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Republican Candidates for N.H. Governor Divided Over Americans for Prosperity 'Pledge'

Casey McDermott, NHPR
Stacks of signed "pledges" were on display at a ceremony organized by AFP in Concord this week.

Each year since 2010, the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity has asked New Hampshire candidates to sign onto a “pledge” vowing to cut taxes and spending, as well as to oppose the Affordable Care Act.

And usually, the Republicans running for governor are quick to sign on. That's not the case this year.

Two of those candidates, State Sen. Jeanie Forrester and State Rep. Frank Edelblut, attended a pledge-signing ceremony in Concord this week, and both have touted their support for AFP on the campaign trail.

But two other gubernatorial candidates are holding back on aligning with AFP — citing concerns about what this “pledge” would mean for the state’s Medicaid expansion.

Neither Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu has signed the AFP pledge at this point. At a debate in Windham last month, both said they were hesitant to do so without an alternative for the people who are currently covered by Medicaid expansion, which was enacted as a provision of the Affordable Care Act.

“I certainly will look at it, but there are things on there that I believe as a state, when we talk about getting rid of Obamacare, we better have a solution to that problem because 46,000 people will be going to the emergency rooms again, and all of us are going to pay for the increase on health insurance,” Gatsas said last month.

Nate Lamb, a Gatsas spokesman, said Wednesday that Gatsas opposes Obamacare — and, as governor, hopes to “create and implement a New Hampshire based solution to expand insurance coverage for Granite Staters.” But Gatsas doesn’t want to repeal Medicaid expansion before another solution is in place, Lamb said.

Sununu, who did sign onto the AFP pledge when he ran for executive councilor in 2014, echoed Gatsas at the Windham debate.

“I too agree with the vast majority of what’s in that pledge, but I’ll actually agree with Ted on this one,” Sununu said at the time. “I believe in repealing Obamacare. I believe we need better solutions. But we better be smart about how we do those solutions, and what we come across with.”

David Abrams, a Sununu spokesman, said Sununu hasn’t signed the AFP pledge because he wants to “work with the Legislature to achieve an affordable long-term solution for continued access to quality health care, with all ideas on the table, including Medicaid expansion with a work requirement.”

Already, though, Forrester and Edelblut are using the AFP pledge as a way to set themselves apart from Gatsas and Sununu.

Edelblut, at the AFP pledge signing in Concord, said he viewed the pledge as one way he can be clear with voters about where he stands on certain issues.

“In this most recent history, we have candidates who have been in the race who vote for or say one thing and then they turn around and vote another way. I think that’s a tragedy for the voters, because of the lack of transparency,” Edelblut said.

Forrester’s campaign, meanwhile, released a digital ad just hours after the pledge ceremony, hitting Gatsas and Sununu over their decision not to sign on.

This week’s AFP signing ceremony morning attracted a mix of legislative candidates, as well as U.S. Congressman Frank Guinta and Jim Lawrence, who’s running in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District.

Greg Moore, AFP’s state director in New Hampshire, said the group had already received about 250 signed pledges, from candidates registered as both Republicans and Democrats, as of Wednesday morning.

While plenty of conservative candidates have been eager to signal their allegiance to AFP, the “pledge” has drawn ire from Democrats who say that it hinders lawmakers’ ability to reach compromises on important issues and represents out-of-state interests.

AFP is part of a network of advocacy groups backed by conservative megadonors Charles and David Koch. Beyond New Hampshire, there are active AFP chapters in nearly three dozen states across the country.

Credit Courtesy Sam Blair
While some candidates were signing AFP's pledge in Concord, two others held a counter-demonstration — lighting one on fire, in protest.

  As some candidates were attending the signing ceremony in Concord, two others — State Rep. Ivy Vann and State Sen. Candidate Jeanne Dietsch — held a ceremony of their own in Peterborough, where they burned a copy of the AFP pledge in protest.

“Serving in the legislature, I’ve seen the damage this pledge has inflicted on our ability to get things done in Concord,” Vann said in a pre-written statement. “On Medicaid expansion, on marshalling the resources we need to deal with the opioid crisis, on funding for our children’s education – on all these issues, this pledge has forced too many of my Republican colleagues into lock step with the extreme anti-government agenda of the Koch brothers.”

(This post has been updated to correct the attribution in the previous quotation.)

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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