‘Exercise your civic right’
Executive Council hopefuls vie for votes at RiverMead debate
PETERBOROUGH — On Tuesday, RiverMead Lifecare Community residents got the exclusive chance to ask questions of the four candidates facing off for the open District 5 Executive Council seat, during the first of two debates that will be held privately at the retirement community as candidates gear up for primary elections on Sept. 8. The incumbent, Debora Pignatelli is not running for re-election.
Jennifer Daler (D-Temple), Steve Hattamer (R-Hollis), Diane Sheehan (D-Nashua) and Dave Wheeler (R-Milford) were all present at the debate on Tuesday, ready to talk about Planned Parenthood funding, road infrastructure and the Northern Pass. Over 75 of RiverMead’s 270 retirees were present at the debate, which is the first of two that have been set up by a committee of RiverMead residents. The debates are not open to the public, but are available to RiverMead residents. This is the committee’s first year in operation, according to its chair.
“It’s our goal to make it easy for people to exercise their civic right and duty to get out and vote,” explained RiverMead Resident Voter Information Committee Chair Jo Ellen D’Ambrosio, in an interview following the debate. Many of the residents of RiverMead Lifecare move to the state to be closer to family, she said, and aren’t always aware of how the state is run or know the local politics, she said. The committee wanted to make sure that everyone who was interested in participating in local politics went in armed with all of the information. “It’s really to have an informed body of people. We’re old, but we can still exercise our right to vote,” said D’Ambrosio with a smile. “One of the best things about RiverMead is that there are people from all walks of life. There are some very impressive, educated people here, and they deserve to feel able to participate in the way our state is run.”
The committee will only have the opportunity for two debates for RiverMead residents before the primary, said D’Ambrosio, the one between Governor’s Council candidates that was held this Tuesday, and another that will pit Peterborough’s potential state representatives against each other next Tuesday. All candidates for these races that are on the ballot are invited to participate, said D’Ambrosio. The Voter Information Committee is dedicated to being non-partisan.
After the primaries are over and campaigning begins in earnest for the November elections, the committee will arrange for all of the major televised debates to be shown on the big screen in RiverMead’s two auditoriums.
In addition to letting residents get to know their candidates, the committee is also there to inform about the voting process itself, said D’Ambrosio, since some of the voter processes effect the older generation on a broader level than other age groups. For example, she said, many of the RiverMead residents don’t have a driver’s license any longer, and might need to know about the process for obtaining a photo ID for voting purposes. Others might have mobility issues that make absentee voting more feasible.
When asked what they thought the most important issues facing the state in the coming years are, health care reform and the Medicaid expansion were both touched upon by multiple candidates. Daler said it would be important to make sure that federal funds keep flowing in, to continue with the expansion and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Wheeler said he had concerns that those federal funds wouldn’t last for the three years needed to implement the changes, and that might mean a sales income tax for New Hampshire to make up the deficit. Sheehan dismissed that claim, calling it a “scare tactic” and saying that the expansion was necessary for the state.
Hattamer said his number one issue is the budget: “There’s limited resources and always a cry for more spending. We need to make sure we don’t go into the red.”
Daler also said that a study to see about the expansion of the rail system through Nashua and Manchester, and creating a route to Boston, would be a priority for her, as well.
On the issue of Planned Parenthood funding, which was restored by the council this year, three of the candidates were in favor of continuing it. Daler told the crowd that from age 19 to 29, Planned Parenthood provided critical gynecological care for her when she had no other health insurance. As long as Planned Parenthood provides those services, funding should stay, she said.
“I hate to say ditto,” said Hattamer, when it came to his turn to respond, “but I agree.” Hattamer said that Planned Parenthood is a great primary care giver for women, and they provide it at an affordable cost. Sheehan added another ditto, saying that she had lost her mother to breast cancer that was not detected until it was already in late stages.
“It’s a critical life issue to be regularly screened for cervical and breast cancer,” she said.
Wheeler, however, disagreed with the rest of the panel, saying he had opposed a contract that would fund family planning only, when he was on the council in 2011, noting that he disagreed with some of Planned Parenthood’s policies, such as providing emergency contraception drugs to minors without requiring parental consent. “I did oppose that contract and I would oppose it again,” he said.
Some questions addressed the state’s roads, and how to conceptually fix the state’s deteriorating roads, as well as the state’s responsibility to maintain its infrastructure. Sheehan said that a big issue in the state had stemmed from ending a $30 fee in 2010 that was paid during car registration. That money was to go towards repairing roads, and the lack of funds derailed the state’s 10-year plan for its road repairs. “Nothing is done for free, and roads aren’t free,” she said. The gas tax, however, will work towards getting that back on track. In terms of long-term investment, she said, there are opponents of bonding large-scale projects, not wanting to increase the state’s debt, but noted, “If you do it cheap, you get cheap, and you end up paying twice.” The city of Nashua often looks at bond issues in terms of “will it last longer than the bond?” she added.
The other candidates also spoke in favor of the gas tax, with Hattamer saying that the gas tax would go a long way towards starting the state on a better road repair schedule, and Daler praising it as a bipartisan solution. Wheeler said that one of the positive points of New Hampshire is that the gas tax and registration fees go towards a dedicated fund for highway repair or policing, and don’t get diversified to help pay for things like welfare or to fund Fish and Game. Part of his job as a member of the council would be to discuss priorities with the public in public hearings, he said.
The candidates all agreed that energy needs in New Hampshire are increasing, but all also voiced concerns about the proposed Northern Pass project, which would bring hydroelectric power to New England from Quebec, particularly in Massachusetts. Sheehan said that while New Hampshire energy costs are some of the highest in the country, it concerned her that it’s not known what capacity increase the Northern Pass would bring to New Hampshire specifically. Wheeler said he is in favor of the clean energy that the Northern Pass would provide, but also said the way the energy arrives needs to be green as well, since there have been issues raised about the placement of lines, particularly running through conserved land.
Daler said that the state does have energy needs the Northern Pass could contribute to, as well as creating economic activity and jobs in areas that are in sore need of it, but agreed that there are some concerns about the placement of lines. There are options, however, such as burying the lines, which could make the pass a win-win for everyone.
Hattamer noted that energy needs in the state are only going to grow as time goes on. “No one wants a cell tower or pipeline through their backyard, but it always amuses me that everyone wants good cell service,” he said.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.