Reagan and Fraher face off in Senate District 17
Nancy Fraher Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
John Reagan Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Two candidates with contrasting views of government are vying for a seat in newly mapped Senate District 17.
John Reagan, a three-term Republican state representative from Deerfield, told the Monitor’s editorial board last week that he would like to reduce the size and scope of government and reform the state’s retirement system. On Nov. 6, voters will have a choice between Reagan and Nancy Fraher, a Chichester Democrat, retired teacher and newcomer to state politics. She’s running to restore funding to the state’s university system, advocate for public education funding and protect the rights of union workers, she said last week.
Reagan and Fraher are running for a seat vacated by state Sen. Jack Barnes, a Raymond Republican and nine-term senator who announced his retirement this year. Senate District 17 now includes: Loudon, Chichester, Pittsfield, Pembroke, Epsom, Allenstown, Northwood, Deerfield, Nottingham, Raymond and Strafford.
For Reagan, the state’s pension plan is the biggest issue facing state legislators.
He’d like to shift the New Hampshire Retirement System to a defined contribution model, under which public employees would put money into a personal account similar to a 401(k) plan. The system now operates under a defined benefit model that guarantees certain pension benefits to employees. But that model isn’t working because “you can’t take the money out faster than you put it in,” Reagan said.
“You have to go to a defined contribution plan,” he said. “You can’t keep telling yourself that things are going to get better because . . . it’s not getting better and it’s not going to get better. . . . You have to stop the defined benefit retirement system.”
The change would allow individuals to take responsibility for their own retirement savings, Reagan said.
“You know you’re going to get old, if you survive to get to old age,” he said. “You’re going to have to have prepared somehow for it.”
Reagan has served as chairman of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. He said he was successful in pushing for a medical marijuana bill; the legislation was approved by the House and Senate this year but vetoed by Gov. John Lynch.
The committee also oversees mental health legislation. Asked about the lawsuit filed against the state over the way it delivers mental health services, Reagan said he “doesn’t believe the system’s broken down completely.” The Disabilities Rights Center sued the state in February, alleging it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and segregates mentally ill people in hospitals instead of treating them in their communities.
The mental health system may need improvement, Reagan said, but the state does not have unlimited funding to provide services.
“Any perceived need never has enough dollars,” he said. “So that’s the job of the Legislature, the representatives of the people who pay the taxes to decide what that limit’s going to be. And that’s the unpleasant part of the job.”
Reagan defended last year’s 50 percent cut in funding to the state’s university system. He said the University of New Hampshire should continue to reduce its costs, and students should be willing to pay for an education.
“They’re selling a service – their product is education,” Reagan said. “So if it’s worth whatever it’s worth, people would be willing to pay that.”
For-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix offer degrees at a much lower price, Reagan said. While it may not have the same reputation as the University of New Hampshire, he said it can serve as a model for reducing costs.
Reagan said public school districts should also look to reduce costs. Based on estimates that New Hampshire school districts spend $13,000 per student each year, he said it should not cost that much to pay utility costs for the classrooms and cover teachers’ salaries.
“Where does it go?” he said.
Overall, Reagan said he’d like to reduce taxes and create jobs by simply reducing the scope of government.
“If you stop taking it out of your economy to give it to government, it will be used for things people want,” he said. “So that’s just it’s just not really hard to figure out. If you stop taking the money out, it’s there for people to do things with.”
This is Fraher’s first campaign for a seat at the State House, but she said she’s running to offer voters a “distinct choice” between her views and Reagan’s.
“I believe in the American people, I believe in schools, I believe in women’s right to choice, I believe that as a worker you have a right to negotiate a fair contract,” she said.
Fraher said she doesn’t have experience serving in state government, but she’s willing to learn and she doesn’t like what the Republican-controlled Legislature did during its last term.
“I don’t have a magic wand for solving the New Hampshire economy or else I’d probably be governor or president of the United States, but I know that I’ve seen social services cut,” she said.
Fraher decided to run for the Senate with the encouragement of Sen. Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat.
“And so I said, ‘Well there’s no one else stepping up to the plate,’ ” Fraher said. “I just thought it was my civic responsibility to do that.”
As a retired teacher and former Chichester School Board member, Fraher is focusing her campaign on education. She defended the average per-pupil cost of $13,000 per year; that figure includes the cost of buses, utilities, insurance and books, and “it adds up,” she said.
The education system needs support, she said, because schools provide positive environments for children. As a middle school teacher, she said she often had to act as a mother figure more than as a teacher.
“I think people forget that,” she said. “They think schools are just an academic place of learning, and they’re not. And they need to be funded appropriately.”
Fraher criticized last year’s cuts to the university system budget. New Hampshire must work to keep its own students in state for college, she said, but high tuition and a lack of scholarships is currently driving parents to send their children to other states.
Fraher said she opposes reductions to social services.
“I don’t think it’s a society that we need to stoop that low,” she said. “I think that we need to educate our children, we need to take care of our poor, we need to help the mentally disabled. . . . You just can’t cut without looking where it’s going to affect somewhere else.”
Efforts by state lawmakers to pass right-to-work legislation are also concerning, Fraher said.
“As a union member, I never felt that being a member of the union affected the way I taught my classroom or how I wanted my children to succeed,” she said. “Unions came about because workers were abused in our society and I think that unions want to maintain a good working relationship with the administration, etc. We’re not out to get anybody. And I certainly don’t think that we’re trying to hold students or businesses hostage.”
Fraher said she needs to learn more about the New Hampshire Retirement System, but she’s worried about shifting to a defined contribution plan and leaving young union members responsible for their own retirement savings.
“I know as a 20-year-old when I graduated, I wasn’t thinking about investing into a pension plan,” she said. “People deserve those benefits. They work hard for them.”
In other areas, Fraher said she would support the Northern Pass project if the power lines were underground, and is “open to a discussion” about expanded gambling.