Harold French, left, and Andrew Hosmer shake hands after a forum Wednesday evening hosted by The Laconia Daily Sun. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Fielding questions at a forum Wednesday night, the candidates for the New Hampshire Senate in District 7 — the incumbent Democrat Andrew Hosmer of Laconia and his Republican challenger Harold French of Franklin — agreeably disagreed on virtually every issue raised by voters.
Sponsored by The Laconia Daily Sun and hosted by the Belknap Mill Society, the forum drew more than two dozen voters, who submitted questions that were read to the candidates by the moderator, Ginger Kozlowski, the managing editor of the newspaper.
French is completing his first term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, where he represents Wards 1 and 2 in Franklin and serves on the Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, and making his second bid for a seat in the Senate. In 2002, French entered the GOP primary in District 7, which has since been redrawn, but lost by a two-to-one margin. A real estate broker, auctioneer and folk art sculptor, French, who is originally from Concord, has lived in half a dozen towns in Merrimack County, graduated from Hopkinton High School and attended Plymouth State University. During what he called "my art phase," he operated the Gold Street Gallery in Laconia for several year and was was among the members of the Lakeport Association.
Hosmer has served two terms in the Senate, gaining a set on the Finance Committee in his second term. Raised in Massachuseets, he graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and earned a law degree at Suffolk University Law School. From 1992 to 1996 head an Assistant District Attorney in Hampden County, which includes Springfield, prosecuting a wide range of misdemeanors and felonies. He came to New Hampshire in 1996 to join AutoServ, a fast growing n automobile dealership owned by his wife's family. He has held several management positions in the company and currently is general manager of AutoServ Nissan.
In his opening remarks French noted that in the Legislature the two parties reach agreement on 80 precedent of the some 1,200 bills introduced, but differ over the remainder, which "define what the state is." Turning to Hosmer, he said that "we do agree on one thing. That we don't agree on the 20 percent or our vision for New Hampshire."
Hosmer countered by touting the bipartisan approach to the budget taken by the Senate, which he said spared the state from the budget adopted by the House, with French's support, that sharply reduced or altogether eliminated funding for renewable energy, behavioral health, meals-on-wheels, ServiceLink and other programs and services for "those on the fringe, the most vulnerable."
Asked about the fiscal condition of the state, Hosmer said that the budget is projected to show a two-year surplus of between $150 million and $200 million, which will be transferred to the so-called "rainy day fund." He said the balance is sufficient and that he would continue to control what we spend and borrow only what we can pay. He noted that inflation has outpaced spending and in real dollars the current budget is on a par with the budget in 2006.
"The responsibilities of the state are not unlimited," French said. He said that because the terms of commissioners of the 19 departments and agencies do not run concurrently with the term of the governor, it is difficult to control spending. He said that the governor should be authorized to appoint the commissioners and hold them accountable for controlling expenditures.
French, who is pro-life, and Hosmer, who is pro-choice, were at odds in response to a question about Planned Parenthood. French claimed that Planned Parenthood regularly sought funding from the state then, holding a fistful of political mailings from the organization, insisted the state should not support the organization.
Hosmer explained that the state contracts with Planned Parenthood, paying the organization to provide medical and contraceptive services — but not abortion services— for needy women, but does not appropriate funds for the organization. He reminded French that federal law prohibits using public funds for abortion.
"I'm here to fight for the unborn," French declared, adding that his grandson, born when his daughter was 16, would not be alive had she not chosen to carry her child to term.. He tempered his position with exceptions for the victims of rape and incest and cases threatening the health of the mother. Hosmer, on the hand, insisted that the decision to carry an unintended pregnancy to term is "a matter of conscience" and the choice rested solely with the woman.
The two disagreed about funding education. "The state doesn't fund education as it should," said Hosmer, who noted that French voted for a budget that would have reduced one component of state aid by even more than the budget that was ultimately adopted. He said he will seek to to restore full funding of state aid as well as provide funds for all-day kindergarten. French called for encouraging and supporting charter schools, which he said educate children more effectively and economically.
While French favored granting tax credits to businesses who contribute to charter schools, Hosmer said that he was not opposed to charter schools, but instead to granting tax credits to businesses that contribute to parochial schools. "It's a constitutional question," he said, claiming that the foregone taxes represented public funding of religious education contrary to the separation of church and state.
French said that he voted against expanding eligibility for Medicare and would do so again. He suggested the most effective way to reduce the cost of health care was to require greater transparency in the pricing of medical services, particularly those provided by hospitals. Hosmer said he will seek to ensure that the expansion of Medicaid is reauthorized. He explained that by insuring some 50,000 people the program has reduced the number of emergency room visits and volume of uncompensated care, which in turn has enabled hospitals to shift less of these costs to other patients. led to less of these costs being shifted to other patients.
Both candidates expressed support for stronger efforts to address the scourge of substance abuse. However, Hosmer pointed out that French, by voting for the budget prepared by the House, voted against more investment in treatment, recovery and law enforcement. French expressed his support for both drug courts and treatment centers. But, recalling his own daughter's addiction, remarked that while he told her he could protect from everything outside the home "I can't protect you from yourself."
The lone tense moment in the exchange occurred when a questioner asked about French's personal financial circumstances, especially tax liens that had been placed on his properties and a debt to the Internal Revenue Service. "I assume you've received these," French said, holding a handful of mailings from the New Hampshire Democratic Party. He said he had owned more than 50 properties in the last 40 years and, like 95 percent of residents, had struggled to pay his taxes. "Some of us don't live on Governor's Island," remarked, alluding to Hosmer's home on Summit Avenue. French also acknowledged that he has been disciplined by the Board of Auctioneers, an incident also featured in the mailings.
French said that he has paid his property taxes, reduced his debt to the IRS and was cleared of any wrongdoing as an auctioneer. "But, you won't read that," he said. "I was slapped down by the big hand of government, but I picked myself up. Believe what you want," he told the voters. "I know the truth," he continued, eying Hosmer, "he does not."
Hosmer said he did not authorize the mailings and declined further comment. After the forum, the candidates shook hands.
The forum will be telecast on MetroCast Channel 25 on Friday, Nov. 3, at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 4, at 7:45 a.m., Monday, Nov. 7, at 1:30 and 6:45 p.m,. and Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 6:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.
Viewers may also long on to LiveStream and watch the forum on the Internet. Go to lrpa.org, scroll to "Watch Channel 25 Live" and click the WATCH LIVE button.