Rindge candidates discuss the issues at Franklin Pierce University forum

  • Democratic candidate for Executive Council Shoshanna Kelly speaks about how she would approach nominations, pardons and disagreements if she were elected. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Democratic challenger for Senate District 12 Melanie Levesque speaks on housing and education. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Candidates Shoshanna Kelly, Melanie Levesque and Chris McLaughlin speak at a candidate forum at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday evening. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Candidates Shoshanna Kelly, Melanie Levesque and Chris McLaughlin speak at a candidate forum at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday evening. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • State Rep. Jim Qualey speaks on energy and rising electricity and fuel costs. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Candidates Shoshanna Kelly, Melanie Levesque, Chris McLaughlin and Anna Tilton speak at a candidate forum at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday evening. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Cheshire 14 state Rep. John Hunt speaks about the education voucher system during a candidate forum at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Democratic House candidate Jeffrey Dickler speaks about the role of state government. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives John McCarthy speaks on the need to increase New Hampshire’s renewable energy portfolio. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Republican state Rep. Matthew Santonastaso speaks on the need to keep government small while Democratic candidate Jeffrey Dickler looks on. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • State Rep. Matthew Santonastaso speaks on the need to keep government small. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • State representative candidates Jeffrey Dickler and Jim Qualey speak at a candidate forum at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Candidates Matthew Santonastaso and Jeffrey Dickler speak about their views on issues, including energy and education, during a candidate forum on Thursday at Franklin Pierce University. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Candidates Jeffrey Dickler and Jim Qualey speak on the issues at a candidate forum at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • House Cheshire County District 14 Democratic candidate Hannah Bissex and Republican incumbent John Hunt speak about school choice during a forum at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday evening. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Candidates John McCarthy, Matthew Santonastaso and Jeffrey Dickler give their views on the role of state government. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Democrat Hannah Bissex speaks on the need for new ideas. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • John McCarthy and Matthew Santonastaso speak on the issues at a candidate forum on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/7/2022 1:39:08 PM
Modified: 11/7/2022 1:38:38 PM

Candidates for state and county offices representing Rindge had their say on issues including education, how the state can address rising costs of living and the role of state government during a candidate's forum hosted at Franklin Pierce University on Thursday night, prior to Tuesday’s election.

The forum, which included candidates for the state House and Senate, Executive Council, sheriff, county attorney and Registry of Deeds, was co-sponsored by the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, League of Women Voters, New Hampshire; and Franklin Pierce.

State rep. candidates have their say

Rindge is included in two separate state House districts – Cheshire County District 14, where Democratic challenger Hannah Bissex is running against Republican incumbent and longtime representative John Hunt, and Cheshire County District 18, where Republican incumbents Jim Qualey and Matthew Santonastaso are challenged by Democrats John McCarthy and Jeffrey Dickler. All six candidates attended Thursday’s forum.

Candidates spoke about education, including the banning of so-called “divisive concepts” and the state’s voucher system, which allows parents the use of government funds to pay for education other than public school.

McCarthy said the divisive concepts bill was a form of censorship, while Santonastaso said the bill was the result of government overreach. Santonastaso said it strengthened the argument to allow school choice, so that parents could send children to schools that “align with their values,” which would result in a “diversity of thought” among the population.

Dickler said the state needed a unified education, and that the country “was built and has thrived” on the concept of public education. He said concepts such as the voucher system and divisive concepts were further dividing the state.

Qualey voted for the divisive concepts bill, and said it “empowered parents” to take action against schools that were teaching children they were “bad or evil” for their skin color or actions of previous generations.

“It has nothing to do with not teaching history or racism,” Qualey said.

Bissex said the bill was born from a desire to protect children, but said, “I just don’t think this is the way to do it,” adding individual school curriculum wasn’t a place for the Legislature.

Hunt agreed, saying he was not in favor of the bill, because he habitually fights against unnecessary mandates from the state. He agreed with Santonastaso that the voucher system allowed parents unhappy with their children’s public education to seek an alternative.

On rising energy prices, and what the state can do to address them, Hunt said individuals can do their part to reduce consumption. McCarthy said the state needed to “stop slow-walking the effort to introduce renewables,” suggested changing the rules around net metering to make solar installations more affordable and in the meantime, “double down” on assistance to residents in need.

Santonastaso said he was against fuel subsidies, noting that price was an indicator of value. When the price for a commodity goes up, people tend to use less of that resource, Santonastaso said. He suggested fuel subsidies send a false signal that people can continue consuming the resource at the usual rate, and “overuse it.”

Dickler said the state should crack down on price-gouging, saying, “These people are getting incredible profits on our backs.” He also pushed investment into renewable energy alternatives, and state subsidies to do so.

Qualey agreed that the state could invest further into solar and wind technologies, but said that was not the be-all, end-all solution, noting that “the sun doesn’t shine all the time, wind doesn’t blow all the time.” He said he would support pipelines for natural gas, if they didn’t infringe on private property rights.

Bissex said New Hampshire is an outlier when it comes to current electricity rates, and that the state needs to increase capacity through renewables and reduce consumption.

Avard and Levesque face off again for Senate District 12

Republican incumbent Kevin Avard, representing New Hampshire Senate District 12, is being challenged again by Democrat Melanie Levesque, who he defeated in 2020 after Levesque unseated him in 2018.

Avard did not attend the forum, but did have a statement read on his behalf. He stated that his time in the Senate has given him an opportunity to give back to his community.

“My priorities are keeping your taxes low and stopping a state income or sales tax, keeping our economy strong, improving education and keeping New Hampshire a safe place to live and raise a family,” Avard wrote in his statement. “As chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I am especially proud of my work to encourage more renewable energy sources in our state to bring down our energy costs.”

Levesque said affordable housing affected the state on two prongs – young people looking for a home to raise their family and seniors looking to retire. She connected the issue to educational vouchers, saying one of the obstacles to affordable home-ownership was property taxes, and said it was the wrong move to be taking funding away from public schools.

“Affordable housing is critical,” Levesque said. “I won’t say I have the answers, but I am very interested and will work on this problem.”

Levesque said housing was also an issue for the state’s workforce, and that efforts such as the federal CHIPS and Science act – a $280 billion bill to boost domestic research and manufacturing of semiconductors in the United States – might be good for job growth, but the state needed places for those workers to live.

Levesque criticized Gov. Chris Sununu for vetoing green-energy bills during her time in the Senate, saying the state might be in a better position today in regards to energy prices if they had been passed.

Executive Council challenger Shoshanna Kelly speaks 

Democrat Shoshanna Kelly is facing off against incumbent David Wheeler in Executive Council District 5.

Wheeler did not attend Thursday’s forum, or submit a statement to be read. Wheeler has been elected to the seat multiple times, starting in 2001, serving until 2005. He served another term from 2011 to 2013, and again from 2015 to 2019. He was elected again in November 2020.

Kelly said her priorities, if elected to the office, were to ensure that contracts awarded by the state were awarded to New Hampshire companies, to keep that money within the local economy.

Kelly, a current alderwoman in Nashua, said she would approach disagreement with the governor or other council members the same way she does on the Nashua board, saying it was possible to “share your side in an even way,” and that disagreements could be left behind in the chamber.

When asked how she would approach appointing nominees to state offices, she said experience would be a key factor for her, citing the nomination of Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut in 2017, despite a lack of experience in the education field.

Kelly said if pardons came before the council, she would look at each case individually, but strive to make sure it was a fair process.

“I think the proper role of government is we’re representatives of the people. And, so, we need to be listening to the people that we’re representing, and be very fair and honest in how we vote,” Kelly said. “You’re putting your trust in us to be your voice, so our votes should be in line with the majority of the state or people that you are representing, and I don’t think that that’s happening right now, and that’s why I’m running.”

Candidates for county offices

Incumbent Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera was not present at Thursday’s forum, but sent a statement to be read. Rivera, a resident of Keene, is running for his sixth term in the position. His experience includes five years in the U.S. Coast Guard, and 22 years in the Keene Police Department, where he retired as a shift commander.

“My message has been consistent since my first day in office: to treat everyone with dignity, compassion and respect, regardless of why or how we  interact with them,” Rivera’s statement said. “The sheriff’s office is much more than just going out and patrolling and enforcing laws. As the sheriff, I immerse myself in the issues our community faces, whether dealing with a nationwide shortage of police officers, issues around human rights, crime, COVID, LGBTQ+, substance misuse or other matters that impact our community.”

Rivera, a Democrat, is running against Republican Richard Pratt. Pratt has been a police officer since 1988, and served most of his career in Nelson. He is currently a part-time officer in Antrim.

When asked about crime trends, Pratt said financial pressures, including the cost of heating and electricity, were putting additional pressure on people and could lead to a rise in thefts.

Pratt said he thought confidence in the police and justice system was high in Cheshire County. That was a sentiment echoed by incumbent County  Attorney Chris McLaughlin, who is running for re-election. McLaughlin said “as a whole,” there was a lot of trust in law enforcement in the community.

McLaughlin spoke on the continuing need to address substance abuse disorder in the county. McLaughlin was one of the initiators of the county’s drug courts, which require drug offenders to actively participate in rehabilitation programs rather than receive jail time. He said the goal was to hold people accountable, but to also return them to their communities as productive members of society.

All candidates who spoke at the forum on Thursday will be on the ballot in Rindge on Nov. 8. Voting in Rindge is held at the Rindge Memorial School from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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