By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Four Republicans and four Democrats will vie for four seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
• Three of the four Republicans representing the city in the New Hampshire House of Representatives are seeking re-election and have been joined by Jim McCoole, a resident of the Taylor Community, who is making his first bid for elective office.
Frank Tilton, a graduate of West Point and former director of Public Works, is seeking his sixth term in the House, where he concedes as one of 400 members his influence is limited. However, as a mainstay of the Public Works and Highways Committee, which prepares the state's capital budget, he has played a part in securing funding for several projects, most notably the renovation of the Laconia District Courthouse and reconstruction of the Main Street Bridge. He has voted in favor of raising the gas tax and repealing the death penalty but against expanding eligibility for Medicaid, allowing casino gambling and increasing the minimum wage.
Don Flanders, owner and operator of the Byse Insurance Agency, is the longest serving member of the city's delegation in the House. First elected in 1999, he has kept his seat without interruption and is seeking re-election to his ninth term. A former city councilor and trustee of LRGHealthcare, he has saved on the House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, which oversees the banking, insurance and securities industries as well as the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, throughout his tenure. He has supported legislation to expand eligibility for Medicaid, favored repeal of the death penalty, supported casino gambling while voting against increasing the minimum wage. Like many veteran legislators, Flanders is wary of excessive legislation and regulation and likes to recall an enthusiastic rookie lawmaker who introduced 35 bills, all of which the House scuttled.
Peter Spanos, the former owner of the Shalimar Resort in Tilton, is seeking his second term in the House. A self-described fiscal conservative, he the newcomer to the Republican ticket, is a fiscal conservative who favors close control of spending over levying new or higher taxes. He is opposed to expanding gambling and concerned at the financial plight of the New Hampshire Retirement System, which he has called "a festering sore." During his first term he voted against the expansion of Medicaid and introduction of Common Core while supporting right-to-work legislation and opposing an increase in the minimum wage.
McCoole, the fourth Republican candidate, is a retired self-employed businessman, whose frequently expresses his conservative political perspective in letters to the editor of this newspaper. He believes the country has strayed from the principles of both its constitutional and Christian legacies and cherishes the notion of self-responsibility while disparaging government programs as "giveaways." In a recent letter he suggested that a cabal of high-ranking military officers should take President Obama into custody and prosecute him for treason, a statement he subsequently called "totally rhetorical." "I don't know what some of the issues are," he confessed. "I've never been to the New Hampshire legislature." He stressed that elected officials are employees of the people and wondered whatever happened to the title of "public servant." If elected, he pledges "to keep my eyes and ears open." He claims that the state budget process is flawed and advocates "zero-based budgeting," while suggesting the legislature inhibits the success of small business, and echoed Spanos in opposition to a higher minimum wage.
• The four Democrats on the ticket include two former representatives — David Huot and Liz Merry — and two newcomers — Charlie St. Clair and Tom Dawson.
Born and raised in Laconia, Huot graduated from Saint Anselm College, earned his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center and after practicing law was appointed to bench, where he served as District Court judge for 33 years. He was twice elected to the House in the 1970s and returned in 2012. In each of his three terms he served on the House Finance Committee. He maintained that the state suffers from "a structural deficit," that is, its revenues are not sufficient to meet its expenses. That is why, he explained lawmakers regularly raid programs and withhold funding and transfer costs to cities and towns to balance the state budget., which increases property taxes. In particular, he counted ensuring sufficient funding for public education, meeting the needs of an aging population, providing treatment for substance abuse and maintaining the expanded eligibility for Medicaid among his highest priorities.
Originally a Canadian, Liz Merry became a United States citizen on July 4, 2007, and a year later was elected to the House. A consultant to the telecommunications industry, she serves as a trustee of LRGHealthcare and a director of Genesis Behavioral Health. Like Huot, Merry is concerned that the state has added to the burden of property taxpayers by withholding municipal revenue sharing and proceeds from the rooms and meal tax while no longer contributing toward the pensions of municipal employees. She said that the downshifting weighs especially heavily on cities like Laconia, where budgets are subject to tax caps. She said that only four of the 13 cities had more residents enroll in the expanded Medicaid program than Laconia and insisted that maintaining it must be an overriding priority for the next legislature.
Dawson is running for the second time. A graduate of Oklahoma State University, he worked in the fire service in Houston, Texas and Wilmington, Delaware, before becoming at the State Fire Marshall in New Hampshire. When his tenure ended after two years, he turned to consulting, then, in 1972, developed the fire science program at Lakes Region Community. Calling himself "a progressive Democrat," he said that the disparity of income and wealth is the overriding challenge facing the country and the state. "We've lost our middle class," he said. "Putting more money into the hands of the 99 percent would be a starting point," he said. "We can't continue to shift money and power to the rich. We are losing control of our democracy."
St. Clair, best known as the executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association and owner of the Laconia Antique Center, said he decided to run for the House out of "frustration at not having candidates who pay attention to their constituents." Although St. Clair has supported and opposed legislation bearing on the interests of motorcyclists in the past, he said neither motorcycling nor the rally were among his priorities. These include highway safety, which he believes would be significantly enhanced by adding rumble strips to the verge of all two-lane highways. He favors raising the minimum wage, but like other business owners is troubled by the high cost of worker's compensation, which would rise even higher with an increase in the minimum wage. He also suggested that if the state withholds aid to cities and towns, the Legislature should grant municipalities the authority to levy a local sales tax. "We don't need less government," St. Clair remarked. "We need smart government."