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How the candidates for NH governor say they’ll address issues affecting children

State House in NH
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
New Hampshire State House.

A series of forums this week focused on childhood wellbeing here in New Hampshire, offering a preview of what’s to come in the race for governor this fall.

NHPR’s senior political reporter Josh Rogers spoke with All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa about how the candidates are positioning themselves on issues affecting children.

Transcript

Democrats Cinde Warmington and Joyce Craig, and Republicans Chuck Morse and Kelly Ayotte, all participated in the separate hour-long discussions held at Saint Anselm College. What did you learn?

Well, Save the Children, which organized the forums, had certain topics they wanted all the candidates to address. One was whether the state should embark on trying to create universal public pre-K education here in New Hampshire. Another was: how would they, as governor, improve access to daycare, including in rural parts of the state? Another issue was: should New Hampshire be doing more to maximize the reach of federally supported nutrition programs administered in schools?

But broadly, this whole thing was really a way for all of these candidates, who are vying for the job Gov. Sununu's now held for eight years, to go on the record on issues families — and most of all, children — are facing in New Hampshire every day.

So, Josh, let's take one of those issues. What did the candidates say on universal pre-K, for instance?

Well, there was a pretty clear partisan split on that one. Democrats Cinde Warmington and Joyce Craig both said New Hampshire needs to join the states that now do have some form of universal pre-K. According to Save the Children, about 40 plus states do. Neither Warmington nor Craig got into many specifics on how to pay for universal pre-K, but both were clear in stating that it was a goal they felt worth pursuing.

The Republicans, Morse and Ayotte, were more circumspect. Morse said his focus was to build on the school policies enacted under Gov. Sununu and to create state budgets that foster prosperity.

Kelly Ayotte, meanwhile, made a broad case for incentivizing outcomes that would benefit children. She talked about possibly forgiving the debt of people who attend state schools, and then commit to work in New Hampshire in certain fields – mental health, for instance. That was one proposal she made.

What about on the daycare front? For many families, daycare is too hard to afford and too hard to find in New Hampshire. What ideas did the candidates float?

Well, all of them acknowledged that daycare workers probably need to get paid more money, but some, Morse most emphatically, said there was little the state could do directly to affect that, other than having a stronger economy. Right now, the average daycare worker in New Hampshire only earns about $13 an hour. All said, the state also needs to enhance the capacity for daycare centers.

There were discussions of giving employers tax incentives to provide on-site daycare for workers, and there were discussions of relaxing zoning rules and other regulations that might make it easier for people to launch home daycare centers, particularly in rural parts of the state and up north.

So some agreement in priorities and some differences on how to get there. What else did you notice during these discussions?

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Well, one thing I noticed was that no one, neither the candidates nor moderators, brought up the crisis New Hampshire's now reckoning with in court and through mediations regarding alleged abuse at the former Youth Development Center. They also didn't bring up the persistent challenges facing the Department of Children, Youth and Families. So that was one thing that stuck out. But broadly, this series of talks amounted to a kickoff of campaign season, and they did give us a sense of how all the candidates view the job they're seeking.

For Chuck Morse, it's clear that all policies, including those dealing with child well-being, tie directly

back to the state budget. For Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, who's pitched herself as the Democrat poised to fight for what she believes, we heard a willingness to be forceful. "Feed the children. Let's start with that,” she said repeatedly at one point during her discussion.

Kelly Ayotte, meanwhile, seemed to be pretty attuned to who was in the audience at these events, mostly people in the child care and education fields, and she really pitched herself as someone wanting to solve problems and as someone opened to taking ideas from anywhere, which is a different vibe than her early campaign's focus that New Hampshire is on the verge of becoming Massachusetts.

And Joyce Craig — she, meanwhile, stressed her mayoral background and argued that it's equipped her to understand how to listen to what communities want when they deal with the state, and that she can deal with these issues from the perspective of someone who's had to lead locally. You know, these are real issues that many people face that tend not to get much attention from candidates. And we'll see how much more attention they get as the campaigns proceed towards Election Day.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.
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