Questions on Fundraising Prompt Contentious Back-and-Forth at Final Gubernatorial Debate

Nov 1, 2016

Van Ostern and Sununu at an earlier forum hosted by NHPR.
Credit Allegra Boverman, NHPR

  Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern met for their final debate as gubernatorial opponents last night.

And in a night full of them, perhaps the most contentious moment of the final gubernatorial debate between   Sununu and   Van Ostern emerged early on — over a question that boiled down to a matter of trust.

Each of the candidates was asked about donations they’d received during their campaign and whether that money clouded their judgment on public policy issues.

In Sununu’s case, the question was whether donations  from employees of Eversource influenced his decision to support the Northern Pass energy project the company’s trying to build in New Hampshire.

“Look, there’s no active contract sitting before the executive council. There’s no active projects that we’re moving forward on,” Sununu said. “ I’m a supporter of Northern Pass because I know it’s going to drop rates, and I’m a victim of our incredibly high rates.”

In Van Ostern’s case, it was whether donations he received from Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees influenced his stance on whether the state should re-bid a multimillion dollar contract with the hospital in light of its plans to lay off workers.

“Well I think voters should judge us based on the votes that we make and the positions that we take and who we stand up for,” Van Ostern said.  “I’m always going to stand up for the people of New Hampshire.”

But, seizing on this point,Sununu shot back.

“You just asked a question about Colin taking over $40,000 from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and he completely ignored the question,” Sununu told the moderator. “And that’s an issue where there’s an active contract before us, where I’ve stood up and said we need to challenge, we need better management, we need to rebid the contract. Colin did as well, until those contributions came in, and then we’ve heard nothing since.”

Both Sununu and Van Ostern initially voted for the psychiatric staffing contract when it came before the executive council in September. Responding to Sununu Tuesday night, Van Ostern said it was important to add extra staff to the state psychiatric hospital and open a new 10-bed crisis unit that had been sitting vacant before the contract was finalized.

When they weren’t sparring over their records on the executive council, the two candidates spent much of the debate taking hits at the other’s business records or perceived lack thereof.

Sununu took jabs at Van Ostern’s past as a political operative and downplayed his business experience working for Stonyfield Yogurt.

“We’ve heard about Colin’s experience at the yogurt company,” Sununu said. “He was essentially a marketing guy at the yogurt company for three years.”

Van Ostern, in turn, took aim at Sununu’s own political connections…

“Yeah, well it’s no secret that Chris comes from a political family and has been around politics his entire life,” Van Ostern countered.

Van Ostern also repeatedly criticized Sununu’s record as CEO of Waterville Valley — pointing to the resort’s shrinking workforce and market share.

“For the record there are 62 fewer jobs at Waterville Valley than the day Chris Sununu took over,” Van Ostern said, prompting protests from Sununu.

“Again, this is a great example of Colin not having any business experience and background,” Sununu replied. “He’s taking a single data point that he doesn’t understand, and painting a broad political brush with it.”

It took some prodding for the moderator to get the candidates back on track before they resumed their final pitches of the night. But if the final debate was any indication, voters should expect plenty of back-and-forth between the two opponents for the home stretch of the campaign.

Video clips from the full gubernatorial debate can be viewed over at WMUR.