You Asked. They Answered. Candidates For Governor Sound Off on Your Questions.

Sep 22, 2016

Last week, we asked you what you’d ask the candidates running for governor, if given the chance. Since then, you sent us two dozen questions that were on your mind — addressing everything from drug prevention to dealing with infrastructure upgrades to what it's like to run for governor while being a dad.

And when we sat down with Colin Van Ostern and Chris Sununu at our gubernatorial forum on Wednesday, we put a few of those questions directly to the candidates. (In a few cases, some of you submitted questions that overlapped with questions our reporters already had in mind or answers that came up as part of a broader discussion.)

Here’s a roundup of the gubernatorial candidates’ responses on the issues you told us you wanted to know more about.

If you didn't get a chance to submit a question this time, don't worry! You'll have more chances to talk to the candidates. We're sitting down with Gov. Maggie Hassan next week, and you can share your ideas for what to talk about with her right here.

On the Alcohol Prevention and Treatment Fund

Two of you wondered whether the candidates would commit to fully funding the state’s alcohol abuse prevention and treatment fund.  It’s supposed to receive up to 5 percent of state liquor commission profits but has consistently been under-funded, as documented by Manchester Ink Link

Both candidates, when asked if they would make sure the alcohol fund is fully funded: “Yes.”

On the Minimum Wage

A few people also asked about the candidates’ positions on the minimum wage.

Sununu said he’d “defer to the federal minimum wage.” Van Ostern said any increase will likely take place after “a negotiation between our governor and our next legislature.”

“I’ve suggested that a good place to start the negotiation would be $12 an hour. Today it’s $7.25,” Van Ostern said. “I suspect we’ll end up somewhere in the middle.”

“That’s a business killer,” Sununu replied.

On Running for Governor While Also Raising Young Kids

Both of the candidates have young children, and one person wondered: “How does being a father inform your campaign?”

Van Ostern, who has two sons, turned to a story about the enthusiasm his oldest brought to the start of the new school year.

“My son started first grade about two, three weeks ago now. The first day was a Tuesday, so on Monday morning we woke up at 6:30, we live about three-quarters of a mile from our school, and so we did a practice run. Woke up, made breakfast, put on the backpack, walked there, everything was great. The day of school, he woke up at 5, instead of 6:30. And he came into our bed, and he said: ‘I’m so excited, I need a bigger bed to toss and turn in!’ … " Van Ostern recalled. "I am incredibly proud of the community he lives in, the school that he goes to. For me, most of those grades were all in different schools, in different communities. I moved around 18 different times before I came to New Hampshire for a job in my early 20s. And I think every single day about the community and the state that he’s going to grow up in. it’s really important to me.”

Sununu also said being a father has informed his outlook on education policy.

“My son and daughter are 5th and 6th grade, and we have a 3-year-old as well. A lot of what I talk about is about what I know we can do better in the classroom. I’m a big believer in local control. I’m a big believer that in no place in the state has Washington bureaucracy overtaken that local control as much as it has in our classrooms. We need to get rid of that type of regulation. Let teachers do what they do best. Give them the freedom to derive individualized lesson planning. When my son came home 20-plus straight days telling me how he was practicing – practicing – for that Smarter Balanced test, I said this isn’t working," Sununu said. "What happens in my kids’ classrooms, being in those classrooms with my kids, talking to the teachers – that’s a big driver for me."

On Paying for Infrastructure Projects

A few people also asked about the candidates’ positions on funding commuter rail, and at what point they’d be willing to raise taxes to pay for more spending on infrastructure projects.

Van Ostern has called repeatedly for extending commuter rail from Boston into New Hampshire as a way to boost the state’s economy.

“I’ve put together a specific financing plan with Councilor Chris Pappas that shows how we can bring that cost to about $3 [million] to $4 million a year in terms of state funds, and have tax increment finance districts in the regions that will be benefiting the most,” Van Ostern said. “We also need to be maintaining our focus on doing a better job of fixing some of the bridges that are getting out of repairs, which I’ve worked hard to do.”

But Sununu said he would prioritize other infrastructure projects over rail.

“Leadership is about priorities. When it comes to infrastructure, we have 153 red-listed bridges. We have 2,000 miles of road in this state that are qualified as “poor” to “very poor” condition. The Sarah Long Bridge just, literally, broke. These are things that have to get done. I-93 expansion,” Sununu said. “When I got into this election, I talked about things that mattered: jobs, education, fighting the opioid crisis. My opponent was talking about a $300 million boondoggle rail project that would drive 2,000 jobs a day into Boston.”

At the same time, Van Ostern and Sununu were both reluctant to back an increase in the gas tax to offset infrastructure spending.

“We just increased the gas tax a few years ago, and I have said repeatedly throughout the primary campaign that I don’t think that’s where we should go after having just increased it a couple years ago,” Van Ostern said.

“I would not propose raising a gas tax,” Sununu said.

On Renewable Energy

Someone else asked about the candidates’ positions on incentivizing renewable energy. Our panelists didn’t ask about this, specifically, but the candidates did end up talking about renewables as part of a broader discussion on energy issues.

Sununu, who worked for years as an environmental engineer, said he wants to strike a balance when it comes to renewable energy projects.

“It’s not just Northern Pass. It’s not just finding a way to bring more in, making sure we do renewable projects smartly here in New Hampshire, which I have been a big proponent of – just being smarter about our renewables. I’m an environmental engineer. This is what I did: I cleaned up hazardous waste projects, I designed green energy projects, I’ve invested my own personal money into good renewable projects. But you have to be smart about it, taking into account the economic, social and environmental impacts.”

Van Ostern emphasized that he is “passionate about solar and renewable energy projects” — and tried to highlight examples of projects that he supported and Sununu opposed while they served on the executive council together.

“I think what’s most important is that folks look at our records here. The solar array I was at in Durham is the second-biggest one in the state,” Van Ostern said, referring to a recent trip to one such project. “One of many Chris has consistently voted against. In fact, I think he’s probably voted against more solar and renewable energy projects than any politician in state history. I’d love for somebody to compile a whole list.”

Responding to Van Ostern, Sununu acknowledged voting against at least one solar project while on the executive council — in that case, Sununu said he opposed spending $4 million on a solar array in Manchester because it would have only saved the city a fraction of that amount on an annual basis.

“Does that make any sense to anybody? That’s not a good project,” Sununu said.  

For more on where the two candidates stand, you can listen to (or watch) their full conversation right here.