Boutin, Cormier square off in Senate District 16 Republican primary
Jane Cormier’s lilting soprano sailed through the halls of White Rock Senior Living Community in Bow the other day, stirring glances – and the occasional toe-tap – from a roomful of gray-haired strangers.
“I’m Jane Cormier,” the 54-year-old announced a moment earlier, her grown daughter and teenage son in tow. “My husband and I have been music educators here in New Hampshire for over 24 years. We live in Hooksett. I’m also running for District 16, for the state Senate.”
A few miles south, her Republican primary challenger, Sen. David Boutin, marched down a tree-lined street in northwest Manchester, his sleeves rolled up, a stack of handwritten notes at his side. There were doorbells to ring, canines to greet, conservative voters to sway.
This is Boutin’s fourth Senate race, and the retired 61-year-old from Hooksett says he’s approaching it like any other: “I get up every morning and I say, ‘You know what, David, you’re five votes down today. What are you going to do to get those five votes?’ ”
But Boutin, who serves as chairman of both the Senate Capital Budget and Public and Municipal Affairs committees, is facing sharp criticism this time around from Cormier and fellow hard-right conservatives, who have condemned his votes to raise the state’s gas tax by 4.2 cents and to expand the Medicaid program.
In so doing, they contend, the senator has strayed from the party platform and undermined taxpayers who are already drowning in a sea of government oversight.
“I can have respect for Democrats who run on their Democratic platform, because you know what they espouse,” said Cormier, a former Alton state representative. “God bless ’em, it’s their right. But when you run in another platform that’s very explicit on what that platform maintains, and you continue to go against that, then I say just join the other party.”
Americans for Prosperity, a political nonprofit backed by the Koch brothers, has come down especially hard on the gas tax vote, claiming in mailers that Boutin broke his signed pledge to prevent tax increases.
But Boutin makes no apologies for either move, and argues that the gas tax is by law a user fee, not a tax. The one-time increase, he says, will cost the average driver about $16 per year and will raise millions in total revenue toward the repair of crumbling roads and bridges, including the ongoing effort to widen Interstate 93 south of Concord.
“Leaders are elected to lead and to find solutions to problems,” Boutin said. “That’s what I did with regard to our roads and bridges, and I’m glad that I did it. And most people agree.”
Boutin noted that the permit on the widening project expires in five years, and that the money to renew it, should the state need to, would be significant. The 4.2-cent increase, he said, will phase out when the project is completed.
“What I tell people is if your roof is leaking, or the step on your front porch is broken and falling down, do you fix it?” Boutin said. “And they say yes. It’s the same thing with our roads and bridges. You can’t let it continue to deteriorate, and if you do, it’s only going to get worse.”
But Cormier counters that the increase is a superficial fix to a structural problem. If all of the money previously collected by the state’s existing gas tax was used as intended, for infrastructure projects, she said, the increase would not have been necessary.
“We set up a new fund to throw money at a problem that isn’t a money problem,” Cormier said. “It’s a ‘Where does that money go?’ problem.”
As for the Medicaid vote, Cormier is skeptical of claims from Boutin and others that the federal government will fund the entire expansion, or that the state will bail out if and when that’s no longer the case.
Boutin, however, pointed out that uncompensated care in the state is at an estimated “$450 million and growing.”
“That is the biggest hidden tax on the people of the state of New Hampshire,” he said. Expanding coverage using federal dollars, he claimed, will reduce the need for costly hospital stays and save taxpayers money in the long run.
“The idea that (low-income patients) are now going to get a private insurance card, and they can go to a clinic or a doctor instead of a hospital, I think that’s a good thing,” Boutin said.
Self-described fiscal conservatives
Boutin, a former city planner and independent contractor, served as a state representative from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2010. A father and grandfather, he holds a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University and a master’s from the University of Rhode Island.
Cormier is a relative political newcomer. The mother of two won the Belknap County District 8 House seat in 2012 and resigned this year when she moved to Hooksett. She said the move was to be closer to her son’s school and her music studio in Manchester, not for political reasons.
The winner of the primary will take on Democrat Maureen Raiche Manning, a Manchester attorney and recent write-in candidate.
Both Boutin and Cormier describe themselves as anti-abortion fiscal conservatives. They both oppose legalizing marijuana, adopting Common Core and raising the minimum wage. Both claim to be adamant gun-rights supporters, though Cormier has criticized Boutin for backing a Senate bill this year that would have prohibited gun sales to people ruled mentally incompetent by a court. (Boutin said the ultimately failed bill was a safety measure not intended to strip ordinary citizens of their firearms.)
Cormier opposes the death penalty, citing her pro-life stance. Boutin supports it, saying he continues to see it as a deterrent and a way to further protect law enforcement.
Boutin said he plans to continue working to expand mental health treatment and enhance protections for victims of domestic violence. As chairman of the budget committee, he oversaw the approval of 10 additional crisis beds at the state hospital.
“We don’t want people with those kinds of issues languishing in emergency rooms,” Boutin said. “We have to get them some place where they can get some care, and eventually back out into the community where they can get community mental health services.”
Cormier said she sees the same concerns in her new district – which encompasses Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Wards 1, 2 and 12 of Manchester – as in her last.
“The economy, the economy, the economy,” she said. And that will continue to be her focus, even if it means calling out others in her own party.
“I take wicked heat from the GOP because I speak out about them all the time, and they’re not really happy with that,” she said. “And that’s okay, because I don’t care. I want the truth.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)