1979. There, he met his wife, Elizabeth, to whom he has been married for 17 years.

He taught high school social studies in Maryland and Wyoming, earned his law degree at Wyoming College of Law in 1985 and returned to New Hampshire a year later. As a lawyer, he represents businesses in commercial disputes, somtimes at trial, sometimes as a mediator.

In 1992, he lost a bid for the Republican congressional nomination.

In 1993, he was appointed chairman of the board of education. It was in this role that the strongest evidence emerged of what he stands for and where the strongest controversies swirled around him.

In particular, he was attacked for opposing the federal Goals 2000 program, which would have shipped millions of dollars to the states for education. Lamontagne said there were too many federal strings attached and, for a year, helped block New Hampshire schools from the funds.

He took this move, he told students at the Belmont mock convention, because the state was being asked to "turn over the keys to education in New Hampshire" to Washington.


After he testified before Congress and an amendment allowed local districts to apply -- instead of the entire state -- he backed the program and just last week money began to flow into some local districts.

He says that as governor, he would work to repeal the state's tenure law, which he calls overprotective of teachers; help groups that want to form charter schools; and make merit pay for teachers part of the collective bargaining process. He would also favor a voucher system so parents could send their children to public, private or religious-affiliated schools.

Like Shaheen, he has taken the pledge to veto a general sales or income tax and he questions her credibility in adopting what has been the ideological standard of Republicans here.

His toughest challenge in his race with Shaheen may be the gender gap. A WMUR-TV/UNH poll taken just after the September primary showed Lamontagne leading among men, 46-41 percent, but Shaheen enjoying a 50-31 percent lead among women.

"If there is a gender gap, it's because people don't know me in that regard," says Lamontagne, who points to his tenure on the governor's Commission on Domestic Violence, the presence of women in his campaign and the role of women on the board of education.

Lamontagne is opposed to abortion in all instances except to save the life of the mother. He and his wife have adopted two daughters, Madeleine, 9, and Brittany 7, in addition to taking in foster children. He says that his antiabortion stance in a state where most residents favor abortion rights will not hurt him because New Hampshire has had many antiabortion governors.[Illustration]
PHOTO; CAPTION:Ovide Lamontagne's politics are rooted in his firm values. / GLOBE FILE PHOTO



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Abstract (Document Summary)


MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Critics have a field day with Ovide Lamontagne. Some brand the Republican candidate for governor an "extremist." One newspaper columnist tagged him a "a wingnut male from the far right."

Lamontagne emerges instead as a clear conservative whose politics are rooted in his firm values, his French Catholic heritage and his overriding belief that political decisions are best made locally.

Lamontagne, at 39, lives in the same southern end of Manchester where he grew up. It is a sprawl of tidy woodframe homes, a hockey arena, an old ballpark, apartment houses, a scattering of industrial buildings. His children are the third generation of Lamontagnes to attend the neighborhood parochial school. Just blocks away, drugs and violence have begun to seep onto the streets of Manchester. President Clinton is expected to appear in this very neighborhood tomorrow.
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