Race for governor: Sununu, Kelly like apples and oranges

  • Democratic challenger for governor, Molly Kelly, stopped by Mack's Apples in Londonderry Wednesday morning. Paul Steinhauser—

  • Gov. Chis Sununu landed the endorsement on Wednesday of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB_NH), which represents some 1,400 small businesses in the Granite State. Paul Steinhauser—

For the Monitor
Published: 10/10/2018 4:55:42 PM

Andy Mack, the patriarch of what’s believed to be New Hampshire’s oldest family-run apple farm, is no fan of Gov. Chris Sununu.

“I’d throw the bum out,” Mack said of the state’s Republican governor, as he spoke with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Molly Kelly on Wednesday.

Sununu’s challenger in November’s election met with Mack and employees of the eight generation family-owned business in Londonderry, to spotlight the deep differences between her and the governor over a high profile paid family and medical leave bill.

“What I want to do as governor is make paid family medical leave a reality,” the former five-term state senator from Harrisville vowed.

She said she hears from people every day about how they worry about losing pay or even their job when taking time off to care for a loved one.

“I hear that from mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. And so we need to change that. And it’s important that we do,” she said.

That sounded like a good deal to Mack.

“We want our people to be treated well and your program would help us,” Mack said.

Kelly supports a state House of Representatives bill (HB 628), which passed the GOP majority chamber three times earlier this year. The legislation would have created a state-run program, available to all private-sector employees, to allow for up to six weeks of paid leave for pregnancies, illnesses and other qualifying conditions. Participating employees would pay in .67 percent of wages and the program, administered by the state Department of Employment Security, is expected to cost about $14.5 million to set up.

But after the threat of a veto from Sununu, the Republican-dominated state Senate voted down the measure.

In a letter to lawmakers at the time, the governor said he worried about the proposed program’s price tag, burdensome wage contributions and ability to sustain itself.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday following a campaign event, Sununu once again took aim at the measure Kelly supports.

“I did oppose their plan because it was a terrible idea for New Hampshire. It was essentially an income tax and any leader of the state has to stand against that, and come up with better solutions, creative solutions, voluntary plans that really work for the people,” the governor said.

Sununu said he will make passing a paid family leave plan a priority in his second term.

“We can get a voluntary paid medical leave plan done in New Hampshire, done the New Hampshire way,” he said.

“I’ve always supported a voluntary paid family medical leave program. But one that is solvent, that potentially will not go bankrupt,” he added.

Kelly pointed out that Sununu campaigned in favor of paid family and medical leave as he successfully ran for governor in the 2016 election, but didn’t follow through on his pledge.

“When he had the opportunity to push it through and get it signed into law, he stopped it in the Senate,” she said.

Kelly once again criticized Sununu for referring to the program as “vacation” during a forum in August.

“He called it a ‘vacation.’ We know that’s out of touch with what working families feel and what they do and the challenges that we all have. I know that because I’ve lived that and I understand that,” Kelly said, referencing her years as a single mom who worked her way through college.

The Kelly campaign seems to be banking on paid family medical leave as an effective campaign issue. Kelly’s first general election television commercial titled Families,” which hit the airwaves on Sunday, features workers and a widow who explain why the program would help them.

“My son has cerebral palsy, and he needs me,” said a woman in the spot. Another highlighted that “my husband had brain cancer. I needed to be there for him.”

Sununu also launched his first TV ad of his re-election campaign this week.

In the spot, an upbeat commercial that highlights his accomplishments in his first term in the corner office, Sununu said “New Hampshire is back and better than ever.” The ad doesn’t mention Kelly.

“Businesses are coming back, and we’re creating thousands of new jobs,” Sununu says. “We’re balancing the budget without raising taxes. We said no to tax hikes, toll hikes and costly regulations.”

Sununu later explained that his message was simple. “The economy drives the success for the state of New Hampshire,” he said.

Sununu spoke with reporters after landing the endorsement of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents some 1,400 small businesses in the Granite State.

In backing Sununu, the organization’s state director Bruce Berke praised the current governor.

“The governor has demonstrated a strong understanding of what it takes to operate a business in New Hampshire. He’s done so by creating a positive business climate,” Berke said.

Berke pointed to the governor’s push to reduce business taxes and eliminate some 1,600 state regulations.

The endorsement took place at North Country Tractor’s Pembroke location. The small business sells John Deere products. Prior to the endorsement event, Sununu took off his tie and took a spin on a John Deer riding lawnmower.

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