Democratic U.S. Senate Candidate Maggie Hassan on Vetting Refugees & Closing Tax Loopholes

Oct 3, 2016

Read All About It: Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Maggie Hassan recently joined NHPR's Laura Knoy and Josh Rogers for an hour-long discussion -- part of our Conversations with the Candidates series. 

In this election season, antipathy toward free trade has been an unlikely area of agreement – particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, opposed by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. President Obama has seemed the lone Democrat championing the deal, calling it an economic and national security imperative.

When it comes to choosing sides between Obama or Clinton, Hassan said she's with Hillary Clinton on this one:

“I oppose the TPP deal… because I don’t think it protects workers well enough,” Hassan said during a Conversations with the Candidates interview on NHPR.   After two terms as governor, Hassan hopes to unseat incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte.

“I don’t think [TPP] promotes American values or protects the environment well enough.  And the dispute resolution in that trade deal is really, really weighted towards very large corporations.”

Hassan said that she considers every trade deal on its merits, based on how it might affect the N.H. economy. 

GOVERNING NEW HAMPSHIRE

We asked Hassan whether the following problems during her tenure as Governor might be considered failures of management on her part:  A mental health settlement the state is struggling to meet the terms of; a child welfare agency that failed to protect children who ended up dying; and persistent questions about the state’s contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock at New Hampshire Hospital.

Hassan first emphasized what she views as successes, including the response to the heroin and opioid epidemic, freezing tuition at the state university system, and a low unemployment rate.

Then she turned to what she referred to as “challenges.”

“From my first day in office I started focusing on a terribly under-resourced mental health system in New Hampshire… We have to have a community-based mental health system. That’s why I settled the lawsuit that had been brought against the state.  And instead of spending time litigating, I really focused on how we could increase resources into that system.”

On the Dartmouth-Hitchcock contract:  “We have been assured that they have the resources to staff  the contract as required and we have mechanisms for holding them accountable.”

On problems at DCYF: “We brought in outside experts, an outside agency nationally known to completely review top to bottom our child protective services."

A RECORD OF BIPARTISANSHIP?

Hassan often touts a climate of bipartisanship during her time as Governor. But, said NHPR senior political reporter Josh Rogers, her record as a state senator was far more partisan.

Hassan rejected that premise, pointing to a bipartisan deal she helped broker to overturn a health care law she said had caused small business health insurance premiums to rise significantly.   “What I always look for is ways that you can get to `yes.’  And there are many, many, many bills that passed in the N.H. state senate with bipartisan votes.”

But Hassan acknowledged some votes that reflected philosophical differences between the parties. “I’m very proud of the fact that Democrats in the NH Senate while I was majority leader passed marriage equality at a time when most other states hadn’t done that.”

EMERGENCY FUNDING FOR FIGHTING THE DRUG CRISIS

Audience member Sheila from the Young Professionals Network of Manchester asked Hassan: “What will you do as U.S. senator to ensure states have resources they need to support substance use disorder prevention , treatment, and recovery services?”

Hassan said she has joined other governors in calling upon the federal government for emergency funding. “I’m very disappointed that CARA (the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act) doesn’t have funding.  What I would do in the U.S. Senate is continue to work with members of both parties to really advocate for and secure that funding.”

Hassan singled out the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate for opposing commonsense measures, such as emergency funding.  “I’m very concerned that we need to change the way that Senate is running.  You have a majority that stands with special interests at the expense of the people and businesses of NH.”

MONEY IN POLITICS

Many of our listeners asked Hassan how she would combat the “corrupting influence”  of money in politics as senator.

“I’m the only candidate in this race who supports the overturning of the Citizens United decision. I also support the federal disclosure act, which would bring much more sunlight into our campaign finance process, which my opponent has voted against.”

Senator Ayotte has faulted Hassan for not accepting her offer to sign her People's Pledge to try to limit outside money in the campaign.

Josh Rogers asked whether Hassan regretted that decision, given the amount of money that has flooded the campaign. At last count 5 out of every 6 dollars has been spent by outside groups, most of it going to negative ads, he said.

Hassan said Ayotte rejected her proposal to strengthen the pledge.

But Josh Rogers said many voters have told him they feel that neither candidate has come across as terribly sincere in this effort: “Ayotte proposed the pledge after benefiting from outside spending.  You proposed a cap on candidate spending when in fact outside spending is probably the bigger problem and you were going to be a big beneficiary.”

Hassan's response: “I’m on the record saying that I would support the disclose act, which my opponent has actually voted against,” she said. “I think outside money in politics is definitely a problem but so is overall money in politics.”

STANDING BY HER STANCE ON REFUGEES

Last November, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, Hassan called for a temporary pause in allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S., citing concerns about terrorism and the refugee-vetting process. She was the only Democratic governor to do so, and many refugee advocates faulted her for the position, claiming the resettlement process is already very stringent.

Despite worsening conditions in Syria, Hassan stands by that decision and said she's disappointed that improvements have not yet been made in the vetting system.

“When you listen to FBI and CIA directors and also we know that ISIS has targeted the refugee system, it’s appropriate to take a temporary pause and make sure it is safe… Now, it’s also really important that we not demonize any single group or entity and that we continue to be the welcoming country that we always have been. But the two are not mutually exclusive, we can be strong and we can be safe and welcoming.”

CHILDCARE COSTS AND TAX LOOPHOLES

Mike, of the Manchester Young Professionals Network, asked how child care could be made more affordable for families.

Hassan said the cost of childcare can be a real barrier to the workplace. She said her Innovate 2.0 plan calls for expanding opportunities for families, investing more in child care and early childhood education.

“We can offset the cost of that by closing some of the unnecessary tax loopholes that we can’t afford,”  she said. Among them: Tax breaks for big oil companies and companies that outsource.

WE ASKED FOR QUICK RESPONSES TO A FEW QUESTIONS

A carbon tax?  Hassan said she instead supports a cap and trade system and increasing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The push to add a public option to the ACA?   I will look at it closely, but I don’t think so.

Is the Dodd-Frank bill too tough or not tough enough?  It's important to keep it, with some improvements and adjustments. We need a strong consumer protection bureau.

GUN RIGHTS, GUN LAWS

We asked Hassan about Second Amendment rights and public safety in light of mass shootings.

“We have a long tradition in New Hampshire of a balanced approach here to gun safety,” she said. Hassan called for expanding background checks and also said she would support a ban on so-called assault weapons.

“There is no evidence to support the notion that just arming everybody is going to make us more safe. In fact there is strong evidence to support otherwise. But here’s the thing, we have to balance Second Amendment rights with the right of people to be safe.”

KIND WORDS FOR YOUR OPPONENT?

We ended with maybe the toughest question for any candidate locked in a tight race: What does Hassan like about her opponent?

After a bit of a pause, she mentioned Ayotte's opposition to the Internet sales tax and her work on comprehensive immigration reform. But Hassan concluded with a familiar attack, accusing Ayotte of “standing with special interests at the expense of the middle class.”

We have extended an invitation to Senator Ayotte and hope to sit down with her in the coming weeks.