NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley is talking with some of the lawmakers who have been newly elected to the New Hampshire legislature. Tony Labranche, a Democrat, will represent Amherst in the House of Representatives.
Rick Ganley: So, Tony, you're going to be the youngest representative in the House for this session. How did you first get interested in politics and how did you decide to run?
Tony Labranche: I got interested in politics at age 10 when I was originally diagnosed with stage three colon cancer, seeing the hospital bills of $400,000 and also seeing some of the items listed on there, such as $40 for a single pill of Tylenol when a bottle of about 200 Tylenol across the street at CVS from the hospital cost about $8. And health care costs in America are exuberantly high, but they're inflated for profit. And I was just a child at the time and somebody was profiting off of my illness and off of my health, and that angered me. And I could never forgive the American health care system for that.
Rick Ganley: I'm wondering at age 19, and of course even before at age 10, a lot of us noticed these things in life. We notice that kind of a thing when you go to the hospital. But, you know, we don't necessarily do much about it other than complain. I'm wondering, as a young person, what really motivated you to say, I really need to do something about that?
Tony Labranche: I would say what actually got me to acknowledge that I should run myself, and what made me put my sight on that was the run of Bernie Sanders for president back in 2015. He spoke about health care. He got me interested in the ways that we could change health care in the United States.
And then as I grew older and finally reached the age of 18, we had been having issues at Souhegan High School, which is where I went to high school. Some of these issues include holes in the ceilings, heating systems that no longer worked, leaky ceilings during rainstorms. And the school board had never listened to the students. So as a student myself and finally a legal-aged adult, I took it upon myself to run and bring forward those issues. And it was about holding those who are currently there accountable for the lack of what they've been doing. And I came 245 votes away from winning as a senior in high school.
And while I was running for the school board is when I started talking to people in my community and having a wider view of just the issues at the school, but the issues facing Amherst as a whole. And that is, I guess, where I had the idea to run for state representative. Because a lot of the issues that education funding wise, health care wise, and another personal passion of mine, electoral reform, those are all state level issues, not federal, not local, but state level. And I guess that is why I wanted to run for state representative, is because I wanted to be a change in my community.
Rick Ganley: You ran for school board. You lost that election. What did that loss teach you?
Tony Labranche: I would say that loss taught me how to run for office. It was my first dry run. It taught me that I need to be an accessible person. I need to be somebody that is active in my community and actively listens to all sides of an argument or all sides of an issue. Because when we talk about ever-rising property taxes, we think about education. But we also have to think about the seniors that are being forced from their homes because they can no longer afford their lifelong home. All issues are multifaceted and have multiple stakeholders, and part of that is making compromise with those stakeholders because nobody is 100 percent correct.
Rick Ganley: How do you think your perspective as a 19-year-old will help your constituents?
Tony Labranche: I think, especially here in Amherst, but in the wider state of New Hampshire, we're the second oldest or aging state in the United States. And many of my friends in high school are leaving for college and they're not coming back. And that is something that is happening across the state in New Hampshire is that most of our seniors graduate and they just don't come back. And I think having somebody that actually knows the reason those people are wanting to leave, including social stigmas, including education cost, the environment, stuff like that, is why so many people are leaving, because New Hampshire has not been taking an active role in supporting the youth and giving them a path forward to finally settling here in New Hampshire. We like to boast about our only property taxes and no sales or income tax, but we don't offer affordable health care and affordable housing to our younger folks. And I think that is a big reason why so many people are leaving the state of New Hampshire.