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Candidates weigh in for Senate seat

Last modified: 9/8/2012 12:00:00 AM
Two Republicans are running for the seat of retiring state Sen. Jack Barnes in newly mapped Senate District 17.

State Rep. John Reagan of Deerfield and Loudon farmer Howard Pearl, a newcomer to state politics, are competing for their party's nomination in Tuesday's primary.

Reagan is a three-term state representative and chairman of the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee. He said he is running for the Senate to bridge the gap between the two chambers and further his goal of reducing the scope and size of government.

Pearl, who owns a farm and formerly operated fertilizer plants in Concord and Massachusetts, said he is running for the Senate because state government needs the voices of business leaders. He describes himself as a conservative who is willing to listen to other people's opinions.

The Senate district they hope to represent includes Loudon, Chichester, Pittsfield, Pembroke, Epsom, Allenstown, Northwood, Deerfield, Nottingham, Raymond and Strafford.

The winner of Tuesday's primary will run against Nancy Fraher, a Chichester Democrat and retired Candia Elementary School teacher, in the November election.

Here's how they articulated their positions on a range of issues:

State budget

For both Reagan and Pearl, the reductions made to the state budget last year were a step in the right direction.

Reagan said there are more places to cut from the state budget. He has served on the performance audit oversight committee, and said audits of state departments will lead to greater budget reductions and increased efficiency.

'I don't think you can avoid it,' Reagan said. 'I don't think that you can continue to burden the economy with the cost of government and expect to have a successful economy, because all government does is they take money out of the economy.'

Pearl credits state lawmakers with 'a good start' for reducing the budget last year. He believes the Senate can increase transparency.

'I have the advantage of being two years behind them,' he said. 'Now I can see how it works, not how it was supposed to work.'

Pearl said further cuts can be made on the state level. Decreasing regulations would attract more businesses to the state, he said. Pearl said he understands how struggling business owners feel; he recently closed his two fertilizer plants due to poor economic conditions.

Regulatory departments 'need to get under control,' he said. 'They're hurting our businesses.'

Education

Reagan supported last year's 50 percent cut in funding to the state university system and said he would like to eventually eliminate all state funding to universities.

'If they're providing a valuable service, then people will pay for that,' Reagan said. 'It doesn't add any value to my life, so why are you taking money from me so that somebody else can go to school for four years and then not find a job?'

Reagan would also like to eliminate the state Department of Education and leave education under local control.

'Stop taking their money, because we already know when you take their money they don't get it all back,' he said.

Pearl said the reductions to university funding seem drastic from the outside. But based on conversations with a University of New Hampshire board member, Pearl said he has learned that the system weathered the reductions.

'And yes, they had to raise tuition to the students and they didn't really want to do that, but they made a lot of cuts that probably needed to be made anyway,' he said.

Pearl said he has spoken with local principals and school board members in his district to learn about education issues. He said it's difficult for him to propose specific plans because he hasn't had 'the benefit of testimony' at the State House.

Right-to-work legislation

Both Reagan and Pearl support right-to-work legislation that would prevent unions from collecting dues from nonmembers.

'I like people to be able to have a choice,' Pearl said.

Reagan said he has been a union member as a firefighter in Baltimore but does not believe unions serve the best interest of state taxpayers.

'I don't think (unions) serve a purpose in public employment,' he said.

Reagan has also worked to reform the state retirement system during his three terms in the House. Little progress has been made because 'the union officials have shown no willingness to help craft a solution,' he said.

'It's become obvious that the defined-benefit pension was not a successful model for retirement, and that we have to move away from the defined benefit,' Reagan said.

Pearl said he has spoken with the local police and fire chiefs about the retirement system and plans to learn about the budgetary concerns.

'So I can't say that I know how to fix it at this point in time, but I'm at the information-gathering stage and am going to listen to both sides,' Pearl said.

Northern Pass

Pearl does not support the Northern Pass project as it is currently proposed. He said he would be in favor of burying the power lines to preserve the state's open spaces and hopes the project could reduce electricity costs in New Hampshire.

'Northern Pass as it's presented won't fly,' he said. 'It's not doable. . . . One of the things that we have to not lose focus on is that we are a tourist-driven state. Our economy is tourist-driven, and that needs to be a priority.'

Reagan said he will not take a stand on the Northern Pass project.

'I'm not in favor of the government having anything to do with it,' he said.

The proposed plan would include a substation in Deerfield, the town where Reagan served as chairman of the selectmen.

'I've brought the plight of certain people who are grossly affected by it . . . to the utilities to advise them that they should do something about it, that they should do something to grant some kind of relief to these people,' he said. 'And that was the extent of my involvement.'

Public assistance

Reagan said he does not believe the state should provide welfare or disability benefits at the expense of taxpayers.

'These are great philosophical questions, but who's responsible for somebody else's misfortune?' Reagan said. 'If you follow (the current system) to a logical conclusion, it would be people who are sick and unfortunate would take all the property of people who aren't sick and work for everything.'

Cutting programs at the state level would eliminate bureaucracy and fraud, he said. Individual towns or private charities are better suited to offer assistance, Reagan said.

Pearl said he is concerned about welfare fraud but believes only a small percentage of people abuse the system.

'I don't have those figures, but I don't believe the system needs to be trashed,' Pearl said. 'I think we still need to have the system take care of those in need.'

Gay marriage

Pearl said he would consider any repeal of gay marriage that comes before the Senate, but he would make certain that 'we're not creating more issues than we're fixing.'

'My belief is marriage is one man and one woman - that's what I was taught, that's how I've lived my life, that's what I know,' Pearl said. 'But I'm not interested in having government intrude any further into our personal lives than they need to.'

Reagan voted against the gay marriage repeal bill that failed in the House this year.

'I just wanted to stop talking about it and stop interfering with people's lives,' Reagan said. 'I have good friends of the same gender who have raised two fabulously successful children.'

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

HOWARD PEARL

Age: 46

Town: Loudon

Job: Farmer

Family: Wife, Robyn, two adult children and two stepdaughters, ages 10 and 13

Education: Merrimack Valley High School

Political Experience: Loudon zoning board member, former Loudon trustee of the trust funds

JOHN REAGAN

Age: 66

Town: Deerfield

Job: Business consultant and financial planner; retired fire officer

Family: Recently widowed; two adult sons and one grandchild

Education: Albany Business College in Albany, N.Y.

Political Experience: Three-term state representative; former three-term Deerfield selectman


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