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House and Senate candidates present their views in Wolfeboro

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES. Rep. Chris Ahlgren speaks as Rep. Steve Schmidt (left) and Senator Jeb Bradley listen during the Candidates Night held at the Skylight Dining Room on Thursday evening, October 18. The three incumbent Republicans are running to represent Wolfeboro’s House District 6 and Senate District 3. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
October 25, 2012
WOLFEBORO — With little more than two weeks remaining to Election Day, November 6, local candidates for Wolfeboro's two District 6 House seats and the District 3 Senate seat answered questions from the audience on Thursday evening, October 18, in the Lakes Region Technical Center's Skylight Dining room.

The two hour event, organized by candidate John R. White and moderated by Randy Walker with Keith Simpson as the electronic timekeeper, featured incumbent House Republicans Steve Schmidt and Chris Ahlgren and their Democratic challengers White and Beverly Woods and incumbent Senate Republican for District 3, Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and his Democratic opponent Jeff Ballard, of Brookfield.

Candidates were asked to share their opinions on tax policy, educational funding, the possibility of gambling as a source of revenue, abortion and two of the three constitutional amendments on the ballot (see separate article).

Views on tax policy diverged along party lines. Local restauranteur Rep. Ahlgren, running for a fifth term, called the 2010 election a "wave election. Spending was out of control." His colleague, retired Verizon executive Rep. Schmidt, elected that year, agreed, saying that they had to deal with a $900 million deficit.

White, a retired journalist, challenged the formulation of that number, which he said was predicated by a drop in revenue following the state's depletion of federal stimulus dollars. He decried the tax cutting fervor that led to a $20 million loss in revenues from cigarette taxes, the legislature's nearly 50 percent cut to the University of New Hampshire, and cuts to hospitals, including the state hospital.

The three Republicans were uniform in their commitment to keeping the idea of an income tax off the table. While none of the Democrats advocated such a tax, all expressed concern over the effect of budget cuts.

"The need for services didn't go away," asserted Ballard, an emergency nurse at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital and an Afghanistan war veteran, noting cuts to hospitals and the CHINs program (Children in Need of Services, paid for through the Health and Human Services Department) among others. "You're just shifting costs down to the property tax."

"New Hampshire is part of a competitive global market. We need to maintain a competitive tax structure and keep the New Hampshire advantage… we dropped the LLC (Limited Liability Company) tax…We've had to make tough choices," countered Bradley.

"You can't keep cutting and just hope the money is there," said Wood, a music teacher and computer technician, entering the conversation on cutting taxes on businesses. "We need dollars for education and our infrastructure, and…" she stated emphatically, "We need high speed Internet access."

Ahlgren and Schmidt responded to a question on whether the property tax is a burden to seniors with statistics at the ready. "The environment is good for senior citizens," declared Ahlgren. New Hampshire ranks 49 out of the 50 states." Schmidt added, "The total tax burden compares favorably to Vermont and Maine. It's only eight percent of total income."

"What Mr. Schmidt has left out," replied Woods, "is that for some of the elderly in the bottom 20 percent of income, as much as 30 percent of their income could be in property tax."

Gambling as a source of revenue

What did they think of establishing gambling to raise revenue for New Hampshire? While Ballard said he'd go along with the idea, in the northern part of the state, as a destination site, his opponent, Bradley, said that he was "skeptical…it's an uncertain revenue source, it undermines nearby businesses, there are social issues to deal with and we don't have a regulatory structure in place."

Woods gave a resounding no and White agreed, for in his opinion, "Gambling feeds on desperation and false hope." Ahlgren and Schmidt spoke in favor of destination site gambling.

Educational funding

Educational funding was another topic, specifically CACR 12, a constitutional amendment, supported by Gov. John Lynch, that passed in the Senate, but was voted down twice in the House, failing to get the necessary three-fifths majority. The amendment would have shifted control of education funding from the court system to legislators, a move all three Republicans supported as a means to do away with donor towns. Schmidt said that the failure of the amendment to pass was one his "greatest disappointments" and said that he supported alternative schools.

Ballard disagreed with the proposed amendment, calling it "shortsighted. The legislature would determine educational adequacy, and it could change from year to year."

In White's view, the educational funding dilemma calls for "a new approach other than property tax revenue" and Woods suggested a "comprehensive conversation" throughout the state to move from "decades long, entrenched positions."

Roe v. Wade/contraception

A questioner asked for the candidates' views on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that grants the right to abortion, in light of the presidential race that will determine who is likely to have the opportunity to choose two Supreme Court Justices in the next four years.

Schmidt and Ahlgren both said they would make an exception for cases of rape or incest. Bradley broke rank to say that he was prochoice, as were the Democrats, who added that though abortion was abhorrent to them, they respected a woman's right to choose. "Number one should be to prevent the need for abortions. Fund Planned Parenthood," declared Ballard.

White likened legislative votes to allow employers to exclude contraception coverage for women to letting "…big brother into the bedroom. Insurance covers Viagra and vasectomies, but not contraception."

Health Care

The effect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on New Hampshire's budget is currently under study. Bradley said he needs more data before deciding whether to join in the expansion of Medicaid coverage, which would include those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In the interim, he has been a strong advocate for tort reform rather than "a government takeover of health care."

"I support Obamacare," said Ballard. "It works. The people in Massachusetts are happy with the system Romney put in place (the model for the ACA). Who has the lowest cost increases? Massachusetts."

Schmidt said that in his view, New Hampshire will have to comply. Ahlgren agreed but like Bradley, said that actuarial data is needed in order to make a rational decision.

Wood, who said she recently lost a good friend without health insurance who died at the age of forty, said that if Obamacare was to be repealed, it would make things worse.

In closing, Woods criticized the Republican legislature for pursuing an agenda not from their constituents, but from ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). White said that three years ago, the incumbents were elected to focus on jobs, but now "We have guns allowed in the state house… cuts in public works.. a stand your ground law." He characterized the Legislature as a "destructive enterprise" taken over by Free Staters, a charge that Schmidt dismissed as "nonsense."

He posited that most bills passed with bipartisan support. "We rolled back fees to bring back fiscal sanity. We are not right wing zealots."

The lines are clearly drawn for this year's election on Nov. 6.

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