Dave Solomon's Granite Status: Gambling debate resonates in Second District Congressional race
In a morning of dueling press conferences, supporters of expanded gambling in New Hampshire took aim at state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R-Salem, endorsing her opponent in the race for New Hampshire's Second District congressional seat. An hour later in Concord, anti-gambling forces came to Garcia's defense.
Several Salem state representatives, along with town officials from Salem and Windham, turned out to endorse Gary Lambert, the former one-term Republican state senator and retired Marine from Nashua, at a press conference on Monday morning, which Granite Status previewed a few weeks ago.
Garcia and Lambert are in a close race for the Republican nomination to face incumbent Democrat Ann McLane Kuster in the fall.
Salem was considered the most likely spot for a high-end casino had New Hampshire lawmakers approved the measure, which failed by one vote in the House, 173-172, on April 30. In March 2013, 81 percent of Salem voters in a nonbinding referendum supported a casino at Rockingham Park.
Garcia was one of three state representatives from Salem's nine-member delegation to vote against gambling in April 30, the other two being her sister, Bianca Garcia and Patrick Bick.
The Salem event, at Gourmet Bites on North Broadway, was organized by State Rep. Robert Elliott, who was joined by Salem representatives Ronald Belanger, Anne Priestley and Joe Sweeney.
Rep. Gary Azarian, who resigned his seat in January citing personal reasons, also endorsed Lambert, as did Reps. Mary Griffin and Walter Kolodziej from Windham. Salem Selectman Stephen Campbell and Windham Selectman Bruce Bretton were also on hand to show their support for Lambert.
“I have been in this town 50 years, and I have never seen five of our reps support someone from another town,” said Elliott. “That ought to send a message.”
He predicted that Lambert would carry Salem during the primary election in September. “He will definitely carry Nashua and Salem,” said Elliott. “She (Garcia) has a fight on her hands now.”
Later the same morning, in the lobby of the Legislative Office Building in Concord, Steve Duprey, spokesperson for Casino Free NH, applauded Garcia's vote against gambling, calling it “courageous.”
“It would have been very easy for Representative Garcia to set aside her convictions and go along with the majority of the Salem delegation and vote for the casino legislation,” he said. “Instead, she stood strong and did what she has told her constituents all along. She courageously voted against a casino.”
Joining Duprey was Kensington Police Chief Mike Sielicki, head of the state police chief's association, which has long opposed expanded gambling.
“We applaud her for standing up against the enormous pressure she got from the pro-casino lobby,” Sielicki said. Steven Goddu, president of Goddu Printing in Salem, also spoke in support of Garcia.
Duprey pointed out that Casino Free NH is a non-partisan coalition that opposes casino gambling, but is not endorsing any candidates.
“We don't get involved in endorsements,” said Hennry Veilleux, a spokesman for the anti-gambling group, “but we stand for people who voted with us, and we wanted to applaud her for it.”
Lambert thanked the Salem and Windham officials for their support, which he said goes beyond the issue of gambling in New Hampshire.
“They are supporting me because they believe my 35 years of service in the Marine Corps and my time in the state Senate make me the candidate best qualified to represent the 2nd District,” he said.