Meet The Candidates: Dan Feltes, Democrat Running For Governor | New Hampshire Public Radio

Meet The Candidates: Dan Feltes, Democrat Running For Governor

Jul 23, 2020

Dan Feltes
Credit Todd Bookman for NHPR

The Exchange continues its summer series of primary candidate interviews with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes. He has served in the state Senate since 2014 and currently serves as Senate Majority Leader. We discuss his proposal for school re-opening amid the coronavirus pandemic, police reform, environmental issues, and more. 

Air date: Friday, July 24, 9 to 9:20 a.m.

To hear this conversation, which was part of the Weekly N.H. News Roundup, click here!

Transcript

This is a computer generated transcript and may contain errors. 

Peter Biello:
I'm Peter Biello and this is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange. Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes is running in the Democratic primary for governor. Today as part of our series of conversations with primary candidates, we'll speak with him about a variety of issues on voters' minds. Senator Feltes, thank you very much for being here. We really appreciate it.

Sen. Dan Feltes:
You got it, Peter. How are you doing?

Peter Biello:
Doing well. Thanks very much. So let's dive right in. Of course, school reopening is on the minds of lots of parents and educators right now. You outlined a school reopening plan this week that would require middle and high school students to wear masks. Elementary students would be encouraged to wear them. Governor Chris Sununu has said this is a decision that should be left to local communities. So you seem to feel differently. Why? Why is this not best handled locally?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Well, first and foremost, Governor Sununu said basically every decision would be left to local communities, like with five or so weeks to go before school starts, Peter. All parents want and all teachers wanted and all our kids wanted was some element of certainty and public health standards and public health support for our school districts. What Chris Sununu delivered wasn't certainty. It was absolute chaos. One hundred percent local control, 100 percent flexibility means Chris Sununu takes no responsibility. It's the same thing Trump did, punted it down, Sununu punted it down. And now our schools, our families and our teachers are left without any guidance at all and any support at all with just a few weeks to go. That's not right. That's not leadership. That's playing politics in a pandemic. So what we did, Peter, is work together with public health experts, working families, teachers on the ground, developed our own plan to put out there. It's called Live Free and Learn Safe. It provides clear public health guidance to our teachers, to our school districts. It lays out certain guidance about what happens when a kid gets sick, what happens with buses and with meals. What happens in scheduling if something happens. Clear, distinct guidance. And also, Peter, supports our schools. So, for example, teachers get under this plan, medical grade N95 masks. The average teacher, Peter, spends over 400 bucks a year in New Hampshire, out-of-pocket costs at school just to do their job. They shouldn't be spending any more out of pocket to be safe to do their job. So medical grade N95 mass for teachers, cloth reuseable face coverings, five provided at the beginning of school year for every kid in the state. That's what North Carolina did. If North Carolina can do it, New Hampshire can do it. Required in middle school and high school and on buses, onsite testing capacity, making sure that we take care of cleaning in the schools, making sure there are clear guidelines on social distancing and clear guidance on buses.

Peter Biello:
Well, can I ask you about the cleaning situation? Because your plan calls for closing a school for a minimum of two days if there is a confirmed case to allow time for cleaning. If there's a risk of infection heading into the new school year, why not just require remote instruction across the state for at least the fall?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Well, Peter, what we've seen from the American Pediatric Society and others is that it is preferable to, if possible and if safely, to have in classroom instruction. What is going on right now is that the state under Chris Sununu has not provided the resources or the certainty or the public health guidance for school districts to safely reopen. So each school district is doing their own thing. And you know what? Folks on local school boards, they show up. They're serving the public in good faith. They're not in most cases, not epidemiologists. They're not public health experts. They're doing their best. And what Chris Sununu did is just throw up his hands and said, you know what? You're on your own. I am of that belief that we are all in this together and that leadership means making decisions, laying out clear public health guidance, whether it's on cleaning and buses and meals and what happens when the kid gets sick. And actually providing the support for our schools. Instead, Chris Sununu has not provided the support for our schools, the financial support. In fact, he supports Betsy DeVos and Trump administration's siphoning off public tax dollars to private schools. Even right now under Coronavirus relief efforts. That's not right. We need to plan for this and plan for the fall for our students, for our families and our communities.

Peter Biello:
Let's stay on the topic of schools for a moment. You've touted the recent budget as the most progressive state budget in state history, with the biggest public education budget increase in state history, the biggest increase for school since Governor Shaheen was in office. But what is your plan long term for funding public education in New Hampshire?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Thanks, Peter, we did that based on closing loopholes for big multistate multinational corporations, including companies that sell products into New Hampshire like Netflix and Amazon. Based on our corporate tax code, which is a big chunk of the state budget, those sales were not payable on our corporate tax code. So closing that loophole so companies like big multi-state multinational companies like Netflix and Amazon actually pay to the state of New Hampshire. That's in part how we develop the biggest public school education budget in state history. So I don't support a broad based income tax. I respect folks who take that position. But there is, in my view, what we need to do is close loopholes for those at the top. Big corporations and those at the top, have them pay their fair share so middle class families who are taking it on the chin and property taxes get some relief. We invest in our schools and our communities and our teachers. We build a better future for Iris and Josie, Erin and I's daughters, everybody's daughters and sons. I happen to believe the best investments we can make as a society are the investments we make in our kids. They're our future and they deserve an opportunity and a foundation for success that's as strong as the granite under our soil. Got to build a bigger and better and brighter future for everybody. We can continue down that pathway, protect this budget. Listen to the school funding commission and their recommendations. But we also have to do things like pre-K. We're one of only six states that do not provide support for pre-K. I first ran in 2014 talking about a full day-K and we finally did this in this budget, despite Chris Sununu's objections, despite Chris Sununu wanting to tie kindergartners to KENO revenue. We finally untied that. We finally supported kindergartners like any other grade schooler. Early childhood education is critical and we got to support education from cradle to career. We can continue to do that by closing those loopholes for those at the top.

Peter Biello:
Let me ask you about race and racial issues here in New Hampshire. As governor, what is the first step you take to address systemic racism in New Hampshire?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
First and foremost, I'd create and I've proposed this, an office of racial equity within the governor's office. You need to lead from example and do that. So Vermont has done something similar. But the person who directs the office would be a person of color who would be housed within the governor's office. That office would work to identify systemic issues within state government, issues that disproportionately negatively impact communities of color, state policies that have that impact, identify them and work to eradicate them, but also involve communities of color in decision making at the state level to make sure that we are cognizant of and do the outreach that's necessary to include more people in our democracy and economy. And in addition to that, provide recommendations on key posts within state government of persons of color. That's critical, Peter, to do that. Vermont's done it. We should do it. You can do that right now. Sununu could do it right now.

Peter Biello:
Governor Sununu, does he deserve any credit for the steps he's taken recently, including convening the COVID-19 equity response team?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Chris Sununu has said systemic racism doesn't exist. And look, it's one thing to create committees. That's another thing to acknowledge what actually exists and actually take concrete steps to move forward. I'm grateful that Chris Sununu ended up signing our criminal justice reform package, banning chokeholds as a mechanism for police, making sure that we have comprehensive bail reform. However, there's a lot more steps to do. And a step starts by acknowledging that systemic racism exists everywhere and whether it's subtle or overt. Caught on tape or not. Every day, our black brothers and sisters face words, actions and policies that rob them of the American dream. We need to recognize that if we're gonna take steps moving forward. And as a legal aid lawyer prior to serving in the state Senate, Peter, I've worked combating housing discrimination all around the state. Working with the Manchester NAACP, the former president of the Manchester NAACP supports this campaign, helped them work with this campaign. We need policies that address this across the board, economic and housing justice, criminal justice reform. And it starts by acknowledging the problems exist.

Peter Biello:
What's your take on the debate regarding defunding the police?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
I don't support defunding the police. What I support is making sure that we do reform and real reform. We've taken some steps recently banning chokeholds, making sure that there is psychological exams. But we need implicit bias training. We need to update our police standards and training. And we need to continue to move down the pathway of those reforms. We also need to protect everybody and relieve the pressure on our police by advancing our behavioral health system, Peter. We've made some steps on that. A bill I sponsored, Comprehensive Children's System of Care, a state wide mobile crisis intervention and stabilization services for children in distress, whether child protection involved or not. But we need support across the continuum of care. We need to support communities who are crying out for help right now. Like Manchester and others that are talking about homelessness and mental health issues and they need the capacity. Under Chris Sununu, he created something called the Doorways program, but it was largely a doorway to nowhere, despite the best efforts of people on the ground. We need capacity in the back end, we need the back room. It's one thing to have a doorway and a referral system, it's another thing to have the capacity on the back end. And so we need to deal with treatment capacity in the state. Chris Sununu has vetoed addiction treatment services and other capacity issues. But we need to build up the capacity and do it at the state level. That relieves pressure on police. That focuses more on what they were trained to do. And it focuses more, all of us, on bringing down health care costs and providing access to everybody.

Peter Biello:
Let's talk to David in Keene. David, thank you very much for calling. What's your question?

Caller:
You're welcome. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and requires bold action. What would you do as governor to combat the climate crisis?

Peter Biello:
Thank you very much, David. Dan Feltes?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Thank you, David. Appreciate that. We're facing an existential threat. We've got to address that at the local, state and national level. We have a lot of work to do across three sectors of thermal energy, heating, home heating, electric and also transportation. And we could talk for an hour about each one. But just briefly, on transportation, we need to ramp up our electric vehicle charging stations. Sununu's sitting on the Volkswagen settlement money, hasn't deployed it, but we need electric vehicle charging stations and we need to electrify the grid to make sure that's a real opportunity for folks. It's not just about combating the climate crisis, by the way. It's about economic and tourism impacts in the state. If you have an electric vehicle, you live in Massachusetts, you're determining whether or not to go to Maine or New Hampshire to camp in the summertime. And Maine has electric vehicle charging stations. New Hampshire doesn't. You're going to choose Maine and New Hampshire loses out. So it's about combating the climate crisis. It's about economics. On the thermal heating side, we need a comprehensive strategy and Chris Sununu's vetoed a number of bills on this to allow people to be able to transition to clean energy and heating their home. And at the opening segment, we heard a lot about this, but not a lot of folks have the opportunity to do that right now, especially if you're lower or middle income. And the vast, overwhelming majority of folks in the Granite State heat their homes with natural gas or oil heat. And so we can't leave them behind. We need to open up access to transition to a clean energy economy for them as well. And on the electric side, we need to ramp up our renewable portfolio standard to get to 100 percent clean energy. There is a bill on Chris Sununu's desk right now, Senate Bill 124, that I suspect later on today he'll veto it following 10 other clean energy vetoes, that ramps up our renewable portfolio standard on the electric sector. And it does it significantly. And why is this all really important? And let me just talk about Chris Sununu's perspective for a second. He says the jury's out on climate change. His brother is a fossil fuel industry lobbyist. He has vetoed 10 clean energy bills, probably an 11th today. And by the way, this is not just about combating the climate crisis. It's about reducing electric and energy rates for everybody. Don't let anybody tell you any different. Clean energy, distributed generation and energy efficiency, reduce rates. They don't increase them. So don't listen to that propaganda.

Peter Biello:
Well, can I ask you about Granite Bridge? Because you've supported the Granite Bridge natural gas pipeline project in the past and activists have criticized you for not opposing the project outright. Do you believe New Hampshire should build new fossil fuel infrastructure?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Well, Granite Bridge is a connection between two existing pipelines. And the goal, at least purported, and it's at the Public Utilities Commission for review, is to meet the heating need in the wintertime. You know, I used to represent folks who, you know, had their natural gas heat cut off in the wintertime. Represented tenants whose landlord didn't pay the natural gas bill. And they actually were heating their homes and their apartments with their electric ovens open. I saw that. So I'm sensitive to the issue of whether or not to cut people off of natural gas.

Peter Biello:
So in some circumstances it would be OK to facilitate more fossil fuel infrastructure?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Well, if it meets existing demand for natural gas in the wintertime to heat your home, certainly. Because you know what? I'm not going to be taking a position to cut people off of natural gas heat in the wintertime. What we need as I said at the outset in response to David's question is we need actually to move forward so people who heat their homes with natural gas or oil heat in the wintertime have a meaningful opportunity to transition to clean energy. And the singular barrier to clean energy progress in New Hampshire, based on all of these vehicles, based on all the work that we've done, as vice chair of the Energy Committee, serving on the Energy Committee for six years, sponsoring over 30 pieces of clean energy legislation, I can tell you the singular barrier is Chris Sununu. So that's where we need to focus. And that's where I'll focus all of my attention.

Peter Biello:
Let me ask you a question about the handling of the pandemic. You've been critical of Governor Sununu on long term care facilities and the high number of deaths among nursing home residents from COVID-19. What would you do specifically to better protect people in nursing homes?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Well, first and foremost, Peter, we had a piece of legislation, House Bill 1246, that we specifically laid out how to do this. It provided ongoing support for nursing homes, including testing and PPE. We're seeing nursing homes just running out or hanging on the balance week by week. Ongoing testing and PPE for residents and for workers in nursing homes. That legislation also supported our nursing homes who received Medicaid to make sure they stay afloat. It also did an independent review of what went wrong in New Hampshire in our nursing homes with recommendations for a second wave. We passed that legislation. Chris Sununu vetoed it. So he won't even do a review of what went wrong. We have over 300 Granite State seniors, Peter, who were lost to COVID-19 in our nursing homes, over 300, in some cases whole floors. It's a heartbreaking situation. And family members on the outside, and have to be on the outside looking in, just hoping that their loved ones get by. I used to represent seniors in assisted living facilities when I was at New Hampshire Legal Assistance as a legal aid attorney. They're among our most vulnerable. And it's a reflection of society of how we treat our most vulnerable.

Peter Biello:
Just because our time is short, I did want to get in one more question from someone who e-mailed in. Senator Feltes, June asked, NHPR reported that you chose to accept corporate PAC money and violate the LLC loophole when you decided to run for governor. Why did you make that decision and why did you then decide to return only some of the money? That's the question from June.

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Well, thank you, June, and I appreciate it. That's not accurate. We don't take corporate money. We don't take corporate PAC money. And there was some L.L.C. money that came in and we returned it because even though it's not corporate money or corporate PAC money, I thought it sends a better message. And by the way, I've spent my career in the state Senate on campaign finance reform, over 30 pieces of campaign finance reform legislation. I've led on it. I continue to lead on it. Our campaign is endorsed by Citizens United because we do need it. And the effect of Citizens United in New Hampshire, only campaign, only candidate to release his tax returns in this race for governor. Only candidate to sign the people's pledge to get dark money out of politics in New Hampshire. Only candidate to sign the pledge to not self fund a campaign here in New Hampshire. So we put forward a plan about how we're going to move forward with real reform, with real results for working people, working families. That's what this is all about. Whose side are you on? Working people, working families or corporate special interests? And again, looking forward to continuing to have these debates and discussions. Honored to be endorsed by Citizens United in this race for governor.

Peter Biello:
One last question for you, Senator Feltes. And it comes from Erin. Erin writes, experts have said that due to the combination of the moratorium on evictions ending and the six hundred dollar federal unemployment coming to an end, the states across the country are facing economic and housing crises. What would you do as governor to prevent a housing crisis and a homelessness crisis?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
Well, we laid it out. And this is something that I worked on as a legal aid attorney for about 10 years, including during the last economic crisis, the Great Recession. I represented homeowners being foreclosed on by Wall Street. Banks all around New Hampshire battled against them, protect people's homes. We passed legislation, House bill 1247, to protect people's homes from foreclosure, from Wall Street banks foreclosing on homeowners, falling behind on their mortgage from COVID-19, requiring that banks work in good faith with folks who need help.

Peter Biello:
So if you were governor right now, would you institute a continuation of a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures?

Sen. Dan Feltes:
I would institute a continuation of some hybrid model of moratorium. But here's the point, Peter. We passed legislation to protect homeowners from foreclosure and protect renters. And Chris Sununu just vetoed it. He allowed the moratorium to lapse. And he vetoed our legislation to protect homeowners. And we laid out a plan to invest in housing and homelessness. Chris Sununu unilaterally cut housing and homelessness out of the budget recently. And so I got to say, this is a huge issue. It's a huge issue, especially right now. And we need to protect homeowners and renters. We took steps to do that. Chris Sununu vetoed those steps. This is one of the major reasons how we build and move forward. And how do we get out of this mess? Do we get out of this mess in a way that looks out for ordinary folks, working people, working families? The kind of family I grew up in, my dad worked in a furniture factory for 45 years, the same one doing roughly the same job day in and day out for forty five years. My mom, part time jobs, including the night shift while raising four kids. Families like the family I come from, families like the families I fought for as a legal aid attorney and in the state Senate, ordinary people, working class folks, working families, are we going to look out for them as we get out of this mess? Or is it just going to be the same old, same old from Sununu looking out for corporate special interests? We know what side he's on. We need a different approach if we're gonna get out of this mess in a way that works for ordinary people.

Peter Biello:
Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes running in the Democratic primary for governor. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Sen. Dan Feltes:
You got it, Peter. Take good care.

Peter Biello:
You, too.