Senate District 6 candidates are clearly divided

Last modified: 10/29/2014 12:13:57 AM
Voters in Barnstead and towns to its east have two clearly divided candidates to choose between for their next representative in the state Senate.

The race for state Senate District 6 is a rematch from 2012 between incumbent and retired nuclear engineer Sam Cataldo, a Republican, and challenger and full-time pharmacist Richard Leonard, a Democrat.

Leonard, of New Durham, said he approves of Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act, raising the minimum wage and the Common Core curriculum. Cataldo, 77, of Farmington, said he opposes all of those programs.

The first-term senator who previously spent four terms in the state House said he reviews each bill individually but votes with his party 99 percent of the time.

Cataldo said the health care system was better in the past, when his local hospital, Frisbie Memorial, like others, allowed anyone – even those without insurance – to come in and receive care. He reminisces back to the 1990s when the state had 26 insurance providers, he said.

He said he opposed Medicaid expansion because of the sunset provision that will require it to be resubmitted in 2016 and the fact that the program would end if federal funding dropped below 100 percent, which he said he expects could happen.

“The country is broke. Doesn’t anybody understand that? We’re almost $18 trillion in the hole,” he said.

He said if funding dried out or a new bill wasn’t passed, the state would have to find a way to cover the roughly 20,000 people who signed up for expanded coverage. He said the only way to do that would be through instituting a sales or income tax.

“Do you want that? I don’t,” he said.

Leonard, on the other hand, is running primarily to support the Affordable Care Act.

He said his wife, Phebe, was a surgical nurse at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, and the couple had health insurance through her employer.

She was diagnosed at 47 with colon cancer, and when she lost her job a year into her illness, they lost their health insurance. Leonard said because of the ACA, they were able to get insurance coverage through his employer, Hannaford, “even though she’s in the throes of cancer.”

“I didn’t really pay much attention to it before, but a year after Phebe died (in 2011), it really opened my eyes to what other people were going through or could go through,” he said.

Leonard owns a farm and got his start in public service in 2010 by serving on the board of the Strafford County University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension service. He said that group allows educators to use their knowledge and expertise in local communities. For instance, a fruit specialist and students might come to his farm to take samples and study practices for pest management.

“No sooner did I get in there then the budget got slashed,” he said, in part by Cataldo, who voted as a House member at the time to cut the university system’s budget.

Cataldo said he’s most proud of bills he sponsored this past session to create a bill of rights for seniors, to establish a separate crime of domestic violence, and another that makes changes to the state law on human trafficking.

Cataldo said he opposes raising the minimum wage because he feels it would eliminate young people’s jobs. He said he worked for 55 cents an hour during high school to put himself through Catholic school.

Cataldo said today’s students are being “held back” by provisions such as Common Core. He said when he was in elementary school, a foreign student of third-grade age moved into the district and within a week proved he was smart enough to move up a grade to Cataldo’s fourth-grade class. A week later, that student was in fifth grade.

Today “everybody in the classroom has to be equal. Well, you can’t all be equal,” he said.

Leonard said he supports education and health care initiatives as his two primary issues. He said as a pharmacist, he’s seen patients in years past handing back their prescriptions when they couldn’t afford them because their plans didn’t cover them.

These days, he said, “I’m seeing more and more people with prescription drug coverage.” He attributes that change to the Affordable Care Act, and he said he hopes more people will sign up for medical coverage through expanded Medicaid in the state.

“For me, health care is my passion; it’s really my story and how I got into” politics, he said.

State Senate District 6 comprises Alton, Barnstead, Farmington, Gilmanton, New Durham and Rochester.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or or on Twitter @NickBReid.)

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