Meet the District 11 state rep candidates

Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2014
A 22-year-old recent college graduate is challenging the Democratic House majority leader to represent Penacook in the state House of Representatives.

The two candidates – Democratic state Rep. Steve Shurtleff and Republican Ben Tasker – are on the ballot for the lone seat in Merrimack County District 11.

Steve Shurtleff

In 2003, Steve Shurtleff heard about soldiers from New Hampshire dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He wanted to take action – so he filed to run for the state House of Representatives.

“I thought, why don’t we do something for the children of those who have given their lives?” said Shurtleff, a 67-year-old Penacook Democrat.

He was elected in 2004, and during his first term, Shurtleff worked on legislation that now provides free college tuition in the state’s public university system to the children of New Hampshire military personnel who died on active duty. A Vietnam veteran and retired U.S. marshal, Shurtleff is now running for his sixth term in the House.

During the 2014 session, he was the House majority leader, chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and worked on legislation ranging from domestic violence to driving privileges for first-time DWI offenders.

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished this session in the New Hampshire House, and I want to build on that in the next session,” Shurtleff said. “We’ve got a lot of issues facing the state that are not Democratic issues or Republican issues. They’re New Hampshire issues.”

For Shurtleff, those issues include continuing to support Medicaid expansion, as well as writing a budget that provides for the building of the new women’s prison in Concord and pays for the state’s settlement on a federal mental health lawsuit. He also wants to boost the money allocated to local cities and towns, as well as to the university system.

Shurtleff is also making a bid to succeed state Rep. Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, as speaker of the House.

“I want to maintain what Terie Norelli has done with this idea of bipartisanship and fairness,” Shurtleff said. “I have a lot of good friends on both sides of the aisle.”

Shurtleff was also elected as an at-large member of the Concord City Council in 2007. He is on the boards for the Penacook Community Center, the Penacook Historical Society and the Penacook Village Association.

The village isn’t neglected as it once was, Shurtleff said.

“I think those days Penacook had the feeling that we are somewhat subservient to the city are over,” Shurtleff said. “People are now realizing what a tremendous place Penacook is to live and work and raise a family.”

Ben Tasker

More money for municipalities, alternative energy sources and support for honey bees.

Those issues are just a few of the talking points for Ben Tasker of Penacook, the 22-year-old who is running on the Republican ticket against Shurtleff.

“I’m running for state representative because Penacook and New Hampshire have been overlooked,” said Tasker, a first-time candidate.

Tasker grew up in Concord and graduated from Merrimack Valley High School in 2010. He studied health care management and policy at the University of New Hampshire, where he graduated a year early in 2013. He now works in information technology at the Elliot Health System.

Tasker said community members started to encourage him to run for public office when he was still a college student. Concerned about unpaved roads, the slow process to replace the Sewalls Falls Bridge and empty storefronts in Penacook, he listened this year.

“I just stepped up and took responsibility for that,” Tasker said.

One of his first goals would be to help local cities and towns pay for their important public projects – for example, Tasker said, replacing the Sewalls Falls Bridge. The bridge is supposed to be replaced next year, but the city of Concord started working with the state Department of Transportation to restore or replace it in 1994.

“We need to help increase municipality funding,” Tasker said. “It’s been cut for many years now, and a lot of cities and towns rely on that funding to pave the roads, to complete bridge projects.”

Tasker describes himself as a fiscal conservative, saying he thinks the state spends its money inefficiently. He is backed by Granite Solutions PAC, which was founded by state Rep. Joe Sweeney of Salem and is aimed at electing more fiscal conservatives to the House.

“A dollar wasted somewhere is a dollar that can’t be spent somewhere else,” Tasker said. “We should be pursuing new revenues. We don’t need new tax rates.”

Tasker suggested expanding gambling as a source of revenue for New Hampshire.

He also suggested expanding beekeeping in the state. Tasker joined a beekeeping club in high school and has done research on genetic alteration in honey bees, which are endangered. He wants New Hampshire organizations to apply for federal grants that would encourage beekeeping and, in turn, its benefit to agriculture.

“Without the honey bee, mankind won’t survive,” Tasker said.

As a young candidate, Tasker said he will bring a new perspective to the State House.

“I’m offering new ideas and fresh leadership,” Tasker said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)