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Republican Emerges to Challenge Bernie Sanders — And He's Got a Colorful Past 

An opponent emerges in Sanders' Senate race. John MacGovern is a former Massachusetts House member who grew up on a commune.

Bernie Sanders

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been raising millions of dollars for his re-election campaign this year, but so far no candidate — Republican or otherwise — has come forward to run against him.

Until now.

Yesterday, the conservative website reported that John MacGovern, a former Republican Massachusetts lawmaker who lives in Windsor, will challenge Sanders. MacGovern has already launched a campaign website with his bio, issue positions, news clippings and online donation form. On the site, MacGovern names the "skyrocketing national debt" as the most serious problem facing the country.

Without naming him, MacGovern's website states that Sanders is leading America down the road toward "catastrophic national bankruptcy and further increases in unemployment."

"It seems that he has does [sic] not know what it takes to create jobs, and, in fact, supports raising taxes on the producers of jobs which, needless to say, would make it more difficult to create them," MacGovern states on the site. "In short, his vote can almost always be counted on to continue down the wrong road."

MacGovern also wades into the contraception controversy roiling Washington D.C. and the nation, though he never mentions birth control by name, saying America is facing a "full frontal assault on our religious liberties."

Vermont Republican Party executive director Mike Bertrand said he met MacGovern for "about 15 seconds" at a GOP event and said he seems like a "a very capable individual." But Bertrand stressed there's at least one other Republican exploring a candidacy, though he did not name the person.

"I would not assume by any stretch of the imagination that that is the one candidate," Bertrand said of MacGovern.

MacGovern is a 1980 graduate of Dartmouth College and now serves as president of the Hanover Institute, a nonprofit he founded in 2002 to challenge — using rhetoric and lawsuits — how the college is governed.

According to a 2009 profile of MacGovern in Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, headlined "Who is John McGovern? And what drives him to sue his alma matter?", MacGovern served four terms in the Massachusetts Legislature — from 1982 to 1990 — and was an adviser to Donald Rumsfeld's exploratory bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988. He ran for Congress in 1990 and came within two points of unseating Democratic U.S. Rep. Chester Atkins. MacGovern was also Massachusetts co-chairman of Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar's 1996 presidential campaign.

MacGovern made two unsuccessful runs to win a Vermont Senate seat in Windsor County. In 2010, he finished fifth out of six candidates, and in 2008 he finished fifth out of seven candidates. The top three finishers in Windsor County win seats.

MacGovern could not be reached Friday; he did not return a message left on his answering machine or respond to an email. A spokesman for Sanders' re-election campaign, Jeff Frank, declined to comment.

MacGovern's campaign bio also says he is a member of the town of Windsor's budget committee, on which he "helped lead the effort to send a responsible and balanced budget to the selectmen" that did not require a tax increase. He also spent three years on the town's development review board.

According to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine profile, MacGovern grew up on a dairy farm that "bore a striking resemblance to a hippie commune. Children wore robes, milked cows, tilled an organic farm." MacGovern told the magazine: "The goal was to be totally self-sufficient. There was no contact with the outside; no newspapers, no radio, no television."

MacGoverns' parents belonged to the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, according to the magazine article, which is a Catholic sect founded by a Jesuit activist who was ultimately ex-communicated. MacGovern's father died when he was young, the article says, and his mother became a nun within the order. "Which might not have been as traumatic as it would have been in a secular context," the article's author writes, "given that the order's common practice was to dissolve the parental bond early anyway."

According to the Dartmouth magazine article, MacGovern told the Boston Globe in 1985, "I was raised to stay there my whole life and never leave." Instead, he eventually left to attend Catholic school in Rome before enrolling at Dartmouth, where he studied Chinese. His campaign bio says MacGovern went on to help develop energy projects in China and Southeast Asia as a partner at the Greenwich-Chartwell Group.

"John brings a unique ability to confront one of the greatest challenges facing the US economy — our relationship with China," he writes on the website.

On the contraception issue, MacGovern writes on his website, "As hard as it is to imagine, we are facing a full frontal assault on our religious liberties. The Obama Administration has issued a mandate to force religious institutions to buy health insurance that covers 'free' provision of services that violate their deeply held moral values. This is an assualt not only on our religious institutions — whether they are Catholic or Protestant, Buddhist or Hindu — it is an assault on our cherished first amendment right to religious freedom."

MacGovern's attack on Sanders is veiled. On his campaign site, MacGovern writes that America stands at a crossroads. Down the first road is "the demogogic decision to demonize the private sector and the producers of jobs and growth in the economy, using the rhetoric of class warfare to seek to raise their taxes and increase the costly regulations that make their life more burdensome."

Down the second road, he writes, is "a bold decision to repeal laws that impede job growth, instituting major tax reform that lowers marginal tax rates, broadens the tax base, and ends crony capitalism. This would be a win-win for our economy and for the federal budget: pursuing pro-growth policies that will increase revenues and help create jobs at one and the same time."

Guess which road MacGovern accuses Sanders of leading us down? 

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About The Author

Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2012, and the news editor from 2012-2013.

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