LACONIA — For the past decade, the 1st Congressional District has passed back and forth between Carol Shea-Porter of Rochester and Republican Frank Guinta of Manchester like a hot potato. Although they are seeking a fourth rematch, Guinta is challenged in the Republican primary by Rich Ashooh of Bedford, who seeks to break their grip on the seat while holding it for the GOP.
This is Ashooh's second bid for the seat. In 2010, when Guinta won the seat for the first time, he ran a strong third, just 42 votes shy of finishing second, as a field of eight shattered the vote in the GOP primary. This time around in a two-horse race, with Guinta haunted by his by his troubles with the Federal Election Commission, which prompted several prominent Republicans to call for his resignation, Ashooh enjoys much shorter odds.
In an election year that has been overshadowed by outsiders and insurgents, Ashooh boasts an a record of professional experience, civic engagement and charitable service that marks him as a consummate insider. Born and raised in Manchester, where his grandparents, Lebanese Christians fleeing persecution, settled a century ago, he graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1986 and soon made his way to Washington. He worked in the offices of two United States senators — Gordon Humphrey and Warren Rudman — in the 1980s, who left him with a commitment to fiscal discipline and responsibility, and dread of deficit spending and excessive debt.
After returning to New Hampshire, Ashooh served as a senior executive at BAE Systems, an aerospace manufacturer, overseeing the firm's relationships with federal and state government until last year. He represented the company as a director of several state regional and national business organizations. At the same time, he has trustee of both the University System of New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce University as well as a director of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and New Hampshire Public Television. Most recently, Ashooh served as interim executive director of the Warren. B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Service at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, a position he relinquished to run for Congress.
Pursuing sound fiscal policies and encouraging economic growth were Ashooh's priorities in 2010 and they remain his priorities in 2016. He stressed the urgency of reducing the deficits, balancing the budget and shrinking the debt, but rejected both sequestration and austerity. Instead, he said he was referring to "limiting growth," which he added would require Congress summoning the political will to make difficult choices.
In addition, Ashooh specified three necessary reforms. "The budget process has to change," he said, adding that he is reluctant to specify details because "people's eyes glaze over." Turning to the tax code, he said that it should be made more fair and more efficient while adjusting corporate taxes to repatriate capital has has flown abroad. Finally, the entitlement programs, chiefly Social Security and Medicare, must be reformed to ensure appropriate benefits for future generations.
Ashooh acknowledged that "Without bipartisanship nothing major gets done" and added that "a certain amount of pragmatism must be restored."
"I'm a limited government guy," Ashooh said, explaining that spurring economic growth will require "reducing government intervention in the marketplace" by easing the regulatory burdens and improving the tax environment for business. At the same time, he said that constraints placed on banks, especially community banks, in response to the recession, should be relaxed to ensure access to capital for for small businesses.
Ashooh, once a director of Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, conceded that congressional Republicans have "taken a very negative approach to health care," but at the same time insisted that the Affordable Care Act has not proved successful, particularly in containing costs. "We need to reform the reform," he said, "by addressing the cost drivers." In particular, he favor adjusting the incentives in Medicare and Medicaid to reward efficiency and trim costs.
Ashooh described the climate of the upcoming election as "not like anything I've ever seen before. I'm very glad to have my own race." He emphasized that while he will support the Republican presidential nominee, he will devote his time, energy and resources to his own campaign.
"I'm not running to be a preacher," Ashooh remarked, adding that he believes "You can hold to your principles, but still solve problems and get things done." He said that his resume "fits the profile of a lot of candidates," then added in jest "just not the ones who've won." His resume may be a handicap in the GOP primary. But, if he can overcome it, his deep roots in the community, where he has worked successfully with others of all persuasions, may serve him well among undeclared voters who will decide the outcome of the general election.
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