Jim Rubens guided political rivals along a common path to halt casino
Jim Rubens outside his Etna home, with Mount Croydon in the distance. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)
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A year ago, as pro-gambling Maggie Hassan prepared to become governor with a new majority of her fellow Democrats in the House, the odds for a casino appeared better than ever.
Rubens, who had chaired the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling for almost as long as the pro-gaming forces had pushed for it, had won again. While he was not the only factor in the outcome, he was a key factor.
The award recognizes groups or individuals who, in the view of the Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News, have had the biggest influence or effect on New Hampshire in a given year. This is the 10th year for the honor.
"I could never have done it alone," Rubens, 63, said in a recent interview. But, he allowed, "I do credit myself with keeping the coalition together and keeping it broad."
Former state Republican Party Chairman Steve Duprey has taken over as lead coalition spokesman now that fellow Republican Rubens has resigned to run for U.S. Senate. Duprey marvels at Rubens' ability to quickly research and find studies on a wide range of gambling-related issues.
Duprey, formerly on the board of Concord's Capitol Center for the Arts, said the arts sector had not previously recognized the threat to their economic well-being.
Rubens resigned as coalition chairman shortly after the House vote. He announced in September that he would try to unseat U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. He'll have to win a GOP primary first.
He said, "The experience of fighting a fight this intense all these years kept my political instincts in tune, taught me more about political strategy and coalition building."
"It was illegal to take a check that large at the time, and when I tracked it down, it turned out to be someone associated with the gambling industry."
He believes casino gambling would lead to "dominance of state politics by a single business entity. We already have lottery and charity gambling, which do not entail these dominance and corruption risks."
His approach was to "find out what each representative was concerned about, and it varies."
"It is the most broad-based coalition in the state," he said. "People at our meetings had never spoken to each other before. After fighting each other on almost every other issue, they were now working constructively, arm in arm, with such friendship. It was an incredible experience."
Anti-gambling Democrat state Rep. Marjorie Smith of Durham cited Rubens' ability "to collect data and testimony from other states. I believe that for people who were struggling to figure out what to do, that kind of approach was very, very helpful."
Fergus Cullen, like Duprey, a former Republican Party chairman, said that "all the money is on one side in the gambling debate.
"It's easy for people to get engaged for six months or a year, but it's hard for people to be engaged year in and year out," said Cullen. "That's where Jim's tenacity comes in."
Rubens is confident that with the coalition and CasinoFree New Hampshire combining forces with Duprey and Democratic former state Sen. Harold Janeway as bipartisan lead spokesmen, the effort is in "superb" hands.
"I get blowback," he said, "but my message is 'You've seen my skills organizationally. And I'd ask you to support me because I'd like to take those skills to Washington and deal with the jobs, debt problems.'"
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