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Boutin, Kuch stress experience, conservatism in Senate District 16 primary



Monitor staff
Saturday, September 08, 2018

It’s the well-worn political match-up: The experienced insider against the ideological upstart. But the Republican candidates for Senate District 16 fill their roles comfortably.

On one side is David Boutin, the former senator, who occupied the seat until 2016, when he stepped down for family reasons. On the other, Bill Kuch, a House representative with conservative support attempting to rout his opponent from the right.

The stakes: a shot at taking back the district from Democrats, who narrowly won it in 2016 after years of Republican control.

“Being in the Senate for seven years, I know the ways of the Senate,” Boutin said in an interview. “The Senate is a completely different institution than the House, and I think the voters in District 16 would prefer to have someone coming in who knows the ins and outs of getting the job done.”

For Boutin, a three-term senator from Hooksett first elected in 2010, that experience is everything. As senator, Boutin maintained an active role, overseeing state revenue as chairman of the Ways and Means committee, submitting legislation providing for municipal tax caps and 24/7 staffing for the Division of Children Youth and Families, and vice-chairing the Oversight Commission on Children’s Services, which helped select candidates for the agency’s new watchdog position.

But that experience has come up short, too. In 2017, a year after stepping away to spend more time with his young grandchildren, Boutin was drawn back in. Democrat Scott McGilvray, who had taken the seat in 2016, died in March 2017, spurring a special election. Seeking a return to the political arena, Boutin jumped in. He lost in July 2017 to Manchester Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh in an upset for Republicans in a district thought to be safe.

Now, Boutin is taking another swing at the district, which includes Bow, Dunbarton, Hooksett, Candia and Wards 1, 2, and 12 in Manchester. But this time he has Republican company.

Enter Kuch, a Bow two-term representative hoping to defeat Cavanaugh where Boutin couldn’t. It wasn’t a long-held plan; Kuch says he was pressed to jump in the race at the last minute by conservative groups looking for a strong opponent. But now that he’s in, Kuch says he has the ideological clarity to win over the traditionally right-leaning district.

“It was an agonizing decision,” Kuch said, in his own interview. “But I think it was the right decision. I’m getting a lot of encouragement. And people are egging me on, so I’ll keep going.”

The two candidates have broad areas of agreement. Kuch says he more or less would tow the Republican state platform line as senator; Boutin has more or less done that in office. The two are both declared anti-abortion and pro-guns-rights stalwarts, even if they have found fault with the other’s commitment to those causes. They’re champions of school choice, each supportive of the “school voucher” educational savings account bill that faltered in the House despite a push by the governor.

But they have disagreements, too. Boutin supported Medicaid expansion; Kuch is a hard no. Boutin favored Gov. Chris Sununu’s “kenogarten” full-day kindergarten bill; Kuch voted no. Kuch has an “A” rating from the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition – determined by a survey sent to candidates; Boutin garnered a “C.”

One telling difference: this year’s omnibus “Christmas tree” bill – a $102 million bill that piled together a range of spending priorities after a strong surplus year. In May, the House passed the bill, which included a key arrangement to resolve a lawsuit with the state’s hospitals. Kuch voted against it, opposing its construction on principal.

“Come on guys, you’re not supposed to do that,” he said. “Let’s give the money back to the taxpayers ... We could have broken those all out into separate bills.”

Boutin, meanwhile, said the spending bill carried important provisions that he would have supported.

Both candidates agree that the opioid epidemic remains the biggest issue on voters’ minds. But while Boutin points to the need to strengthen programs, Kuch says more funding is not the best solution.

“There’s a disease up in the Legislature,” he said. “I call it the ‘OPM virus’; other people’s money. When I look at the budget, when I see some spending that goes through a bill, I say ‘Would I spend that on myself? Do I spend that in my household?’”

If their policy disagreements are minor, the candidates’ chosen focuses differ more widely. Boutin took pains to tout his deep experience with mental health services, domestic violence prevention, and the reform of the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

“As I’ve been knocking on doors … these two issues, the opioid crisis and mental health, have been the top two issues they’ve been concerned about,” he said.

Kuch freely admits a lack of direct experience in mental health, opioids and education policy.

“I am totally ignorant,” he said, speaking on those topics. “Well not totally. But it’s not my committee. I try and focus on my committee and then take advice from other people around in the Legislature and of course the different caucuses.”

But as a member of the House science, technology and energy committee, Kuch says he has plenty of ideas. Chief among them: lowering electrical costs. Kuch supports Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to veto a pair of bills to subsidize the biomass industry and expand net metering caps, both of which the governor says would raise rates for consumers.

Expanding access to broadband by encouraging private competition, he said, is also a priority.

Boutin, for his part, strongly opposes the governor’s veto, pointing to the projected loss of biomass plants and timber jobs should the veto be sustained. And in speaking to his own priorities, he said that expanding mental health services for juveniles should be a top priority moving forward.

“It’s something that hasn’t been a focus of late, but I feel that we need it,” he said. “If we were to develop a separate facility for juveniles for mental health treatment, empty the beds that they’re in now in New Hampshire Hospital, and then take the people that are in the hospital (emergency rooms) and put them into the New Hampshire Hospital, that would go a long way in addressing the mental health needs of the state of New Hampshire.”

On style, the candidates diverge further. Turning to the proper role of senator, Boutin speaks highly of negotiation and bipartisanship. “Policy matters, and the context of that policy,” he said. “(But) I think that generally speaking, you can find Democrats and Republicans being able to come together in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that addresses (the key areas).”

Kuch agrees with the value of civility, but vowed to stake out more stronger ideological positions if elected.

“I am the conservative candidate, and I think we are the conservative district,” he said.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, 369-3307 or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)