GOP candidates for governor split on marijuana policy, rail and casinos

Monitor staff
Published: 7/27/2016 12:29:18 PM

Republicans running for governor are split over whether New Hampshire should decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, allow casino gambling and bring commuter rail up from Massachusetts.

Executive Councilor Chris Sununu and state Rep. Frank Edelblut said during a radio debate Wednesday they would support efforts to decriminalize marijuana, saying it would help diminish a backlog at the state crime lab and reduce costly incarcerations.

State Sen. Jeanie Forrester and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas voiced strong opposition, arguing that it’s not appropriate to reduce marijuana penalties amid an opioid crisis.

A recent WMUR Granite State Poll found that more than 60 percent of New Hampshire voters support legalizing marijuana. Still, recent legislative efforts to legalize the drug, and also to decriminalize it, have failed.

Four Republicans are competing for the corner office ahead of the Sept. 13 primary. Residents’ knowledge of the candidates varies widely, the WMUR poll found. Sununu is the most well known, followed by Gatsas. Forrester and Edelblut are unknown by more than 70 percent of voters. During the radio debate, which was hosted by Jack Heath and included questions from the Monitor, all four candidates endorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and said they would campaign with him in New Hampshire should he visit.

But they are split on major state issues. Edelblut, Forrester and Gatsas oppose casino gambling, while Sununu said he is open to it. Lawmakers have long discussed bringing a casino to New Hampshire as a way to raise revenue, but a bill has never passed the House.

“Its time has come and gone,” Gatsas said, pointing to the growth of casinos in neighboring states. Forrester said a casino would hurt small businesses and the state should focus on controlling spending. Edelblut said he would support keno, an electronic lottery game.

Sununu would back casino gambling with the “right bill,” but he did not elaborate on what that would include. “It’s a revenue generator,” he said. “If casinos want to come in, we should support it.”

Most Republican candidates said they oppose bringing commuter rail from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. The infrastructure proposal is largely supported by business leaders in Nashua and Manchester who say it will attract employees. But the plan is generally panned by Republicans as a misuse of state money. The Republican-led Legislature rejected federal funding this year for an additional rail study.

Edelblut, Forrester and Sununu oppose a rail, saying it doesn’t make financial sense. Gatsas indicated he is open to a rail, saying the state has to “take a look at rail” to get some “solid answers on what those costs are going to be.”

On Medicaid expansion, the candidates weren’t clear whether they would reauthorize the health care program when it comes up for expiration in 2018. Forrester and Sununu said any proposal should have a work requirement, while Edelblut said he opposes any area of so-called Obamacare. Gatsas said the state has to find a “New Hampshire solution,” and throwing off the 46,000 people covered by the plan doesn’t make sense, he said.

Most Republicans said they would sign a bill Gov. Maggie Hassan has vetoed in the past that would study “end-of-life decisions,” which include physician-assisted suicide. Edelblut said he opposes such efforts. The three Democratic candidates, Mark Connolly, Steve Marchand and Colin Van Ostern, will debate next Wednesday.




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