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Forrester, Wendelboe square off at Republican Forum

Linda Luhtula and Charlie Brousseau, Republican candidates for State Representative. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
August 25, 2010
PLYMOUTH— In one of the most hotly contested Republican Primary battles in New Hampshire, state Senatorial candidates Jeanie Forrester and Fran Wendelboe generated a lot of interest when they appeared at the Pemi Baker Valley Republican Committee Candidate Forum, held at the Plymouth Regional Senior Center last Friday night.

The turnout was good for the forum, moderated by former Grafton County Republican Chairman Ludlow.

The event featured several candidates from other contested primaries, as well as those candidates already gearing up to challenge the Democrats in the general election in November.

Wendelboe and Forrester took center stage at the podium, however, as the evening's program began.

Both candidates have been waging aggressive campaigns for many months, and both claim to be the best choice to beat incumbent Democratic state Sen. Deb Reynolds at the polls in November.

Once again, as she has throughout the campaign, Forrester hammered home the familiar theme of her candidacy.

Highlighting her background as a former Main Street program director, a town administrator and a small business owner, she stressed that "now is the time" for people with business experience to step up to the plate.

"We need people in Concord who are looking out for small business because small business is the backbone of the state, our economy and our prosperity. Small business is the answer," said Forrester.

Wendelboe countered that she also had an extensive business background in executive management before serving for 14 years as the state representative from Belknap county District #1.

"I understand what it takes to meet payroll," said Wendelboe. "However, serving in the state Senate requires more than this. You have to have knowledge of all the issues, from agriculture to the environment. I believe my service on the Finance Committee has given me an excellent background to understand every aspect of state government."

The candidates' responses to questions from the floor about gambling and term limits elicited very different answers.

Wendelboe said that while she favors term limits at the federal level, at the state level she feels that in the "citizen legislature," where every two years the "people decide" who stays and who goes, they are less important.

"It takes years to learn everything that is necessary to be a good legislator," said Wendelboe.

Forrester said she did favor term limits and would pledge to serve no more than three terms if elected.

"We need new faces and new energy in Concord," said Forrester. "We need new ideas, and we need to give other people the opportunity to participate."

With respect to gambling, Wendelboe said that while she has opposed this in the past, with the most recent proposals she has "taken a closer look" and now feels that given the ready availability of gambling options on the Internet, scratch tickets and particularly in neighboring states, "it might not be the terrible option that some people have presented it to be."

She noted, however, that she would emphatically oppose casinos and gambling if the revenues went to "grow government."

"I would oppose gambling if it is going to support the overspending that we are currently experiencing in Concord," said Wendelboe. "We need to cut the spending. We can use revenues from gambling for economic development, job creation or incentives for business expansion or re-location."

Forrester said that she opposes casinos and gambling for New Hampshire. She said that, according to some estimates, the current proposals for casino gambling are expected to generate only about 41 jobs in the state.

"This is not the answer for New Hampshire," said Forrester. "I don't think we should be looking at revenues right now. We should be looking at spending cuts, and we should be looking at free market principles to grow local business."

In response to a question about the state retirement system, both candidates said they felt the urgent need for reforms, but also the necessity of protecting the expectations of those who have been depending on the retirement system throughout their working careers.

Next up, the respective Republican candidates for Grafton County Treasurer took the podium.

Carole Elliot is running to re-capture the job she held for six years previously, but lost to controversial Dartmouth College student Vanessa Sievers in the November 2008 sweep of Democratic victories.

Sievers is not running for re-election.

Elliott is being challenged in the Republican Primary by North Haverhill resident Harold Brown, a familiar face at Grafton County meetings.

"It will not be business as usual if I am elected," said Brown, in what might be considered an understatement from the candidate who vows not to sign any bonds or notes approved by the Grafton County Commissioners unless directed to do so by the Supreme Court.

"I will not debt the taxpayers of Grafton County," said Brown. "I have been involved as a citizen for the last eight years, but they ignore me in Grafton County. When I tell the truth, some call it blasphemy, but I am looking to make a change."

In addition to her experience as Grafton County Treasurer, Elliott said that she has experience in banking and small business, as well as 22 years of previous County experience, 16 years as Grafton County Registrar of Deeds and six as County Treasurer. She said that it is critical to have a good financial manager in the position to undertake the complex responsibilities of collecting taxes, investing county funds in a timely and responsible manner, and paying bills on time.

In another contested Primary, three Republican candidates are vying to fill two positions for state representative, going up against incumbent Democrats Jim Aguiar and Carole Friedrich in November in District 6 (Campton, Ellsworth, Orford, Rumney and Wentworth).

The Republican candidates are Vicki Schwaegler, Linda Luhtula and Charlie Brousseau. Schwaegler highlighted her 23 years business experience and a career that featured high-level negotiations of large commercial contracts at the Pentagon and the nation's Capitol. She said that her traditional New Hampshire values include lower taxes, less government bureaucracy and local control, especially in education.

Brousseau and Luhtula said that they are running, as they have in the past, as a team. Luhtula said that she has been a grassroots Republican campaign activist for 30 years and Brousseau has been for 20 years.

"We are running because we are angry about what is going on in Concord and Washington," said Brousseau. "Our goal is to vote 'no.' We think the country and state need to run like we run our own households. If we don't have money for something, we don't buy it."

"We believe that the average person should be sent to Concord, and then come home to live with the laws they voted for," said Luhtula.

Other candidates appearing at the forum included Grafton County Sheriff Doug Dutile, running for re-election unopposed; Omer Ahern, Jr., Republican candidate for Grafton County Commissioner, running unopposed in the Primary; Henry Ahern, candidate for state representative from District 7 , running with Neil McIver unopposed in the September Primary; and two of the District 8 Republican Primary candidates, Bob Berti and Harold "Skip" Reilly.

Jeff Shackett and Paul Simard are also running for the two positions in September's Republican Primary for District 8, but did not attend the event.

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