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Rubens no slave to party dogma

As unconventional Republican candidates go, former state Sen. Jim Rubens ranks right up there.

The Etna businessman is a former hippie who once lived in a Canaan commune and successfully started a recycling business before it was trendy.

After serving two terms in the state Senate during the 1990s, Rubens lost the Republican primary for governor by about 3,000 votes.

Not bad for a college dropout, even if that college was Dartmouth.

Earlier this year, he led the fight against bringing a casino into the state. Now, he is considering whether he should seek the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2014.

We don’t know if Rubens should run or not, much less be the nominee. But the vision he spelled out for Amherst Republicans on Saturday about how the party can recover from the drubbing in the last election strikes us as pretty close to the mark.

“If we come up with sensible solutions, if we can share them and translate them, we will bring back the independents. We’ll bring back young people, and we’ll bring back women,” he said. “We have to broaden our reach.”

Those Republicans who think the party should be closer to 1964-Barry Goldwater than 2008-John McCain may disagree, but Rubens’ assessment of what the party needs to do at least feels right.

Though he calls himself a conservative, Rubens isn’t likely to have broad appeal among traditional red-meat Republicans. Among other things, he favors means-testing to limit the benefits wealthy people draw from Social Security and Medicare, even if that’s not likely to play well with the rich. Doing so will help sustain the programs for those who need them most, according to Rubens.

For Rubens, a policy wonk whose wife sometimes had to remind him to smile on the campaign trail when he first started out, politics is always about ideas and putting them into action. He was the driving force behind SB2, the law that allowed school and municipal budgets to be voted on by all-day balloting, instead of requiring people to turn up at local school district meetings. The idea was to broaden participation and give more people a voice in the process, and it worked, even if some factions dislike it because it means they can no longer pack district meetings and swing the outcome.

We don’t know whether Rubens would be a good nominee, but his analysis that Republicans need to appeal to women and young people and come up with ideas that attract independent voters is spot-on.

The fact that he’s not a slave to traditional party dogma may make Rubens a longshot for the nomination if a more conservative candidate emerges (former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith has been mentioned as a possibility), but the candidate who is a slave to conservative dogma may not be able to win the independent vote Republicans will probably need to regain control of that Senate seat.