Thursday, October 19, 2006

Local Debates

The mid-term elections are in less than three weeks. Political action and debate is hot and heavy all over the state. The sign wars are being played out around the state. Claims of vandalizing and theft are being made, by both sides. Then there are the TV ads repeated endlessly, the emails, the phone calls, and all manner of bizarre pronouncements and antics. Politics is a participatory sport in NH – which makes this all so much more fun.

There have been a couple of debates in Carroll County this week. Wednesday evening, the good folks of the Mt. Washington Valley Economic Council sponsored a debate for District 1 state rep candidates. The debate was filmed by Valley Vision, so many who weren’t able to attend will be able to watch it, provided they don’t live in Jackson or Bartlett. George Epstein proved to be both an even handed and good humored moderator, who broke the tension on several occasions by asking candidates less serious questions about themselves.

Topics included school funding, taxes, health care, LCHIP, the bypass and Department of Transportation, the university system in NH, economic development, and the minimum wage. Candidates were given the opportunity to make opening and closing remarks. Some highlights follow:

There were several topics that generated impassioned responses. In discussing the school funding issue Representatives Buco and Dickinson agreed that Governor Lynch’s plan was good, and reminded us that it did pass the House. Representative Chandler supports a constitutional amendment, stating that it is needed to define the legislature’s role, as well as the court’s role. Representative Brown believes the courts need to be taken out of the issue, and the legislature should be in charge. Henry Mock shouted “the NH Supreme Court wants an income tax! Don’t even think they don’t!”Gino Funicella found that to be a ridiculous assertion.

Another topic was health care, and what is causing high health care costs. Rep. Dickinson blames medical malpractice costs. Ed Butler spoke about how his business health care premiums have increased 300 percent. He is in favor of more competition, and thinks that the legislature should address the issue of inadequate Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. Rep. Chandler believes that SB110 was the answer, but it wasn’t given sufficient time to work. He thinks NH puts too many restrictions on insurance companies, and that health savings accounts will help to lower costs. All of the Republicans (incumbent or not) voted in favor of SB110, which allowed insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of geographical location, and changed the community rating system. This hit the north country particularly hard. At the time of the vote, Rep. Chandler was the speaker of the NH House, and did plenty of arm twisting to ensure the bill passed. That Anthem was a generous donor to the corn roasts is surely coincidental.
Representative Brown restated Rep. Chandler’s position, that SB110 didn’t have enough time. She stated (repeatedly) that encouraging competition will take time. Gino Funicella stated that insurance companies are posting record profits, and that people in the area aren’t making enough money to afford health care. Fran DeFeo spoke of how the abuse of emergency room treatment affects the costs paid by the insured. Tom Buco supports the Healthy Kids program, supports funding community health centers, and adequate Medicaid reimbursement. Henry Mock loudly stated that he is not in favor of socialized medicine.

There were areas of agreement. None of the candidates were in favor of eminent domain being used for the development of private projects. All of the candidates agreed that LCHIP is an important program, though some did not support the use of LCHIP funds for building preservation.

NH ranks 50th in the nation for state funding of the state university system. Gino Funicella questioned why NH is content to be behind Mississippi and Alabama. Rep. Chandler spoke of a positive development, in being able to exchange credits from the tech colleges to other campuses and schools. Ed Butler spoke of the average burden of $23,000 in debt that NH college students leave school with, and how that adversely affects professions like teaching and social work. Rep. Dickinson feels we should fund tech schools better, and place a greater emphasis on tech education and careers. Rep. Brown and Henry Mock both spoke of how some teachers at UNH teach few classes and earn high salaries.

The hottest topic of the evening was increasing the minimum wage. Gino Funicella stated that 26,000 people in NH earn the minimum wage, which puts them below poverty level. He emphasized a need to raise the minimum wage. Henry Mock read from a report that claims the average pay in the valley is $14.63, and only slightly less in Coos County. (That will come as a surprise to most residents, of both places, I suspect.) Representative Brown is against raising the minimum wage, and said her constituents told her to vote against it. Ed Butler wondered why, if no one was making minimum wage, there was such resistance to raising it. Rep. Chandler cast the tie breaking vote against an increase in minimum wage, and said that if it is increased, the people who earn $6, $7, or $8 an hour will think they deserve more.

It was an illuminating evening, for those present – and I encourage all who are able, to watch the televised version on Valley Vision. It’s an opportunity to hear legislators speak about their accomplishments (or not, as the case may be) and another means of determining who to vote for on November 7.

On Tuesday night in Wakefield, there was a debate sponsored by the Wakefield Republicans. Featured were candidates for State Rep, County Commissioner, and State Senate. Senator Joe Kenney had said he would not attend, but appeared at the last minute. At the conclusion of the 2 hour debate, Senator Jack Barnes from Raymond stood up and announced that he wanted to make a comment. He spoke about how great Senator Kenney is, made the obligatory references to Kenney’s military service – and then presented him with a check for his campaign fund. This grandstanding was obviously orchestrated in advance, and many who were present (including members of the GOP) found it quite inappropriate. Once again, we see the desperation of the Republican Party when the seats they feel entitled to are challenged. Senator Kenney should return that check as soon as possible, and apologize to the voters in his district for his part in that shameless display.

Don’t forget to vote on November 7. It’s time for change.

“I won’t settle for NH being 50th place in anything, and anyone who does should be replaced.” Gino Funicella

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