Incoming GOP State Senator Says Expanding School Choice a Top Priority

Dec 27, 2016

Ruth Ward of Stoddard, one of nine incoming New Hampshire state Senators.
Credit Michael Brindley

  When New Hampshire's state Senate convenes for its first session of the year next week, there will be plenty of new faces.

Nine of the legislative body's 24 members are newly elected, and this week, we're hearing from two of those incoming lawmakers.

Ruth Ward is Republican from Stoddard who will represent the Senate’s eighth district. That includes towns like New London, Weare, and Antrim.

Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke sat down with Ward to talk about her new role.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in China. I’m a Swedish citizen. I came over to the United States in 1959 and I am now a legalized United States citizen. I raised a family, went back to school, became a nurse, then went back to school again and got my master’s as a nurse practitioner. I then retired, came up to Stoddard, joined some local community activities. This is my eighth year serving on the planning board.

What do you see as your priorities heading into the state Senate?

I have, over the past couple years, become very much interested in the issue of education. I have seen some of the kids come out and there are just big holes in their understanding and their knowledge. And I’ve seen local control of education go by the wayside.

You’ve been appointed as a member of the education committee, and you say you want to explore vouchers and expand school choice. Can you do that in a way that doesn’t stretch already-thin resources that are available to public schools?

In my local community, I saw somebody who was very upset about having a school choice week at the end of January, thinking it would severely increase taxes people are going to have to pay. My understanding and the way I see it if you have a certain amount of money set aside for each child in the school. Why not give the parents that amount of money and send them to whatever school they prefer instead of forcing them to go to a public school?

Why not give the parents that amount of money and send them to whatever school they prefer instead of forcing them to go to a public school?

  But does that diminish the public school system in the community at all?

It might, but I also think what I’d like to see is to have the public school being much more competitive. They are competitive in other areas, not in New Hampshire necessarily, but in other states, where people will choose what town they’d like to move into depending on the public school system. And I think it wouldn’t hurt to have the public schools be competitive and really vie for the kids to come there.

You worked in healthcare as a nurse practitioner. Do you want to see the state’s Medicaid expansion program continue?

I think we have to take a good look at it. I know it has been expanded for two years, and I think at the end of that, before we go anywhere further, I think we need to take a look at how well it worked before we just arbitrarily continue it.

What would you see as a viable replacement for the roughly 50,000 Granite Staters who now rely on that program?  

I think many of those people are capable of working, and I think for those who are capable of working, we should have a work requirement, but that was struck down, so we can’t do that in New Hampshire. Obviously, there are people who really need some help. There’s no question about it, and we should help. And then there are others who don’t need that much. And I think we need to take a look at who really needs it and who could do something else.

You’re a land steward for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. You’re also on the board of advisors for the Appalachian Mountain Club.

There are concerns from conservation groups about the Northern Pass project in its current form, about how it would impact the state’s scenery and the tourism industry. What’s your position on that project?

I think the only way Northern Pass is going to go through, for me, is if it’s buried. I’ve seen the pictures and the towers are huge and they’re going to down essentially through the spine of New Hampshire. And to have those things all over the place would be absolutely atrocious.

Of course, the project’s supporters say that’s simply not realistic or economically viable.

Right, Northern Pass says that. They’re a private company and my feeling is if this is really what you want to do, you have to bear the cost. I don’t think they have any right to totally make New Hampshire ugly just because it’s cheaper for them to have these transmission lines above ground.

At the same time, businesses say there’s a real need to reduce energy costs. How would you go about doing that?

I am aware of it because I’ve talked with enough of the smaller companies that say the one thing that’s really killing them is the energy costs. I don’t understand why New Hampshire has such high energy costs. And that would be one of the things, when I have an opportunity to find out where is the cost, why is it so high. I do know, for example, that some of the trustees of Eversource paid an incredible amount of money just to be trustees. Is that necessary? Could they just have trustees who are volunteers? And that would significantly reduce costs to Eversource.

Massachusetts and Maine recently legalized marijuana. Would you support legalization here in the Granite State?

At this point, I would say no. I look at marijuana as a gateway drug. People have told me it isn’t, that’s it’s just a relaxant and you should be just fine with it. I don’t have enough information at this point to say go ahead and legalize. So I would say no for me at this point.

I wanted to ask you about voting laws. Governor-elect Chris Sununu has said he would support doing away with same-day voter registration. He says he wants to tighten up voting laws here. Is that something you’re in favor of?

Well, the same-day voting, I’ve never figured out why it’s so necessary. You don’t have 100 people moving into your town the day before voting and then all of a sudden have to register. I’ve always been sort of suspicious of that. But I don’t know if I have such an issue with the same-day with whether you’re a resident, or just sort of live here temporarily. I would like to have a residency requirement.

And what would that look like for you?

I would say at least two weeks being a resident of the state of New Hampshire before you can vote. Because I think if you’re just here temporarily, how can you know what some of the issues of New Hampshire really are? That’s the issue for me.