Manchester, NH - The following extended profile of Dan Innis, Republican candidate for Congress in NH CD-1, appeared in the March 30th edition of the Portsmouth Herald.
"Innis' viewpoint is, for all intents and purposes, significantly to the right of center."
By Deborah McDermott
PORTSMOUTH - Dan Innis said when he was in college, his friends likened him to Alex P. Keaton, the ultra-conservative, Ronald Reagan-loving son on the 1980s sitcom "Family Ties."
It's a moniker that actually makes a lot of sense, describing someone who even as a boy read Forbes magazine and played imaginary games of stock trading.
He was a Republican before he could even vote, a decision informed by his study of history, a native curiosity and a belief in the free market and a "tiny" federal government.
As a gay married man and father of three who has faced some difficult challenges in his life, he also harkens to a Republican Party that has historically stood on the side of civil rights. He believes it is a party ready to step beyond social issues that have recently divided it.
Now, after years spent in both the private and public sector - most recently as dean of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire - Innis has decided to run for U.S. Congress. He will face a primary challenge in September against former Congressman Frank Guinta.
He agrees that 10 years ago Granite Staters might not have embraced his candidacy, but times have changed. Not only do people care less about labels, he said they care more about the economy.
"The party needs to focus on those things that matter to people," he said. Gay rights, abortion and other social issues "don't poll high. What is polling high are jobs, the economy and the Affordable Care Act. Forget about the other stuff. We need to solve our economic problems now."
Innis spoke with Seacoast Sunday last week at The Hotel Portsmouth, the former Sise Inn on Court Street, which he is soon opening with his husband, Doug Palardy. The two formerly owned the Ale House on Bow Street. Innis said he brings a strong mix of experience to his candidacy - a small-business person, former marketing professor and university administrator, a one-time corporate employee, and the son and grandson of men who taught him valuable lessons about business and the economy.
He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where his father ran the printing press for the Columbus Citizen Journal. "We were of modest means," he said. "We did everything for ourselves - car repairs, plumbing, home repairs. There was no extra money for things like that."
He credits his grandfather with spurring his interest early on in business, reading his issues of Forbes magazine and discussing the articles.
"Grandpa had a chart of stock prices that charted periods of economic gains and retractions. I was fascinated looking at it," he said.
By the time he was 16, his father had started his own printing business - during the administration of President Jimmy Carter when interest rates were at 16 percent or more.
"I clearly saw how important government actions were on the ability of people to start and grow a business," he said. "If you pay attention to business, you have to pay attention to politics. His business was successful, but there was no money for college for me."
After college, Innis worked briefly for the pharmaceutical giant Warner Lambert (bought by Pfizer in 2000), a company where he thought he'd spend his career. "I was thrilled with my job there, but I found I was continuing to ask questions about how the company did things," he said. "I was maybe a little impatient in terms of knowledge acquisition."
He went back to graduate school, eventually receiving his Ph.D. in 1988, then in 1991 he began his academic career at Ohio University as an assistant professor of marketing. In 2002, he was hired as dean of the College of Business, Public Policy and Health at the University of Maine. He moved to UNH in 2007 as dean of the Whittemore School of Business and Economics, which became Paul College.
During his tenure, he helped secure the university's largest gift of $25 million from Peter T. Paul, president of mortgage company Headlands Asset Management. The school was subsequently renamed for Paul, a Republican philanthropist who recently started a political action committee in support of Innis' run.
From husband to husband
While still in his 20s, Innis married a woman who is mother to his three children, ages 13, 20 and 22. His two older sons are both students at UNH, and his youngest, a daughter, lives with his former wife in Orono, Maine. He said when he came to terms with his homosexuality and left the marriage, "it was absolutely hard. It was brutal. But you do what you can to keep that pain manageable and to come out stronger on the other side. And we did that."
He said he and his former wife remain good friends, and his children "are so fine, they're incredible. We made sure they understood, and I think that's the key. My relationship with my kids is amazingly strong."
He has been with Palardy for the past eight years, and the two have been partners in business as well as in life. Palardy said he and Innis are cut in many respects from the same cloth.
"In the eight years we've been together, we've had conversations almost nightly," Palardy said. "We've both seen the direction the country is going in. I believe so much in Dan, and I believe in his viewpoint. We share so much of that. He's such a great candidate, especially for New Hampshire. I know he's the best person to represent the state in Congress."
Innis, listening, said, "If you didn't feel that strongly, I might not have made this commitment."
Innis' viewpoint is, for all intents and purposes, significantly to the right of center.
"I think people will be surprised when they learn how fiscally conservative I am," he said.
He believes, for instance, that the federal government should be "tiny."
"I have not seen in my lifetime a major problem that the government solved well," Innis said. "The last was the interstate highway system. All they've done is throw money on a problem."
The private sector, he said, "always provides better solutions. Our nation was founded on a small central government and states' rights. If New York and Massachusetts want a huge government, let them have it. D.C. should not be the center of the universe," he said.
He believes "a free market environment that doesn't constrain people" is going to be the best way forward for the country. "You can have too much regulation and I think we're getting to that point," he said.
He proposes revamping the budget process by setting spending limits within each area of the federal government, "forcing" Congress to set them if need be. He also proposes a flat tax code and corporate tax reform to scale back taxes on U.S. companies so they will invest in the United States.
Chances of success
So, can a gay, conservative Republican beat a former congressman to win his party's nod to run against Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter in November? Andy Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, said it's possible.
"What Innis has to do is make the gay issue go away," Smith said. "He needs to introduce himself to voters and tell them what he's done. He can't just be known as the gay candidate."
He said party money is usually "conservative" money that will go to the candidate with name recognition - in this case Guinta. Innis' job has to be not only raising his profile, but raising funds - at least several hundred thousand dollars between now and September.
Having said that, the fact Innis is gay will appeal to a certain kind of Republican donor who wants the party to expand its base and will support a gay candidate, Smith said.
"Running in New Hampshire, that's going to get him national attention," he said. "And he has a lot of things going for him that make him attractive anyway."
Neil Levesque, executive director of the N.H. Institute on Politics at St. Anselm College, said he thinks Innis has to hone his ground game - especially if Scott Brown enters the race against incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., as expected.
"They're going to suck the big money out of the room," Levesque said. "There's going to be so much money coming into the state that if you're a car dealer trying to sell cars, you're not going to be able to get time" on television.
For that reason, Innis should be prepared to do some good old-fashioned, grass-roots politicking.
Innis for his part said he is ready. Guinta, he said, "is a career politician. That's his focus. I have clearly followed a different path."