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Grant Bosse: Jim Rubens goes from centrist to anti-Republican

March 07. 2016 10:12PM

Jim Reubens has taken another step on his long, strange trip through New Hampshire politics, this time announcing a quixotic primary challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Over the past 25 years, there haven’t been many political movements that Rubens hasn’t been eager to jump in front of.

Some disclaimers are in order. Since Rubens and I have both been kicking around New Hampshire politics for a few decades, we’ve crossed paths a number of times, often on the same side of an issue, sometimes opposed. My wife works on Ayotte’s state staff.

Rubens was one of the few established politicians to support my run for Congress in 2008. His $500 contribution actually ranked him among the major donors to my cash-starved campaign. I don’t have anything against him, nor do I think incumbents should be exempt from primaries. But Rubens’ claim that he is running to save the Senate seat for Republicans doesn’t hold up.

A Perot voter in 1992, Rubens wrote a paper outlining how a third party could win the White House in 1996. In 1993, the self-described “radical centrist” joined with Democrats Arnie Arnesen and John Rauh to launch the New Majority Party. It disappeared almost instantly, and Rubens became a Republican.

In 1994, Rubens knocked off then-Senate President Ralph Hough in a GOP primary, and served the Upper Valley district for two terms. In the State Senate, Rubens earned a reputation as a moderate technocrat willing to tackle complex issues. He led the fight to break up Public Service’s monopoly on electric distribution and helped craft Senate Bill 2, allowing official ballot voting in Granite State towns.

He ran for governor in 1998 as a fiscal hardliner, earning the Union Leader’s endorsement in a bitter primary won narrowly by businessman Jay Lucas. Rubens lost a bid to take back his old Senate seat in 2000 by fewer than 900 votes.

In 2002, Rubens reemerged as the primary spokesman for Gordon Humphrey’s campaign for governor. I was working on the Craig Benson campaign that year, and watched as Rubens served as Humphrey’s lead attack dog, pummeling Benson’s business record.

Humphrey endorsed Rubens’ Senate bid in 2014, but is supporting Ayotte’s re-election. Humphrey took a short break from knocking on doors for John Kasich in Ohio to tell me, “I’m voting for Kelly. That’s not any slight to Jim Rubens.”

From 2005 to 2013, Rubens chaired the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, providing the most organized opposition to efforts to authorize casino gambling in New Hampshire.

At the same time, Rubens worked as a consultant for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a liberal advocacy group preaching the gospel of Al Gore. For the last decade, Rubens has been a climate crusader, and an ardent defender of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

“We should all urge our New Hampshire legislators to enact RGGI in 2007 and ask Gov. Lynch to endorse it,” Rubens wrote in the Keene Sentinel in 2006.

In 2014, after 14 years off the ballot, Rubens ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. And he brought yet another issue set to his campaign.

Rubens tried to paper over the inconvenient truth of his climate advocacy, going so far as to sign Americans for Prosperity’s pledge against a climate tax. Instead, he took up campaign fiance reform as his top issue.

Rubens was Larry Lessig’s favorite Republican last election, with the super PAC Mayday.US putting $1.6 million behind Rubens.

How did they do? To quote Lessig, “We lost. Badly.”

On Feb. 9, within seven hours of the polls closing in this year’s New Hampshire primary, Rubens endorsed Donald Trump, trying to grab the last seat on the Trump bandwagon before it headed out of state.

Rubens is again attempting to remake himself, this time as a Trump populist and immigration hawk. He’s been recruited by a group called Stark 360 to knock off Ayotte.

If and when Rubens loses the primary, Stark 360 promises to back Andrew Hemingway in a kamikaze independent campaign that would ensure Gov. Maggie Hassan’s victory. This isn’t an unintended consequence. Their plan is to elect Hassan.

If Rubens really wants to save the Senate seat for Republicans, he could start by repudiating a group of anti-Republicans plotting to hand it over to the Democrats.

Grant Bosse is the editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.

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