Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Mannerly Candidate's Forum

It was good to see so many local folks turn out for the NH House District 1 candidate’s forum at the MWV Economic Council/Granite State College. Given how divisive the presidential race has become, it was an absolute pleasure to see all 75 or so in attendance behave with decorum, and generously applaud all candidates, despite political affiliation. Moderator George Epstein has good instincts, and despite his mild manner, one senses he would brook no foolishness. This was local politics done well.

All of the candidates for the NH House were present. There are 3 incumbents for the 4 seats: Democrats Tom Buco and Ed Butler and Republican Gene Chandler, all hoping to return to Concord. Five new candidates: Democrats Gino Funicella and Syndi White and Republicans Karen Umberger, Daniel Bacon, and Sue Wernette are all hoping to snag the empty seat, or oust an incumbent.

The first question asked was “Does it matter who gets elected given the economic circumstances?” Unsurprisingly, everyone said yes. In the only moment of questionable civility, Karen Umberger called Tom Buco a liar. Ed Butler reminded us that the legislature could not have predicted the downturn in the economy over the last year, and promised responsible cuts to the state budget. Sue Wernette voiced concern about the increases in education spending. She believes that education is crucial, but that the amount we spend is not directly proportional to the quality of education. (Tell that to the folks who send their kids to Phillips Exeter.) Gino Funicella said that cuts to the budget should not be made to programs for children or the elderly, saying, “They should not be thrown out like a bag of rubbish.” Syndi White agreed, saying that we must look at our needs, and prioritize, putting people first. Gene Chandler said we should go back to the budget number from the budget 3 years ago. No word on how to return costs to that same level.

The possibility of adding a sales or income tax was posed as a question. All of the candidates seemed opposed to the idea, although Daniel Bacon seemed a little confused, saying he would not “raise a sales or income tax.” A discussion of adding casino gambling to the state resulted in only Gino Funicella willing to a casino at Rockingham Park in Salem, if it was done right. Sue Wernette pointed out that gambling money might not be a reliable source of income in a tough economy. She’s right, an over reliance on vice money coming in could bite us right in the budget.

A discussion of funding education by means of property taxes pretty much went along party lines. Ed Butler pointed out that it is the system we have, and by all means we should continue to discuss it. Daniel Bacon seems to think renters get out of paying their fair share. I refer him to the classifieds for a look at rental costs vs. wages. On the question of the increase in the minimum wage, Gene Chandler said he was against it, because of the increase in tipped employee wages. Those tipped employees now make $3.25 cents an hour. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to Rep. Chandler that tipped employees seldom have employer-based health care, and not every shift brings in the big bucks – or any bucks, for that matter. A study just released by the Carsey institute at UNH finds that 79% of NH jobs do not pay a living wage. The service economy is a real treat during a lengthy recession, as those who were here in the 80’s can testify.

The topic of civil unions came up, and when asked if the candidate supported civil unions, the answers fell along party lines. Buco, Butler, Funicella, and White all supported the civil union law. Karen Umberger gave a vague answer that I’m interpreting as a no. Bacon, Wernette, and Chandler all said no, they didn’t support civil unions. This was especially interesting, given Sue Wernette’s oft-repeated promise to “protect individual freedoms.” Apparently that means she’ll protect the individual rights she agrees with. Perhaps someday the Republican Party will get over their desire to shrink government so small that it fits right in your bedroom.

Two Internet questions were posed. Should the Internet be treated as a utility? Should we require vendors to offer it everywhere in the state? Sue Wernette said no. Gene Chandler said the free market is doing all right, and will take care of itself. Gino Funicella pointed out that the telephone didn’t get to northern NH till 1938, even though it was invented in 1876. It is the present, and the future, he said, and we need it everywhere, now. Syndi White said that we cannot have a strong economy without a strong infrastructure.

Other issues broke, tiredly, along party lines. Competition does not solve our health insurance problems, Gene Chandler. We tried that. If the free market were the answer, we wouldn’t have a health care crisis to begin with, would we? Chandler was the candidate to deliver the familiar GOP mantra, “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem, NH has a spending problem.” It sounds good if you don’t stop to analyze the slogan. As most of us are aware, the cost of everything has increased dramatically. We can cut our budgets to the bone, but we’re going to reach a point where we can’t cut anything else out, and then we have to find a way to bring in more cash. I’m not in favor of spending foolishly, or raising taxes, but I am in favor of dealing with reality, something the GOP is loath to do. We can’t live in the past. NH is changing, and as much as some want to drag their feet and pretend otherwise, it’s just not possible.

To meet the challenges of the future, we need to elect people who aren’t stuck in the past. NH must have a communications infrastructure to bring all parts of the state into the 21st century. The retirement system for state employees has to be straightened out. Our roads and bridges must be safe. The education issue has to be solved. The Republican legislature ran away from solving the problem for over a decade. NH has a whole lot of state agencies, some of which are a drag on taxpayers. They must all be looked at, and evaluated
realistically – including the sacred moose of Fish and Game.

Don’t base your votes on tired old slogans. Valley Vision taped the forum. Watch it, and make your decision based on solid information. See which candidates were prepared, and which ones were woefully unprepared. This is a critical time for our state, so use your critical thinking skills before you vote.

“One-hundred and forty years of GOP leadership, and we haven’t gone anywhere.” Gino Funicella (speaking of the prior makeup of the NH legislature)


Liza said...

Hi Susan - thanks for a good overview of the debate. I take issue with just one statement: "NH has a whole lot of state agencies, some of which are a drag on taxpayers. They must all be looked at, and evaluated realistically – including the sacred moose of Fish and Game." While it's true that all agencies, including Fish and Game, must be (and ARE) audited on a pretty regular basis, F&G is not one that suffers from lack of oversight or too much funding. Hunters and anglers have been paying the lion's share of F&G's budget for a century, so if the agency is "a drag" on anyone, you could argue it's them. Do you know that wildlife recreation added $560 million in expenditures to the state's economy in 2006? That's an ROI that anyone would be thrilled with; Fish and Game gets a grand total of $187,000 from the state General Fund annually. We are grateful for that sum, because it helps the agency collect essential federal matching funds. If you have any questions about Fish and Game's budget or how we operate, please feel free to give me a call. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Liza Poinier (Concord, and Concord office of F&G)

deanna said...

Great reporting again Susan, thank you. You mentioned various agencies that could use more oversight such as F&G. I've always wondered why this state won't tax second home owners like Florida does? I believe the country of Canada may do the same. Second home owners consume much of our resources and therefore, an extra non-resident tax I feel, would be quite in order. I'm always amazed when gambling is raised. Particularly when Republicans do this. Being so fanatically Pro-Life and God fearing, living their idealogies with a bible in one hand and gun in other, so to speak, I thought gambling was also taboo. The lottery has been around for a long time, but this too constitutes gambling doesn't it? I'd rather see this state stay away from gambling and all the negatives it wreaks on communities. Let's make money the old fashioned way for the state, tax and create something similar to the Roosevelt's programs during the Depression to get our infrastructure safe and up to date. Susan, know you have many supporters out there. Interestingly, thousands of us individuals across the country commented and noticed the "Palin prop" even before you commented on it. Politics is an ugly game. Keep up the good work and hard fight.