Republican candidates for governor spar over issues at first debate of the year

  • Republican candidates for governor Frank Edelblut (left), Jeanie Forrester, Ted Gatsas and Chris Sununu at a debate. ELLA NILSEN / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/15/2016 12:24:39 AM

The four Republican gubernatorial candidates outlined positions on everything from the state’s economy to abortion at the first debate of the campaign season Thursday.

The event at Windham High School turned testy a few times as candidates took shots at each other, with much of the fire aimed at Executive Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields.

Sununu and fellow candidates Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, state Sen. Jeanie Forrester of Meredith and state Rep. Frank Edelblut of Wilton all cast themselves as fiscal conservatives who would cut business taxes and regulations with the goal of growing jobs, and would oppose Common Core and expand school choice.

However, the candidates differed on a few key issues, including whether to continue Medicaid expansion and whether they support abortion rights.

Those differences emerged at the beginning of the debate, when all candidates were asked whether they would sign a pledge from outside group Americans For Prosperity to cut taxes and regulations and oppose the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion.

While Forrester and Edelblut said they would have no problem signing the pledge, Gatsas and Sununu were more hesitant, especially when it came to health care issues.

“I believe as a state, when you talk about getting rid of Obamacare, you’ve got to have a solution to the problem because 46,000 people will be going to the emergency rooms again and all of us are going to be paying for the increase in health insurance,” Gatsas said. “So let’s be rational in how we talk about things.”

Sununu echoed the mayor’s response.

“I believe in repealing Obamacare, I believe we need better solutions, but we better be smart in how we do those solutions,” he said.

Gatsas and Sununu also reiterated their pro-abortion rights stances early on in the evening. The Manchester mayor said he supports a woman’s right to choose but is opposed to partial-birth abortions and is in favor of minors having to notify their parents before going forward with the procedure.

Sununu has recently come under fire for his vote earlier this month to approve state funding for Planned Parenthood.

The executive councilor was the swing vote, reversing his decision last year to deny the organization funding in light of controversial videos allegedly showing national Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

When asked if they would support legislation that would prohibit the state from subsidizing abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, Sununu was the only candidate who hesitated.

“If there are no other options for quality health care, no,” he said.

Later in the debate, Gatsas and Edelblut sparred over school aid. While all candidates agreed that the state adequacy formula needed to be fixed, Gatsas disagreed with the notion of taking funding away, saying the Manchester school district depends on the $120 million it gets from the state every year.

Candidates also clashed when it came to a comparison of economic plans.

Forrester was the first gubernatorial candidate to release an economic plan to cut businesses taxes and regulations, which she touted as the “only conservative economic plan.”

Not to be outdone, Sununu jumped in with his own newly released economic plans. The candidate owns northern ski resort Waterville Valley and argued that as a business owner, he knows the problems of providing employee health insurance, dealing with regulation and paying high energy costs better than anyone.

“I put my plan out yesterday, it is far and away the most specific plan,” he said. “I live and breathe these issues.”

But Forrester wasn’t having any of it.

“I have to say, when I saw that plan, I thought it might have been written by Maggie Hassan,” she said, drawing some loud, “oooohs,” from the crowd.

“I’m not going to respond to that,” Sununu replied.

Ultimately, the night was good for Edelblut.

With the loudest contingent of supports in the audience, the first-term state representative won the debate straw poll at the end of the night, netting 59 percent support.

“I am gratified for the support I am receiving,” Edelblut said in a statement. “People do not want a career politician or someone who has spent their entire lifetime in or around government.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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