Just days before this election season comes to a close, we're taking a few moments to hear closing arguments from candidates running for statewide office.
All Things Considered Host Peter Biello spoke with the Democratic candidate for governor, state Sen. Dan Feltes.
Peter Biello: So briefly, Sen. Feltes, give us your best pitch: Why should you and not Chris Sununu be New Hampshire's governor for the next two years?
Dan Feltes: Well, health care is on the ballot. I have supported the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. Chris Sununu opposes it. I'm pro-choice. Chris Sununu says he's pro-choice, but around election time, every action in between is anything but. He vetoed insurance coverage for reproductive health care services. He diverted CARES Act money to an anti-choice counseling center and worked to defund Planned Parenthood, and his support of the nomination and confirmation of judges that would work to make abortion illegal, including Brett Kavanaugh. On clean energy: I support it, worked in a bipartisan way. Chris Sununu vetoed all of it. Legalization of marijuana, I support it. Chris Sununu does not. Moving forward to help workers and families: I support paid family and medical leave insurance. Chris Sununu does not.
So, on a host of issues, up and down the ballot. And in this race, the issues of moving forward for New Hampshire families is at stake. And that's what I've done my entire life, Peter, is look out for families, look out for workers. As a legal aid lawyer for about a decade, putting together the state budget as majority leader, chair of the Ways and Means, vice chair of the Finance Committee, looking out for education funding, securing historic education funding, looking out for property tax payers, working to lift people up, not tear people down, working on that fundamental belief. We are all in this together.
Biello: I want to ask you a question about your plan for reopening schools, the part that relies on state level hospitalization numbers to decide whether to close all schools in the state. Of course, different parts of the state have seen widely differing rates of coronavirus infection. So, with respect to that part of your plan that relies on state-level hospitalization numbers: Why not simply let schools stay open or closed on a regional basis, given how different things could be between different parts of our state?
Feltes: Well, there's flexibility in that that plan, I think, Peter, and I think that the upshot is that there is no public health standards in Chris Sununu’s so-called plan. And no plan is perfect, but a plan is better than no plan at all. So we will continue to modify it and actually put a plan in place when we win this race. And Chris Sununu has refused to listen to the medical experts on creating a plan and, like I said, punt it down to the local level, just like Trump punted it down and has refused to listen to the medical experts. Medical experts have been pretty clear: they need to put in place a common sense public mass requirement, including in schools.
So, there's pretty clear distinctions on public health, and school safety is public safety. And we’ve got to look out for our students. We’ve got to look for educators. We've got to look out for working families. And that's what I'll do as governor.
Biello: Let me ask you about restaurants, because in New Hampshire, we've had a half dozen instances or so of transmission of COVID-19 tied to restaurants. It's where maskless indoor activity is allowed in. Such behavior, experts say, is risky in this environment. So would you, as governor, target the restaurant industry for more specific safety measures, including shutdowns?
Feltes: Well, I think the restaurant industry has suffered immensely in this crisis. And what we did early on, myself and others, as request that the CARES Act money that came into the state that Senator Shaheen and Senator Hassan secured for New Hampshire, $1.25 billion, that a part of it be geared towards and prioritize our restaurant and hospitality industry to deal with these challenges. And that wasn't a priority in how Chris Sununu divvied up the money
Biello: Is that to say that as governor it would be a priority for you?
Feltes: Yes, absolutely.
Biello: And what about safety measures? Are there safety measures that restaurants are not taking right now, since they are such a risky place, to dine indoors that you think they should be taking?
Feltes: Well, I think a lot of restaurant owners are taking responsibility, and masks are required in most places when you're not eating the food. And so that makes good sense and the plexiglass activities. But we need to support our restaurant and hospitality industry by providing them with real relief, including bridging that gap over the winter time. Winter time is going to be very tough for this industry, and it's going to result in, if there isn't support there for the restaurant and hospitality industry, that's going to result in increased layoffs - disproportionally low and middle income workers, disproportionately women who are taking it on the chin in this crisis.
Biello: The pandemic has laid bare many big problems in New Hampshire's health care systems. In particular, insufficient workforces, financial shortfalls, racial inequities. In the short term, the state has tried to address some of that through one-time federal relief money, with bonuses for nursing home workers, for instance. But what's needed in the long term, Senator Feltes? And what are the major investments you'd prioritize to help our state health system?
Feltes: Early on, I proposed a frontline worker fund for all of our frontline workers, including all of our health care workers. Ultimately, Chris Sununu went forward with a very limited, both in time and support, frontline worker fund. But we need to go back to that, number one.
Number two, we need to reinstate and raise the minimum wage. We got frontline workers who are working hard and living in poverty. Chris Sununu, as you know, current governor opposes the minimum wage, has vetoed it twice while taking a $31,000 pay raise for himself as governor. I would reject the pay raise that Chris Sununu gave himself and go back to the pay that Maggie Hassan was paying herself as governor, unless and until we reinstate and raise the minimum wage.
Third, we need paid family medical leave insurance to make sure that we support our workers on the ground and health care workers on the ground.
Biello: Some of what you just mentioned requires additional spending. We've seen one-time federal relief money come in to help people with bonuses, but that's going to run out so. So how do you propose paying for those initiatives that you're bringing us as assistance to New Hampshire workers?
Feltes: Well, Peter, there's available federal funds. There's a question of prioritizing. And the priority was not there under the current governor.
Biello: But is it sustainable if it's dependent on federal funds?
Feltes: It's sustainable to the extent that you map it out in a way that that makes sense. And look, we're going to have other federal support coming in, hopefully, and we need to make sure that we protect this budget and build off of it. I don't support an income tax. I do support moving forward with business tax reform so that big multi-state, multinational corporations pay more of their fair share to the state of New Hampshire, companies like Netflix and Amazon, who paid nothing prior to the last budget that we created, which secured historic education funding, relief and property taxes, supporting our schools. Those companies started paying their fair share and a lot of other companies that are selling products into the state that hadn't paid prior need to pay their fair share to relieve the pressure on businesses, our schools, our property taxpayers right here in the state of New Hampshire. So that's just good common sense. I know the current governor doesn't want to close those loopholes for big corporations, multi-state multinational corporations. I do.