Governor Chris Sununu and the Democrat hoping to replace him, former State Senator Molly Kelly met in debate last night on NHPR. Joining me now to discuss is Josh Rogers.
OK. Josh, last night’s debate at Manchester Community College was the second of the general election, but the first for live statewide broadcast – and by the way we’ll be playing that debate back at 9am. You and Laura Knoy were asking the questions. So what in this debate stood out for you?
Well, I’d say the energy level of the candidates. This race has had its rote aspects, but last night was very spirited. Governor Sununu really pressed the argument that New Hampshire’s heading in the right direction on his watch; as Molly Kelly pushed back that New Hampshire can do better. That’s been through line in this race but last night, the both candidates, and perhaps mostly Sununu, came across, as one audience member, put it to me afterwards, as ‘amped.’ Let’s take a listen to Sununu. I had asked him about some of the reversals he faced on policies he was pushed and failed to get as governor – Right to Work, Marsy’s law, school vouchers.
SUNUNU: “You are complaining because we didn’t have a 100% success rate?
-I have high standards for you, Governor.
SUNUNU: “But we have gotten more significant legislation done than any governor in the last 20 years, any Governor in 20 years, go look at the record. It’s absolutely there! Child welfare reform, mental health reform. What we are doing with the opioid crisis, what we’ve done with business taxes and the economy.”
OK, so that’s Governor Sununu, admitting he hasn’t gotten everything he wanted, but arguing he’s gotten enough.
Yes, all night long he was strenuous in describing this and that about NH as “the gold standard” and pumping up his role in getting stuff done that has happened – not shocking for an incumbent, and nor was his propensity to downplay his blame or blame others for any failures or outcomes he doesn’t like. A judge issued an injunction blocking voting law known was as SB3? He called that partisan last night. Democrats were blamed for the GOP-controlled house’s failure to pass legislation to address the Wayfair court ruling. And any bill he backed that failed he cast as a David and Goliath struggle in which he fought hard but probably never stood a chance, whether that was at all the case or not.
OK so Governor Sununu was particularly zealous in accentuating the positive. What about Molly Kelly stood out?
Well, she stuck her guns on policy. She wants to raise the minimum wage, make college more affordable. And went after the governor for not backing paid family leave when lawmakers debated it this year. Governor Sununu did sketch out a plan he says he will propose, one relying heavily on private insurers. But as you might expect, Kelly went at him on this.
KELLY: “Obviously the governor when this was being vetted and it passed through the house three times,3 times through the house. He had a majority of his own party in the house and in the senate and if he wanted to put through a paid family leave act that was the time to do it, he didn’t do it. He had an opportunity to do it and later called it vacation. I as governor, will ensure that we do pass a paid family leave act.
SUNUNU: “We’ve created a whole, look it I think it’s only fair.
--Governor Sununu, I want to give you 30 second sto respond to what Senator Kelly said, then I want to move on.
SUNUNU: “First of all there’s 400 members of the House.”
-- Did you call it a vacation?
SUNUNU: “It’s not a vacation lets be very clear, it’s obviously not a vacation -- that comment came as part of a bigger conversation, of course it’s not a vacation, that’s silly. At the end of the day, when their plan, we realized it was a trap of an income tax, we tried through the Lynn Ober amendment. We tried to support that. I don’t control the whole house.”
OK, so income tax, citing an obscure amendment, noting his lack of control over the legislature?
Yes, all signs that the Governor was on his heels a bit on this issue. But Molly Kelly also struggled at times when asked about some of her actions in concord. She talked up her support for public schools, but clearly didn’t want to talk about her past support for amending the constitutional to limit the states obligation to pay and adequate education at 50 percent for every pupil in every school district. (Sununu, for what it’s worth, says he’d back a school funding amendment that would completely take the courts out of school funding). Kelly and Sununu also clashed over her record on taxes as a senator.
KELLY: “We bring up, you know the political fear tactic, which is taxes, and it continues to be brought up all the time.”
SUNUNU: “It’s a fact, though. It not a fear tactic. Let’s be honest.”
KELLY: “I believe that our voters are tired of hearing that.”
OK Josh, a pretty ritual partisan exchange there.
Yes. And you know both these candidates do really preach their party’s gospel on core issues. But Independent voters are of course key in New Hampshire, and one of the more memorable moments for me last night was when Laura asked the candidates to name an a single issue where they had broken with their parties. Sununu rattled off kindergarten, Medicaid expansion, which were apt, and DCYF, which I didn’t quite get. Molly Kelly meanwhile smiled, then looked a bit pinched, and said she was stuck.
So she served a decade in the state senate and couldn’t name a single issue or bill where she’d ever broken with her party.