Candidate forum divides Democratic N.H. Senate hopefuls on backgrounds, philosophies

Candidate forum divides Democratic N.H. Senate hopefuls on backgrounds, philosophies

Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2016 12:00 pm

They may belong to the same party, yet their differences rang through all the same.

Five Democratic candidates for N.H. Senate gathered before a crowd in the Keene Public Library Tuesday, pressing their cases to voters at a forum ahead of the Sept. 13 primary. The forum was sponsored by the Cheshire County Democrats.

Sitting at a panel facing an audience of about 50, the candidates — two running for Senate District 9 and three for District 10 — shared their proposals and answered audience questions. They touched on topics including education funding, broadband access and the New Hampshire tax code.

But the biggest contrasts emerged as candidates went into their backgrounds, and their proposed governing styles.

Jeanne Dietsch and Lee Nyquist, candidates for District 9, sought to present their private sector careers as qualifiers for their roles as public representatives. Dietsch highlighted her experience in developing robotic technology that she said was later picked up by Microsoft. Nyquist pointed to his record as a lawyer and president of the Manchester Bar Association and N.H. Association of Justice.

District 9 includes the local towns of Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Hancock, Jaffrey, Peterborough, Richmond and Troy.

“My father was an entrepreneur, and so I was an entrepreneur,” Dietsch said. “I have always looked into the future, often into the horizon, because I am a person who sees where things are headed and what we have to do to get there.”

Nyquist cited his experience as a litigator who once fought unsuccessfully for equal rights for LGBTQ people in New Hampshire as evidence he would be a champion for the people.

“I have honed skills that will bring people who have diverse interests and very different opinions together,” he told the crowd.

The District 10 candidates — Kris Roberts, Benjamin Tilton and Jay Kahn — contrasted on the types of experience they would bring to the role.

Roberts, of Keene, and Tilton, of Swanzey, are both N.H. House representatives, serving Keene Ward 1 and Richmond and Swanzey, respectively. Kahn, a Keene city councilor, has long been involved in public higher education, having served as vice president for finance and planning at Keene State College for 27 years, and also as interim president.

“I am the most qualified person running,” Roberts said, citing his 12 years as a state representative and his time as a Keene city councilor.

Tilton said he was looking to get away from the partisanship in the 400-member N.H. House and move to the 24-member N.H. Senate, which he said allows more opportunity for compromise.

Kahn said he wanted to take his 40 years of experience in helping people through education and apply it to the district.

District 10 encompasses Keene and the towns of Alstead, Chesterfield, Gilsum, Harrisville, Hinsdale, Marlborough, Nelson, Roxbury, Sullivan, Surry, Swanzey, Walpole, Westmoreland and Winchester.

Speaking on political positions, the candidates often stood united with Democratic party norms.

They all took issue with the state’s tax structure, centered around property taxes, with almost everyone calling for new sources of revenue through broad-based taxes. Dietsch proposed taxing dividends and capital gains as one solution; her opponent, Nyquist, focused on gas and cigarette taxes as other approaches.

Tilton raised the idea of a higher tax on luxury items over $1,000, while Kahn said he would start a discussion in Concord on a range of taxes, including sales, income and value-added tax.

Roberts said that raising taxes was important, but likely unfeasible. He would instead focus on efforts to raise people’s income by ensuring the state pays 30 percent of owed retirement pay, saying it would have a higher chance of success.

Asked by a representative from Impact Monadnock, a local nonprofit initiative focusing on early childhood development, about how they would support the efforts to help young children, all candidates said more funding. The candidates also agreed with efforts to increase broadband access by increasing municipal bonding, though Roberts suggested a direct approach of mandating companies extend their networks by adding requirements to existing town-by-town cable franchise contracts.

Kahn, in a phone call today, objected to that approach, which he said runs contrary to rules set down by the Federal Communications Commission forbidding cable TV agreements to be used to regulate telecommunications.

At one point, the legislative records of the two representatives on the panel were critically examined.

An early question from the audience brought up Roberts’ and Tilton’s House votes, noting that both were listed in the top three of N.H. House Democrats voting in line with Republican issues by the House Republican Alliance. Roberts received a rating of 39.2 percent and Tilton 42.7 percent.

The audience member questioned whether their records would hinder their ability to represent N.H. Democrats.

Tilton replied that it demonstrated his ability to be bipartisan and reach across the aisle. Roberts said he had voted with his conscience and always did what he believed was right for Keene residents.

But the most striking contrast came near the end, when Roberts and Kahn struck different chords about how they would conduct their work.

Kahn said he would seek bipartisan compromise, reiterating a quote he had delivered to The Sentinel editorial board last week: {span}“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. …

“I ask you: Are you tired of partisan gridlock?” he said to the audience, saying he was standing as someone who will collaborate across party lines.

But Roberts rebutted the notion that compromise was the best approach, cutting into Kahn’s quote with an example of his own.

“Speaking as a marathoner who did 2:30 in the Boston Marathon, you have to pick a time when it’s time to run fast alone and stay with pack,” he said. “You never compromise if it violates your principles.”

Tilton, in his closing remarks, said he would shy away from a combative approach in office.

“I come from different background, he said. “I’m more of a listener and talker.”

The winner of the Democratic primary in District 9 will face incumbent Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford. The District 10 Democratic primary winner will face Chester Lapointe of Keene.

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