Friday October 5, 2012

HENNIKER, N.H. -- New Hampshire’s two candidates for governor differed sharply over right-to-work among other issues Thursday during their fifth debate.

They also sparred over education funding, the management of Medicaid and Affordable Care Act funds, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative at the debate held at New England College.

Democrat Maggie Hassan says she opposes right-to-work legislation, which would limit unions’ ability to collect fees from nonunion workers. Republican Ovide Lamontagne says he favors right-to-work, saying it gives employees freedom of choice.

Embracing right-to-work, Lamontagne said, would make New Hampshire "a beacon" for employers. He said New Hampshire would be the first state north of Virginia and east of Indiana to pass right-to-work.

Hassan said she equates right-to-work with "a right to work for less and lower wages."

"The only way a worker can be required to pay dues to a union is if the employer and employees negotiate that term," she said.

Both candidates favor a casino in southern New Hampshire, but Lamontagne said he would support it only it if it’s located at Rockingham Park in Salem.

Hassan said that with Massachusetts planning three or four casinos, New Hampshire has to be competitive, even in the face of opposition from resort and restaurant owners who fear a casino would funnel off their business.


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"I don’t want our gambling revenues and rooms and meals money to be spent in Massachusetts," Hassan said.

Hassan continued to cast Lamontagne as being aligned with ultra-conservative bills passed in the state legislature and House Speaker Bill O’Brien, while Lamontagne continued his criticism of tax and fee hikes while Hassan -- who was Senate Majority leader in 2009 -- partnered with Gov. John Lynch to fashion a budget.

Lamontagne was asked how he is different from O’Brien and Hassan was asked how she would differ from Lynch as governor. While he commended the legislature for its "real math" approach to the budget, Lamontagne said his budget priorities would be different but didn’t specify how. Hassan said she has some policy differences with Lynch but didn’t say what they are.

Both candidates said they would take a cautious approach to the Northern Pass proposal -- keeping an open mind while guarding the North Country’s natural beauty.

Common questions and threads have run through the five debates and by now, it’s no secret that Lamontagne wants the federal government to block grant funds for Medicaid and President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul so New Hampshire can fashion its own plan and programs. Hassan fiercely opposes that approach, saying she doesn’t want state lawmakers -- and particularly O’Brien’s supporters -- fashioning health benefits packages.

In the face of Lamontagne’s repeated attacks on her record of tax and fee increases, Hassan twice promised to veto any legislation to impose a sales or income tax.

Lamontagne said he would repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative -- known as RGGI -- calling it an "artificial burden" on utility companies that ultimately drives up charges to ratepayers. Hassan defended it, saying it has created 400 jobs and serves as an incentive for new kinds of energy development.

Hassan and Lamontagne have scheduled a total of 12 debates before the Nov. 6 election. One political pundit quipped during Thursday’s debate that for that 12th debate, they should switch roles to test how well they’ve memorized each other’s answers.

Lamontagne and Hassan are vying to fill the seat opened up by Lynch’s retirement after four terms.