Democratic Candidates for Governor Debate Taxes, Guns, and Refugees

Sep 7, 2016

The major Democratic candidates for governor debated Tuesday night on WMUR-TV. 

Steve Marchand, Colin Van Ostern and Mark Connolly debated topics such as the opioid crisis, climate change and the minimum wage.

But the most relevant question may have been the very first one posed by moderator Josh McElveen.

“According to our latest WMUR/Granite State poll, ¾’s of the electorate don’t know enough about the candidates’ to form an opinion – so with that in mind, tell us something about yourselves,” McElveen asked.

The candidates described their early struggles – Marchand being the first in his family to graduate high school and college, Van Ostern being raised by a single mom and Connolly recounting this story:

“One time when my brother and I and my mother, when I was about nine years old, we were living outside of New Hampshire we had to hide the car in the woods because my mother couldn’t make her car payment," Connolly described.

Signs for the Democratic candidates filled the lawn outside the WMUR studio in Manchester right before the debate.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Such humble roots, stressed the candidates, puts them in touch with the struggles of everyday people.

All also emphasized the need for full-day kindergarten, making the state’s Medicaid expansion permanent and putting more state dollars into public education. But Steve Marchand, who several times mentioned he was the lone candidate to have supported Bernie Sanders during the presidential primary, argued none of his opponents have spelled out where the money would come from.  

“I’m the only candidate in this race talking candidly about the need for more money. If you want things that matter, you have to pay for them," Marchand said. "And I think what you will hear tonight outside of a 10 cents tobacco increase you’re not gonna hear much from them about the need for increased revenue, but we need it to pay for some of these issues.”

The former Portsmouth mayor said he would reverse the recent cut to the state’s business profits tax, increase the state’s gas and cigarette taxes as well as legalize and tax marijuana.

Mark Connolly, who served as the state’s top securities regulator, said he’d restructure the state’s business profits tax and hike the gas tax.

And when it came to how to pay for building commuter rail, which all the Democrats want, Connolly said he’d count on businesses to chip in.

“We have one of the worst transportation systems in the United States and that’s because we are totally reliant on the roads and bridges and they are falling apart," Connolly said. "We have to do a much better job of supporting our infrastructure and we have to build into the 21st Century economy and that's passenger rail.”

"I'm the only candidate in this race talking candidly about the need for more money. If you want things that matter, you have to pay for them," Steve Marchand said.

In addition to agreeing on rail, the candidates also saw eye to eye on Syrian refugees. They said the state should welcome them, and said they disagree with Governor Hassan’s past calls to pause Syrian refugee resettlement.

Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern said the current vetting system may not be perfect, but not letting people into the Granite State based on where they’re from is wrong.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable and sit back and say yes everything will be fine," Van Ostern said. "But I don’t believe that using nationality or religion gets it any stronger, I actually think it weakens the system we have now.”

Another topic where the candidates agreed was tightening gun laws, including banning people with severe mental illnesses from owning a gun and limiting the sale of military style rifles. 

"We have to do a much better job of supporting our infrastructure and we have to build into the 21st Century economy and that's passenger rail," Mark Connolly said.

“I talk to some folks who tell me I have an AR-15 and I like to use it to shoot deer," Marchand said. "And maybe this makes me a little different from some folks, but if you need 30 rounds that you can shoot in 10 seconds in order to shoot a deer, you might want to consider just buying meat.”

As the debate wound down, candidates answered some less urgent issues such as last call at the bar.

Van Ostern said he would leave the decision to cities and towns, Marchand said he’d keep it at 1 a.m. Connolly says he’d push it to 2’oclock.

The Democrats' last call on the debate stage comes Thursday night in Concord.