In the final days of this election season, NHPR is hearing closing arguments from candidates running for statewide office. All Things Considered Host Peter Biello spoke with Bryant “Corky” Messner, the Republican nominee for Senate who has pitched himself as a political outsider, about why he thinks voters should support him.
Peter Biello: In a nutshell, Mr. Messner, what's your final pitch to voters?
Corky Messner: Yeah, it's time for a change. I am a political outsider who will focus on one thing and one thing only, and that is representing the people of New Hampshire. I grew up in a blue collar family. I'm a West Point graduate. I'm a veteran. I'm a successful businessman. I am entirely self-made. I have nothing to gain personally by being a U.S. senator. Jeanne Shaheen is a career politician. She's beholden to the progressives in Washington, D.C. That's why she votes Democrat 97 percent of the time, more than even Bernie Sanders. And she's concerned about prolonging her political career.
Biello: Jeanne Shaheen was governor before she was a senator from New Hampshire. Her time in New Hampshire goes back quite some time. A frequent criticism of you, from both your Republican primary opponent and Democrats now in the general election, has been that you've only lived in New Hampshire for a few years and you've never actually voted in a Senate election here. So what's your rebuttal to that for voters who may have concerns about your connection to the state?
Messner: I've had a home here for now, 13 years. I love New Hampshire, I've chosen to live here. I will live here the rest of my life. No matter what happens in this election. I'm connected to my community.
I've helped conserve over 250 acres here over the last 10 years. I've been involved in zoning issues in Wolfeboro. I know the small business owners. I love it here. I will always be here. I'm one of the 60 percent of Granite Staters who moved here from elsewhere, and I will represent Granite Staters more vigorously than Jeanne Shaheen, that's for sure.
Biello: Well, let's talk about foreign countries’ efforts to manipulate the outcome of this election. It is well known that Russia did influence the 2016 election. You've called Russia a threat, along with China. What should be done to keep Russia and other foreign actors from interfering with domestic American politics?
Messner: We need to do everything we can in the cyber space. We need to do as much as we possibly can to prevent that from going on. In 2016, when it happened, the Obama administration did not do a good job preventing it. But I think it's important to point out, when we talk about this kind of interference, that the objective, in my opinion, is not to support one candidate over another. I think the objective is to stir up doubt in our democracy.
Biello: You're a veteran of the U.S. Army. Many of New Hampshire's veterans have the option to use the Mission Act to receive essentially government health insurance, where the VA pays for private care in the community. While some praise the Mission Act for offering more options, there are others who worry that this will weaken VA medical centers themselves and put VA health care on the path to privatization. So what do you say to that and what would you do in the Senate to support existing VA facilities?
Messner: There are some veterans who really like the VA and many of those veterans have commented on the noticeable improvement in the VA under the Trump administration. I think we need to continue on those improvements in the VA and I also think it's OK to give veterans options; to give veterans options to go out and get their health care somewhere that's more convenient for them. Jeanne Shaheen promised the full service of the VA hospital here in New Hampshire many, many, many years ago. And it's never happened. And we need that. We need to get that done, too.
Biello: So you would like a full service VA hospital in New Hampshire?
Biello: And so would you be advocating in the Senate for money to build up in Manchester?
Messner: Yes, I would.
Biello: We've heard recently that more than 500 children separated from their parents at the border have yet to be reunited with them. What needs to be done to assist these children? And how would you accomplish that in the Senate?
Messner: What I have read about that is that the parents of those children, most of them, I think the number I heard was 475, have been identified. And the government knows where they are. And we need to facilitate bringing them back together and we need to facilitate bringing them back together as quickly as possible. Now, we need to confirm somehow that that the adults are, in fact, their parents, because we do know that some people coming into the United States illegally were using kids to, you know, to help them gain entry so that we need to do all we can to find the rightful parents and bring those families back together.
Biello: Finally, on the subject of COVID-19, you've dismissed some of the spending done in the name of pandemic relief as pork. Help us understand what you think was necessary spending and what was not. Can you name one or two specific examples of the unnecessary spending?
Messner: Yeah, I think there was some spending on the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. that was unnecessary. You know, these latest efforts to spend money on states to help them solve their pre-COVID financial problems is unnecessary spending.
Biello: And are there any spending needs related to the pandemic and the recovery that you think the federal government has failed to focus on, that you would focus on in the Senate?
Messner: Yeah, I do. You know, I give an example of, you know, this formula. And I know Jeanne Shaheen brags about getting New Hampshire $1.25 billion under the original CARES Act, which was the least amount that any state received. And so we receive the same amount as Wyoming and Montana and those states, the populations are much less. So it certainly looks like to me that, you know, that money was spread out in a political way instead of concentrating on the areas that that really needed it.