Local candidates make their pitch in Barnstead
|STATE REP. JEFF ST. CYR of Alton answers a question in front of other state representative candidates. Sitting in the background (from l to r) Rep. Bill Johnson (D), George Condodemetraky (D) (behind St. Cyr, not pictured), Guy Comtois (R), Rep. Elaine Swinford (R), Rep. Peter Bolster (R), and Rep. Alida Millham (R). Not pictured: Rep. James “Doc” Pilliod (R). Weston Sager. (click for larger version)|
October 26, 2010BARNSTEAD — With the general election just days away, candidates for state offices articulated their positions to a crowd of voters at J.J. Goodwin's Restaurant in Barnstead Wednesday evening.
The "Candidates' Night" was organized by the Barnstead-Alton Republican Committee (BARC), but both Republican and Democratic candidates participated.
The evening was broken up into two sections. The first section consisted of a simple question and answer session for Jim Forsythe, Republican candidate for State Senate; Dan St. Hilaire, Republican candidate for Executive Council; Steve Copithorne, Democratic candidate for Belknap County Commissioner (District Three); and Andrew Livernois, Democratic candidate for Belknap County Commissioner (District Two).
Because none of the aforementioned candidates present were competing for the same office, there was no debate between them. Instead, the candidates used the forum to describe their political viewpoints and to answer technical questions about the offices they were seeking.
Steve Copithorne (D)
Copithorne is running for Belknap County Commissioner in District Three, which includes the towns of Alton, Gilford, Meredith, Center Harbor and New Hampton. He is running against Republican Stephen Nedeau.
Copithorne said he first moved to Belknap County in 1987 and immediately fell in love with the area.
He said that as Belknap County Commissioner he would oppose the privatization of the Belknap County Nursing Home because he believed it would "affect the quality and cost." He also supported greater funding for mental health treatment at the county level.
To help raise money for these projects, Copithorne proposed broadening the scope of the county-owned Gunstock Ski Resort from a winter attraction to a four-season attraction.
Andrew Livernois (D)
Livernois is running for Belknap County Commissioner in District Two, which includes the towns of Barnstead, Belmont, Gilmanton, Sanbornton and Tilton. He is running against Republican John Thomas.
Livernois touted his work as a selectman in Sanbornton and as the former Assistant N.H. Attorney General.
"I have the experience necessary to do this job," he said. "I've worked very hard to provide services without raising taxes."
Livernois said he would assure that county employees were performing well.
"I will be an effective supervisor," he said.
Dan St. Hilaire (R)
St Hilaire is running for Executive Council in District Two. District Two includes the towns of Barnstead and New Durham among 65 others in an east-west strip across the lower middle portion of the state. He is running against Democrat incumbent John Shea.
The former Merrimack County Attorney and current Deputy Mayor of Concord emphasized his willingness to exercise restraint and good sense when determining how budget money is spent.
"Budget issues are my primary concern," he said.
St. Hilaire noted that although the Executive Council does not determine the amount that goes into the state budget, it does decide how that money is spent. As an example of a program to improve state efficiency, St. Hilaire proposed "cross-training" government officials for multiple duties. This, he said, would cut costs, improve efficiency and eliminate the need to fire or hire state employees.
Jim Forsythe (R)
Forsythe is running for State Senator in District Four, which includes the towns of Alton, Barnstead and New Durham, along with Belmont, Gilford, Gilmanton, Laconia, Strafford and Tilton. He is running against Democrat Andrew Hosmer.
Forsythe, an Air Force veteran, aeronautical engineer and small business-owner, explained why he decided to enter politics at this time.
"I'm concerned about the future of our country," he said. "Some things have gone downhill over the past four years."
Forsythe advocated for trimming the state budget to help spur the stagnant economy and lower the state deficit.
"It's a spending problem, not a revenue problem," he said.
Like St. Hilaire, Forsythe said he would not "downshift costs" to local townships as part of his proposed state budget reduction.
Following the first section was a forum for the state representative candidates on hand for Belknap County District Five, including Rep. Bill Johnson (D), Rep. Jeff St. Cyr (R), George Condodemetraky (D), Guy Comtois (R), Rep. Elaine Swinford (R), Rep. Peter Bolster (R), Rep. Alida Millham (R) and Rep. James "Doc" Pilliod (R). Candidates Robert Malone (R), Ellen McClung (D), Don Morin, Jr. (D), Johan Andersen (D), Kenny Bourbeau (D) and Owen Carey-Hatch (D) were absent.
Belknap County District Five includes Alton, Barnstead, Belmont and Gilford.
BARC Chair Alan Glassman posed questions prepared in advance by audience members. Each candidate also had the opportunity for opening and closing remarks.
Rep. Millham began the state representative candidate forum, explaining that although she announced earlier this year that she had "retired" from the statehouse, she had decided to seek reelection in Rep. Laurie Boyce's place. Boyce registered to vote in Concord on Saturday, disqualifying her from seeking reelection in the district.
Millham was undeterred by the then uncertainty of her candidacy and spoke as though she had been in the race all along.
"The next term will be an extremely important and an extremely difficult one," she said.
Millham said she had visited Greece and noted that the serious problems with the budget there could also manifest in the United States.
She added that her nursing background combined with her own personal aptitude gave her the skills to be an effective legislator.
"I tend to be a problem solver," she said.
Following Millham was Rep. Swinford. Swinford devoted much of her time to describing legislative duties in general.
"We (the state representatives) see how laws are working and not working," she said.
Swinford also described the various committees she sits on that support ex-military personnel.
"I have a passion for veterans," she said.
Comtois, a Republican newcomer, introduced himself as a lifelong New Hampshire resident, entrepreneur and hydroponic farmer.
"I love this state, I love this county," he said. "But this is the first generation to have our children be worse off than we are."
Comtois said he would work to cut spending and "live within our means."
Condodemetraky said he grew up in New York in a Greek family. As a young man he to be a civil engineer, and then worked in such counties as Thailand, Laos and Panama.
Condodemetraky said the problem with the state's budget is not its size, but rather the means to fund it.
"My concern is revenue, and I've got solutions for it," he said.
Rep. St. Cyr spoke about his ongoing education in hospitality at the University of New Hampshire. During his two years as a state representative, he said he had worked to promote tourism in the state and would continue to do so if reelected.
Rep. Johnson said his experience as a representative and small business owner made him qualified for another term. He said the state budget was the "key issue" over the next two years, and that his background in finance would be an asset moving forward.
Rep. Bolster described his service as a local pastor and then lauded the New Hampshire lifestyle.
"It's a place where everybody knows your name," he said.
Bolster emphasized the need for unity over the next couple years.
"We need every head together to solve these problems," he said.
Rep. Pilliod followed Bolster, saying that if elected, it would be his eighth term. Pilliod praised the N.H. legislature for being a body that worked well together.
"It's a group of politicians not yelling at each other and agreeing on most of the issues," he said.
A pediatrician since 1969, Pilliod said he was especially concerned about health issues on the state level.
Following his opening remarks, Pilliod left the forum to attend another engagement.
The first question posed to the state representative candidates was whether they supported the recent federal healthcare legislation, known commonly as "Obamacare."
Millham was not against the concept of the legislation, but thought the bill "needs to be fixed."
Bolster said he agreed with Millham. He added that the added cost of healthcare was due in part to doctors becoming increasingly adept at treating a variety of ailments. Bolster did not say he was explicitly against the law, but agreed with Millham that it "needs to be tinkered with."
Swinford said the high cost of healthcare needs to be fixed, but that the new legislation "went to the wrong end." She said that the legislation should have addressed tort reform, which she believed would have protected doctors from expensive lawsuits, thereby driving down the cost of healthcare.
Comtois said he was in favor of "totally repealing the bill."
"It's just wrong," he said.
Condodemetraky took the opposite stance from Comtois, supporting the healthcare legislation and extolling the virtues of socialized Canadian healthcare.
"I don't believe repealing the healthcare bill will solve anything," he said.
St. Cyr opposed the healthcare legislation on the grounds that it would hurt the N.H. tourism and hospitality industry. He said the law placed additional financial burdens on small business owners by requiring them to provide healthcare for their employees.
Johnson had a qualified response to the question. He said, "Without healthcare reform, businesses are not going to make it."
Still, he said, "There is not enough within [the new healthcare legislation] to deal with costs."
The second question posed to the candidates was whether they would support "supermajority" legislation of 2/3 the N.H. State Legislature to pass new taxes.
Bolster said he "believed in majority rule" as the foundation of the American political system, but did not support the "supermajority" requirement for raising new taxes.
Swinford also was against the "supermajority" for this purpose, saying that a 2/3 majority should only be required to overturn a governor's veto.
Comtois said he would support the clause, citing his beliefs as an anti-tax "Constitutionalist Republican."
Condodemetraky said that "from a Democratic point of view, I don't think I would support the [supermajority clause]."
St. Cyr said he wouldn't support the legislation.
Johnson compared the proposal to something similar in California. He said he would oppose the clause so that N.H. would not be in a similar budget crisis to that state.
Millham opposed the proposal. She said that there were times when new taxes were necessary, such as when the Legislature tried to solve inequalities in school funding several years ago.
Joint Underwriting Association
Glassman asked the panel whether they believed the money in the "Joint Underwriting Association" (JUA), used for funding medical malpractice insurance, was for private or public use.
Swinford said the money in the fund was the doctors' money.
Comtois echoed Swinford's remarks, saying that the fund was private property.
Condodemetraky did not have an explicit opinion on the matter, but said that "if that's [the doctors'] money, let 'em keep it."
St. Cyr said it was private property.
Johnson said the point was "moot" because the N.H. Supreme Court already ruled that the money in the fund was owned by the doctors and the patients.
Millham said the JUA money "belongs to the fund."
Bolster said the issue was "moot" due to the court's recent ruling.
Budget and spending
The next question was whether the candidates believed the state budget issues have to do with excess spending or inadequate revenue.
Comtois advocated for "doing it just like corporations do" by getting rid of excess waste.
"I was sent the same envelope from the state some 300 times," he said. "That's waste."
Condodemetraky thought it better to raise more revenue rather than cut spending. He said the state should construct and operate casinos "rather than sell them to private enterprise" to generate funding.
"There's no way you're going to cut spending," he added.
St. Cyr said that rather than cut whole programs, the state should cut components of many programs. He also proposed doing an in-depth assessment of all state employees.
"We have to look at the whole picture," he said.
Johnson said the budget issue was "complex." He believed it would be difficult to remove even more from what he believed was an already strained budget.
"We don't have any fat here," he said. "You're cutting into meat and bone."
He added that he would like to reduce the costs for state corrections facilities, however.
Millham said the budget issue was a mixture of both too much spending and inadequate revenue. She proposed promoting business in New Hampshire to raise revenue while paring down the budget "where we can."
Bolster agreed with Millham once again, saying that the budget issue involved both spending and revenue. Bolster also supported sharing services between towns to save money.
Swinford echoed Bolster's and Millham's stances, adding that the Legislature needs to look into cutting "overlapping programs."
St. Cyr said there are issues facing the State of New Hampshire and that he was ready to help solve them.
Johnson said the state balances its budget every two years, but that this time around it will require a "scalpel" instead of an "ax" to get the desired outcome.
"Across the board cuts are not going to save money in the long run," he said.
Millham reiterated her problem-solving abilities and advocated for "responsible government."
"I really feel passionately about New Hampshire," she said.
Bolster read a letter to the editor published earlier this fall, restating his viewpoint that government should allow "people to live lives that they choose."
Swinford said she loved her work as a state representative, and hopes to be able to do it for another two years.
"I want to go back, and I'm hoping that on Nov. 2 you'll send me back," she said.
Comtois once again described his small business past, saying he would advocate for small business owners in the state. He added that he would also support burgeoning N.H. farms.
"[Farms] are on a comeback," he said.
Condodemetraky was last to speak, and once again described his extensive travels. He also stated that if elected, he would pursue environmental causes in the Legislature.
"Candidates' Night" recording
This one hour and 45-minute forum is playing on LRPA-TV's cable Channel 26 from now until Election Day (Nov. 2); check Channel 24 at the top of the hour for program times. Video DVD's are also available for loan at both the Alton and Barnstead libraries.
Weston Sager can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org