John DiStaso's Granite Status: Fed funds helped protect Romney speech backdrop
By JOHN DiSTASO
Senior Political Reporter
When Mitt Romney last came to New Hampshire in May, he used the Sawyer Bridge in Hillsborough as a backdrop and cited it as an example of Obama administration waste.
The "bridge to nowhere" - literally - was preserved with the help of a $150,000 Obama stimulus program grant, but it is also viewed by many in town as a historic site worth the expenditure.
When Romney formally announced for the presidency about a year ago, and when he returns to New Hampshire tomorrow to kick off a six-state tour, he'll be speaking at former House Speaker Doug Scamman's Bittersweet Farm, surrounded by picturesque rolling farmland.
But 200 acres of that farmland will be forever protected from development thanks in part to $950,000 federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection grant the town of Stratham received several years ago.
Is it hypocrisy on Romney's part? Some Democrats think so.
But Stratham Board of Selectman Chairman Richard Canada, a Republican Romney backer, said the town was just taking advantage of an available federal program and Romney shouldn't be blamed for speaking there.
Canada said the grant was nearly half of the $2.35 million spent by the town to purchase a conservation easement from the Scammans in 2010. He said the grant did not protect the 12 acres where Romney spoke, and will speak tomorrow, surrounding the Scamman homestead.
Canada said he's seen the Sawyer Bridge, "and it's a beautiful structure. Is it worthy? It may well be. I'm on the Heritage Commission in Stratham and if the bridge were in our town I'd hate to see it fall down from neglect.
"On the other hand, conservation easements provide so much pleasure for everybody on a grand scale that maybe it's a different animal," said Canada.
"I don't criticize the governor for pointing out that we need to pull back in places," Canada said. "He used the bridge as one example. He might very well feel that the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection grant needs to be pulled back, too.
"All these things are worthy, but can we afford them all? We can't afford every worthy endeavor."
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams accused the Barack Obama campaign of "recycling the same tired attacks" that were reported when Romney announced for the presidency.
That was before Romney went to the Sawyer Bridge, of course, but no matter, said Williams.
"The Obama administration is proposing more of the same liberal economic policies that have failed to create jobs," Williams said. "Unemployment has increased from 7.8 percent to 8.2 percent under President Obama because his big-government agenda - including the $787 billion stimulus boondoggle - has not put people back to work. Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney understands that the private sector is not 'doing fine' and he will promote pro-growth policies that will turn around our struggling economy."
Romney supporters say stimulus money was not involved in the Scamman farm deal, as it was in the Sawyer Bridge protection, and that Romney is not against all forms of federal funding.
"If he were to stay away from anything that's federally funded, he couldn't drive on a federal highway," one backer deadpanned.