Democratic Nomination in Hand, Van Ostern Says He'd Take State Forward as Governor

Sep 15, 2016

Colin Van Ostern
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Democratic Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern won his party's nomination for governor Tuesday. He'll face fellow councilor and Republican Chris Sununu in the general election.

Van Ostern spoke with NHPR's Morning Edition the day after the primary.

You talked in your speech Tuesday night about how as governor, you’d leave politics and partisanship at the door, but are there core issues that as a Democrat you’d stand firm on and not be willing to compromise?

Sure, there are things like protecting women’s right to choose and ensuring women have access to health care that I’ve been a champion for in the State House. I think we need a governor who will stand up for women’s health 100 percent of the time and not let politics get in the way. And most of my focus is on what we can do to strengthen our economy, bringing and keeping young people and families in our state.

You’re seeking to replace fellow Democrat Maggie Hassan, who’s running for U.S. Senate. Are there areas where the state needs to do better than it has under the last four years under her leadership?

Well, I think New Hampshire’s ready to take the next step forward. I’ve worked closely with Maggie Hassan; she’s a great governor. Most of the time we agree; sometimes we disagree. That’s the way things work in New Hampshire. What’s important is we now focus on strengthening our economy, bringing and keeping good jobs, good schools, keeping taxes low. I think those are the things that matter in people’s lives, and that’s what I’ll focus on.

You’ve worked with Chris Sununu on the Executive Council. What’s your relationship been like with him and where do you see some of the biggest differences between the two of you?

We have a good working relationship. I think that’s important to be able to work people across the aisle. We certainly have disagreed on a lot of the major issues the state has faced and is facing. I have been fighting for things like implementing the bipartisan expansion of healthcare under the New Hampshire Health Protection Plan which now covers 50,000 people, including critical drug addiction treatment and support services. I’ve stood up 100 percent of the time for Planned Parenthood funding, investing more in fuller and renewable energy, trying to get commuter rail from Boston up to the central part of the state. Chris has had different views, strong views on all of those. And we’ll have the next 56 days to have a robust debate about how we can take the next step forward for our state’s future.

I did want to touch on the controversy surrounding the Dartmouth-Hitchcock contract to run the state’s mental health hospital. Dartmouth-Hitchcock announcing it would lay off up to 460 employees just days after you and the other Executive Councilors voted to give them that $36 million contract. Did you have any idea that the layoffs were coming, and, if not, do you feel the council was misled?

We were not notified and I’m disappointed to hear about the layoffs. But I also pushed very hard to make sure that this contract has specific staffing requirements, which, frankly, can’t be relaxed, regardless of the layoffs. So we have specific requirements for how many doctors, nurses, health care practitioners, what their experience is, their board certification. All of that must be provided to our state hospital and other state facilities. We cannot relax that even a little bit. We have to ensure that patient care comes first here.

Sununu says the state needs to tear up the contract and put the proposal up for bid again. Is he wrong?

I think we need to do what’s right for patient care and leave the politics out of it. This is a very sensitive patient population. They have good medical care right now. It’s important that we keep that care at very, very high standards. But I don’t think disagreements between us and a contractor should stand in the way of patients getting the best care that they need, which is what we really should be focused on.