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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bob Smith’s big regret: Voting in favor of the Patriot Act

Republican Senate candidate and former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, of Tuftonboro, said Tuesday that he regrets supporting the Patriot Act after the 2001 terrorist attacks and believes that states – rather than the federal government – should set criminal laws regarding possession of marijuana.

Smith, 73, said voters are tired of career politicians who compromise their principles and also engage in the personal, partisan warfare that has blocked progress on the pressing issues of the day. ...

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Republican Senate candidate and former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, of Tuftonboro, said Tuesday that he regrets supporting the Patriot Act after the 2001 terrorist attacks and believes that states – rather than the federal government – should set criminal laws regarding possession of marijuana.

Smith, 73, said voters are tired of career politicians who compromise their principles and also engage in the personal, partisan warfare that has blocked progress on the pressing issues of the day.

“I think it boils down to the fact that some people would say the parties don’t get together and therefore nothing gets done. I don’t agree with that,” Smith said during an interview with The Telegraph editorial board. “I think the frustration is because people understand there’s no difference between the two parties.

“There is a large wing of the Republican Party – call it what you want, ‘the establishment’ – that really isn’t sticking to the Republican platform. I am the only candidate in this race who’s 100 percent behind the platform.”

Smith said the post-9/11 fervor about terrorist threats prompted him to support the Patriot Act, which he said has been exploited by the federal government to spy on innocent Americans.

While admitting that “hindsight is cheap,” Smith said it’s the most significant issue on which he would vote differently over his 18 years as a member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

“The purpose, as I understood it, was to protect America from an influx of bad people and to protect us against them,” Smith said.

“It was not designed to spy on or harass or eavesdrop on American citizens. I probably would not have voted for that – definitely would not have. I would have insisted on more Fourth Amendment protections.”

State-level legalization

On marijuana, Smith said he voted for tough federal laws against drug use but now believes it’s wrong to imprison someone for marijuana possession and supports access to marijuana for seriously ill patients.

“I think, to be honest, take it out of the federal realm and put it in the state realm,” Smith said.

“It’s something I didn’t give a lot of thought to 25-30 years ago. People make choices, and sometimes they are the wrong choices.

“If you are using a substance that may be illegal at the time and your life is ruined because you sat in jail for 20 years, I don’t think that makes any sense.”

Smith said he would not vote for federal legislation to decriminalize marijuana but is stating his personal beliefs that have changed over time.

“I am not going to mandate this at the federal level,” Smith said. “I do think some of the penalties are too harsh for kids.”

Instant seniority

If elected, Smith said he would have instant seniority after 12 years in the Senate and would secure at least a subcommittee chairmanship or ranking member of a key committee, depending on which party controls the Senate after November’s election.

“I feel I can make a difference largely due to the experience of having been there. I am not going back as a freshman, only as someone with influence to try and correct things that are going on,” Smith said.

“Kelly Ayotte may not be aware of this, but I would be the senior senator in New Hampshire.”

Immigration answers

Smith also criticized the immigration reform measure that cleared the Senate last year with support of Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Ayotte.

He said it would have granted amnesty to illegal immigrants and did not do enough to secure the nation’s southern border.

“When they get here, instead of protecting them and putting them into areas where they are getting benefits, allowing them to work here illegally, we don’t accept them – we send them back,” Smith said.

“That’s the answer.”

The 50,000-plus children of Central American parents who have come over the border in the past year aren’t “political refugees” and should be safely returned to their country of origin, Smith said.

He supports legislation to deny citizenship to any children born here to parents who are here illegally.

Repealing Obamacare

Regarding Obamacare, Smith would vote to repeal it. The two mandates he could support would allow citizens to carry private health care plans from job to job and would make insurers provide coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Smith said it was a mistake that his campaign website endorsed the conservative Heritage Foundation’s proposal that states merely encourage insurers to set up high-risk pools to pay for the coverage of those with pre-existing conditions.

“I think the health insurance should follow the individual; it shouldn’t have to come from the state or from an employer,” Smith said.

“Why not let coverage go beyond state lines? The problem with Obamacare is it’s a one-size-fits-all program, and it’s going to come back to haunt us.”

‘Successful politics’

After losing his Senate seat to then-GOP Congressman John E. Sununu in 2002, Smith said he and his wife, Mary Jo, retired to Florida and he never again expected to run in New Hampshire.

But Smith came back because family, friends and past supporters convinced him that the nation’s problems were so severe that he should change his mind and re-enter the political arena.

“I believe it is hurting our country, and it may cost us our country – that is probably the main reason to come back,” Smith said.

Smith said GOP primary rival and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown made deals to support legislation that Obama and Senate Democratic leaders wanted on federal spending, financial regulation and other issues.

“As Brown and some of the more moderate Republicans would say, ‘Hey, let’s come to the middle and try to compromise here,’ ” Smith said.

“I don’t think that cuts it.”

Smith said he would compromise, but not if it meant surrendering his principles of limited government, low taxes, less government regulation and more personal freedom.

“I don’t think that people expect us to accommodate or compromise our views; that’s not what I would say is successful politics,” Smith said.

“Take the stand on principle, fight the good fight, win or lose.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).