Sununu, Van Ostern get testy in televised gubernatorial debate

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu (left) and Democratic challenger Colin Van Ostern participate in a televised debate at New England College on Wednesday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ Monitor staff

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu speaks during a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu (left) and Democratic challenger Colin Van Ostern participated in a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu participated in a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern participated in a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu (left) and Democratic challenger Colin Van Ostern exchange remarks in regards to Planned Parenthood during a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu speaks during a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern listens during a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu listens during a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern (right) speaks as Republican challenger Chris Sununu (center) and moderator Phil Lipof listen during a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday. BELOW: Van Ostern and Sununu shake hands following Wednesday’s debate. Both men are executive councilors. ELIZABETH FRANTZ photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/5/2016 10:58:11 PM
Modified: 10/5/2016 10:57:44 PM

Gubernatorial candidates Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern faced off in a spirited debate Wednesday, splitting on whether to raise the minimum wage and make expanded Medicaid permanent, while continually attacking each other’s records in the private sector.

The executive councilors are competing to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, and met in their first televised debate at New England College in Henniker.

Van Ostern, 37, argued raising the state’s minimum hourly wage above the federal $7.25 rate would boost the economy and said $12 is a starting point for discussion.

Sununu, 41, countered the move would be a job killer and “disastrous.” While the Republican said it’s sometimes appropriate to raise the minimum wage, he did not elaborate on when or by how much.

Sparks flew when the men took turns knocking each other’s work experience.

Citing a drop in skier visits under Sununu’s management at Waterville Valley Resort, Van Ostern said he doesn’t consider the Republican a good businessman.

“I don’t think we allow the kind of mismanagement he has brought to Waterville Valley to our state,” Van Ostern said.

Sununu called into question Van Ostern’s business record, saying the Democrat spent the most time in New Hampshire running political campaigns. Before Van Ostern worked at Stonyfield Farm and the nonprofit College for America in 2011, he managed Annie Kuster’s congressional campaign and was a spokesman for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

“When he was a spokesperson and working on John Edwards’s campaign in 2004, I was cleaning up asbestos landfills in downtown Nashua,” Sununu said. “As far as I know, he has had one private sector job for three years.”

Recent polls show Sununu of Newfields with an edge over Concord’s Van Ostern, according to Real Clear Politics.

Democrats have held the corner office for 18 of the last 20 years, and Van Ostern is pushing to build on Hassan’s record. Republicans see Sununu – whose father John H. Sununu was governor in the 1980s – as their best shot to regain control.

The presidential candidates played little role in the debate. But Sununu lobbed nearly as many attacks at Hassan as he did at Van Ostern, claiming her budget veto in 2015 held up funding for the opioid crisis. Hassan is now running for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte.

Sununu defended his controversial remarks earlier this year that there has been “no leadership” at the state or local level on the drug problem.

“We all need to do more, we all need to take better accountability,” he said. Manchester police Chief Nick Willard took offense to the remarks, calling them “idiotic.” Van Ostern brought up the fact that Willard endorsed him earlier in the day.

Both men pledged to fully fund the state’s so-called alcohol fund, which has been continually raided and directs state liquor profits to substance abuse treatment and recovery.

But they sparred on major health issues – from expanded Medicaid to Planned Parenthood funding.

The state’s next leader will decide whether to reauthorize expanded Medicaid, which gives heath insurance to low-income adults and is set to expire in 2018.

Van Ostern advocated making the program permanent, while Sununu said he fears taxpayers will get stuck with the bill. The federal government currently pays more than 90 percent of the program’s cost, while hospitals and insurance companies agreed this year to pick up the state’s tab. Van Ostern said he is comfortable continuing that arrangement, when pressed by Sununu on how the state pays for the program.

“We’re going to keep taxing the hospitals and the insurance companies, you don’t think that’s going to drive rates even further through the roof?” Sununu said.

“Hospitals completely favor expanding Medicaid,” Van Ostern countered.

Sununu’s response: “Today. When it gets to $300 million, we will see what their tune is.” He wasn’t specific about his own plan for the program.

Sununu’s vote in 2015 to block state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics has played a major role in the race. Sununu, who had supported the contract years earlier, said his “no” vote was about due diligence when a series of now discredited videos about fetal tissue donation came out. Sununu has since voted to restore funding to Planed Parenthood of Northern New England and laid blame on Hassan.

“She refused to simply look into it and provide more information,” he said. “It was Gov. Hassan who refused to provide any additional information to the council.”

“Accountability doesn’t mean blaming someone else when you vote to shut off the funding for women’s health,” said Van Ostern, who has voted in favor of the contracts.

On gun rights, the men split on whether New Hampshire should send mental health records to a federal background check system used to vet prospective buyers. New Hampshire is among a handful of states that don’t submit that information to the National Instance Criminal Background Check system.

Van Ostern advocated submitting the records, while Sununu balked, saying he is “nervous” about putting people’s names on a federal list.

Sununu said he would take education funding out of the courts and give control of adequacy aid fully to the Legislature. Van Ostern said he would fund full-day kindergarten.

The men said they would not impose an income or sales tax. Neither candidate named any area where they would raise taxes or fees to pay for government spending.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)




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