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Robert Gillette: What’s Frank Guinta Doing for Us?

New Hampshire Congressman Frank Guinta, a Tea-Party favorite who’s facing a tough re-match this fall with Democrat Carol Shea-Porter, wants you to know that he’s focused like a laser on his main mission in Washington — “Getting Granite Staters Back to Work.”

Mr. Guinta is so intent on getting his jobs message out that he spent $206,000 last year on nearly half a million taxpayer-funded mailings to his constituents, according to USA Today, putting him among the top spenders in Congress.

His website is packed with photos of the Congressman talking to New Hampshire residents about jobs, and lists of legislation he supports that he says is all about creating jobs. And five times now Mr. Guinta has come back to New Hampshire to host his own job fairs with the stated aim of connecting employers and the unemployed.
What has he actually accomplished?

A look at Mr. Guinta’s job fairs and the legislation he’s supported since 2010 suggests the answer is, Close to nothing. Maybe less.

For one thing, the Granite State is already pretty much back to work.  By the end of April, the jobless rate had declined to a seasonally adjusted 5.0 percent – fifth best in the nation behind Vermont, South Dakota, Nebraska and North Dakota.

Unemployment is higher in Carroll and Coos counties, but why is the statewide rate so low?
Tara Reardon, the Commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security (NHES) said in a phone conversation that Granite State businesses are predominantly small and inherently resilient. In hard times they try to retain valued workers crucial to their survival, reducing work hours but avoiding layoffs if at all possible.  But they’re also cautious, she noted, about adding new workers in globally uncertain economic times.
Still, Reardon said with a touch of irony, “We prefer employment over unemployment, and we’re doing a lot”  to make it happen.

For starters, Mr. Guinta’s job fairs have a lot of competition. NHES sponsors about seven major job fairs annually and takes part in another 10 to 15 that other organizations host – plus 2 or 3 “mini-fairs” every week among the agency’s dozen employment offices around the state.

NHES offices are also where you can find local representatives of NHWorks, a coalition of state and local agencies helping people find jobs, plus operating a large, easy-to-use, state-wide data-base of jobs at www.nhworks.org
In these circumstances, hosting his own job fairs seems more useful to the Congressman than to the jobless.

Mr. Guinta’s most recent fair, at Granite State College in Conway on May 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., was revealing.  In a small upstairs conference room, eight private employers, three community colleges and three federal and state agencies (including NHES) occupied tables, awaiting a slow trickle of visitors on a rainy day.

Some had seen it all before, and did a little eye-roll.

“Looks like publicity to me,” said one employer, who asked not to be identified. “He [Guinta] was here maybe an hour, walked around shaking hands. Someone in a suit, I guess his staff, took photos and he left.”

“Frankly,” said another, “we had a job fair right here in this room last Friday [four days earlier] and the turnout was much better.”

The results aren’t in yet, but Mr. Guinta’s website reports that his job fair in Manchester last November led to two confirmed hires. For those two people it was certainly worthwhile — but is this what Mr. Guinta was hired to do for a salary of $174,000?

Legislation is key. Based on his voting record, the non-partisan Washington policy magazine National Journal rates Mr. Guinta as the 31st most conservative member of Congress. This places him farther to the right than Republican budget guru Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, not to mention Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and the entire delegations of Alabama and Mississippi.

Since 2010, Mr. Guinta followed the majority in voting for 10 job, tax or free-trade agreement bills where Republicans and Democrats found modest common ground, and which President Obama signed.  But many more bills that  Mr. Guinta lists on his website as jobs-related, and which he supports, in fact have no tenable connection to jobs or economic growth.

These bills — all passed by the House and currently blocked by the Senate — reflect a radical conservative view that dismantling or paralyzing federal environmental and financial regulatory agencies would spur growth, a view strongly disputed by an overwhelming majority of mainstream economists.

Among the “jobs” bills Mr. Guinta backs: HR 2018, the “Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act,” to give states veto power over any new EPA regulations; and HR 2681, the “Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act,”  terminating current emission standards on hazardous air pollution – including toxic mercury – from notoriously dirty cement plants; and HR 910, prohibiting EPA from regulating greenhouse gases to address climate change; and HR 1315, stripping the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of its regulatory independence.

Backing bills like these has earned Mr. Guinta a 100% rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying organization dominated by major corporations that is expected to spend $50 million this year on pro-Republican ads.  Again, Mr. Guinta comes out with a higher rating than Ryan, Cantor, Bachmann, Paul and all but 24 other members of Congress.

Not listed on Mr. Guinta’s website is legislation he supported that measurably cut jobs – including some in New Hampshire – when the Republican House majority forced deep reductions in federal spending last year, including the safety net for the working poor.

One part of the safety net is the Labor Department’s Senior Community Service Employment Program.  Created in 1965, the SCSEP is run by non-profit groups and helps train and place financially struggling lower-income elderly people in part-time local community jobs – often helping other senior citizens.  Veterans get first priority.
SCSEP was at Mr. Guinta’s Conway job fair in the person of Violet Hatch, a program manager from Berlin.
“These jobs pay the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour,” Ms. Hatch explained. “It’s not much, but sometimes it makes the difference as to whether they eat.”

Mr. Guinta chatted with Ms. Hatch, but he seemed unaware, and she was too polite to point out, that Congress cut the program by 45% last year. In doing so, it let 49,500 desperately poor elderly Americans fall through the safety net.
About 150 of them were scattered across eight New Hampshire counties.  Their loss exceeds whatever gain Mr. Guinta’s job fairs may claim toward getting Granite Staters back to work.

Robert Gillette is a former Los Angeles Times reporter. He lives in Ossipee.
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