By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Details were generally light as seven of the eight candidates — both Republicans and Democrats — for the four seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives elected by the voters of the city addressed nearly three dozen residents of the Taylor Community on Tuesday.
Three of the four incumbent Republicans — Frank Tilton, Don Flanders and Peter Spanos — seeking re-election were joined by newcomer Jim McCoole. The Democrats included two veterans, Liz Merry, who served one term in the House representing Sanbornton, and David Huot, who served two terms in the House from 1970 to 1974 then returned for a third term in 2012, and Tom Dawson, seeking his first term. The fourth Democratic candidate, Charlie St. Clair, could not attend.
Frank Tilton - R
Seeking his sixth term, Tilton, a graduate of West Point and former director of Public Works who serves on the House Public Works and Highways Committee, noted that, as one of 400 members of the House, single representatives have limited influence, but can make their presence felt as members of the legislative committees and the county convention, comprised of the 18 representatives elected in Belknap County. He recalled the recent history of state budgets, noting that "We have a good budget now." He said excessive regulation is slowing economic growth and called for reducing some regulations and repealing others. He noted that the Public Works and Highways Committee prepares the capital budget, which funds investment in infrastructure necessary for economic growth.
Don Flanders - R
Flanders, of the Byse Insurance agency, has sat in the House since 1999 and served all nine of his terms on the House Commerce Committee, which oversees the banking, insurance and securities industries as well as the New Hampshire Liquor Commission. Like Tilton, he said that too many regulations weigh on businesses and pointed to one freshman lawmaker who alone introduced 35 bills, all of which failed to become law. Flanders spent much of his time explaining that, unlike most states, New Hampshire does not require automobile insurance, an oddity he claims works to the state's advantage, but will likely be challenged again next year.
Peter Spanos - R
Spanos, a small businessman serving his first term in the House, chose to answer questions rather than formally speak. He said he voted against expanding eligibility for Medicaid, which has provided 50,000 people with health insurance, because the program failed to require able-bodied recipients to work. "We have more folks riding the wagon than pulling the wagon," he said. He expressed his support for charter schools and opposition to Common Core and raising the minimum wage. But, asked why the state reduced funding to the Laconia School District by some $500,000, mistakenly referred to the lack of federal grants, when in fact the state funding was reduced to reflect declining enrollment.
Jim McCoole - R
McCoole, the last of the Republican candidates, described himself as a retired self-employed businessman. "I don't know what some of the issues are," he confessed. "I've never been to the New Hampshire legislature." He asked "What has happened to the term servant, as in public servant?" stressing that elected officials are employees of the people. He said that he did not know what happened, but if elected pledged "to keep my eyes and ears open." He claimed that the budget is flawed and advocated "zero-based budgeting" while suggesting the legislature inhibits the success of small business and echoed Spanos in opposition to a higher minimum wage.
Liz Merry - D
Merry, who said "business is my background" but underlined her work as a volunteer, said that one of her priorities would be to reverse the downshifting of costs, like contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System, and withholding funds, like revenue sharing and proceeds from the Rooms and Meals Tax, to municipalities. She expressed support for investment in public education and infrastructure, together with raising the minimum wage, as means of strengthening the economy. And, as a trustee of LRGHealthcare, Merry noted that the expansion of the Medicaid program provided health care to 1,200 families in the region and emphasized the importance of reauthorizing the program and making it permanent. "I will put Laconia first," she vowed.
David Huot - D
During all of his three terms in the House, Huot served on the Finance Committee. As a legislator, he said, "What you do is solve problems." The state, he continued, has what he called "a structural deficit," explaining that the revenues the state collects are not sufficient to meet its expenses. "That is why the Legislature is always raiding this or that fund to balance its budget." Restoring an appropriate amount of state funding to local school district he counted among his highest priorities, along with providing long-term residential treatment centers for substance abuse and perpetuating the expansion of the Medicaid program.
Tom Dawson - D
Dawson spent all but a minute of his time recalling his career in the fire service, first as the financial director of the department in Houston, Texas, then as the first state Fire Marshall in New Hampshire and ultimately as professor of fire science at Lakes Region Community College, where he founded the program. As his time expired, Dawson said "schools and infrastructure" to indicate his priorities as a legislator.
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