Outspoken as ever, Karen Testerman tests the U.S. Senate waters

Karen Testerman (Ellen Kolb photo)

Karen Testerman (Ellen Kolb photo)

Karen Testerman’s web site says she’s “brutally frank.” In an interview, she says “I’m not bending” on her conservative views. This doesn’t surprise anyone who knows her. Does she have what it takes to win a Republican primary and unseat U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) next year?

She is seeking 5,000 signatures on petitions encouraging her to run. She is careful to say she’s exploring a run, as opposed to being a declared candidate. She’s been making the rounds at public events, as well as maintaining a web site with a petition link. She knows that former state senator Jim Rubens of Etna has declared his interest in Shaheen’s seat. A recent news report indicates an effort underway to draft former Congressman Charlie Bass of Peterborough as well.

Full disclosure: I have known Karen for many years as a fellow pro-life activist. We’ve worked together. Sometimes we back the same candidate in elections; sometimes not – when she ran in the GOP primary for governor in 2010, I was working for John Stephen, the eventual nominee. In short, we go way back. I can’t refer to her as “Testerman” in this interview. She’s Karen to me.

Scouting the electoral territory

Karen recently joined me at Bonhoeffer’s in Nashua for a conversation about the 2014 election. (We had separate checks for our coffees, not wanting to blur that pesky blog/PAC line.) I started by asking her how the petition effort was going.

“Good. Really good. I think we’ll make our target by the end of September.” She went to the recent Lancaster Fair with a friend who was eager to support her possible Senate run. “She took me away from my comfort zone, and started walking me down the midway. And she would say ‘this lady’s exploring a run for U.S. Senate against Jeanne Shaheen,’ and people would immediately stop, take my card, and go through the various points. And then they’d say, ‘I’m looking you up.”

The various points: Pro-life, pro-family, pro-gun; abolish the IRS; institute a flat tax; strong military; strong borders; integrity. I’ve known Karen for a long time, and when she says she’s capable of being “brutally frank,” you can take that to the bank. Is that really an asset in a campaign?

“Definitely. Especially today, when people do not trust the government, do not trust the Congress. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘That’s the same [conservative] line I got from another politician. How do I know you’re honest? How do I know you’re going to stand up and do this? They all go down to Washington and drink the Kool-Aid.’

“And my answer to this is, I’ve been in the trenches with you for the last twenty years, fighting alongside of you. I’m not bending.”

On conservatives, parties, and the right to life

No “truce” on the social issues for Karen. The Democratic party is strongly pro-abortion, of course. Jeanne Shaheen was a NARAL-NH board member before she became the governor who signed the repeal of New Hampshire’s 19th-century abortion laws, leaving no abortion regulation on the books. A lot of abortion advocacy money will be invested to keep Shaheen in office. Does not having a big war chest mean losing? “No. Because time and again, people have been outspent; conservatives have been outspent, and yet there are people behind them. When the message gets out, the truth wins in the end.”

Why do abortion advocacy groups pour so much effort every two years into a small state like New Hampshire? “New Hampshire is still historically First in the Nation.  We’re a microcosm. They know that if [something] plays out here, it’s just a reflection of what’s going to happen nationwide.”

We talked about how abortion provider Planned Parenthood of Northern New England did an end run around the Executive Council in 2010 in order to get money for family planning programs. What would a Senator Testerman say if a New Hampshire organization came to her with a similar issue? “Say no. We are not supposed to be using tax dollars for nonprofit organizations. All we have to do is go back in history, understanding where tax dollars are supposed to be spent. We are supposed to be using tax dollars to run the government. If you’re pro-life, and I’m spending your tax dollars to give to a pro-death group, that’s not right. And neither should I, if I was pro-death, be giving your dollar to a pro-life group.”

The Republican party stressed the economy last year at the expense of social issues, particularly the life issue. (I was there.) Democrats put social issues front and center. What’s with the GOP attitude? “Establishment Republicans want to ignore it [the right to life]. They’ve let the other side define us, and they run from it as a result. If you go back to the Declaration of Independence, it says that life is a God-given right. So how do we think we can change that in any way, shape, or form? It’s a basic principle.” As for the Republican platform plank on the right to life, she says, “The platform will remain solid, and it will restore what was eliminated in the last convention, only if the people get involved.”

Grassroots voters and the call for “moderation”

What would she say to a pro-life voter who thinks she or he has no role to play in the Republican party? “You do have a role to play, and you can make a difference. It doesn’t take a majority to win. It takes that minority that’s willing to go out and set brushfires of freedom in the hearts and minds of men. That’s what Samuel Adams said, and it still holds true today.

“It’s the grassroots who are going to turn back Common Core. It is the grassroots who are going to turn back the overreach of government into our businesses. When you’re faced with a bully on the playground, and you finally say ‘stop’ and won’t budge, and you’ll even take a hit in the face and throw a punch yourself, that’s when the bully leaves. And that’s what the grassroots has to do.” She is careful to draw a distinction between “establishment Republicans” and grassroots voters. “[Since] I first got involved in politics in New Hampshire, the life community, the marriage community, the anti-tax community, the gun community, they keep being told ‘we have to [be] moderate. You can’t have your candidate.’ So we’ve had the moderates every step of the way. And the last time, 2012, the, quote, ‘Tea Party,’ pro-life, issue-oriented people stayed home. They said ‘okay, fine. The party’s walked away from me. I’m not voting, period.’ Ron Paul people were told ‘we don’t need you.’ They wouldn’t even let him speak at the [Republican National] Convention. What a big mistake that was.”

Faith communities and their leaders: “totally capable of swaying an election”

When I asked Karen about the role of pastors in public policy, she cited history, as she does often. “One of the things they say in government all the time is ‘what are best practices?’ Best practice for Paul Revere was going to the home of a pastor when [Revere] was sounding the alarm that the British were coming. We still need our ‘black-robed brigade.’ [In colonial times] pastors sometimes had their clerical garments on over their military uniforms. They delivered their message to the church. Then they took off their clerical robes and stepped outside and said ‘join me. Let’s fight for our rights and our freedoms.’ That’s what they have to do again.” Does that pose a problem for a church’s tax-exempt status? “Who are you serving? Are you serving God or serving man?”

She noted with concern that according to statistical reports, about 50% of adults who attend worship services regularly in this country are not registered to vote, and only half of those who are registered actually go to the polls. “When we increase that, the freshman class in Congress is overwhelmingly pro-life. When that number goes down, you get one or two freshmen who are pro-life. So the role of the church is very, very important. And they are totally capable of swaying an election.”

Education and health care

I mentioned how the so-called Common Core program in education has riled up more people than legacy educators ever expected. Karen nodded. “The grassroots again. This is what happens when we take things that we’re passionate about and start getting educated, talking to our friends over coffee, talking to our family at family gatherings, talking to our church members. It grows into a movement. When people start seeing what the damage is, and check it out on their own, they start saying ‘wait a minute. Something doesn’t add up here.’ We’re not dumb.” (I’ll insert a plug here for Cornerstone’s forum on Common Core, coming up Tuesday, September 17, at 6 p.m. at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on the campus of St. Anselm College.)

On Obamacare: “We’ve failed to recognize that there are a lot of people who don’t want to be insured. They want to eliminate the middleman [in the provider-patient relationship]. Some make a conscious decision not to take [insurance] because it doesn’t make financial sense. And then there are the people we’ve forgotten about who have made the choice to put aside savings every month, so they can negotiate one-on-one with a provider.” Under Obamacare, “we want to shove everybody into this third-payer system. Still a middleman. And thanks to Jeanne Shaheen, we’re down to one payer (Anthem).” She recalled that Shaheen, when a state senator, sponsored a bill that had the effect of cutting drastically the number of health insurance companies offering policies in New Hampshire. “And now we’re down to one. Thank you, Jeanne Shaheen.” What will Karen do if she’s accused of wanting to throw people out of the health care system? She’d like to look at the accuser and say “I thought you were pro-choice. You’ve forgotten about those people who want to have a choice” in their own care.

Karen will make up her mind about the Senate race as she evaluates the result of her draftkaren.com effort. She is optimistic and ready for action in any case. Whether on a ballot or not, I think she’s going to have a lot to say leading up to the 2014 elections.

(As a blogger, so will I. I’ll be happy to sit down with anyone who’s contemplating a run for office and wants to answer some questions about the life issues.)

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