By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — Apart from both hailing from Warren, a town of less than 1,000 people, the two candidates vying for the seat in the New Hampshire Senate in District 2 — Democrat Charlie Chandler and Republican Bob Giuda — stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum, offering voters among there starkest of choices in this contentious election season.
During the past decade, the district has swung between the two parties as Deb Reynolds, a Plymouth Democrat, held the seat from 2006 to 2010 before losing it to Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican, who chose to run for governor rather than seek re-election. This year, with six of the 14 members of the Republican majority in the Senate retiring, the election in District 2 is one of several that could decide which party captures the majority.
Giuda is resuming a political career that was interrupted when he retired from the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2006 and stalled when he lost a bid for a congressional seat in 2010.
A graduate of Pittsfield High School and the United States Naval Academy, he served as in the air arm of the United States Marine Corps. After retiring with the rank of captain in 1985, he joined United Airlines to pilot Boeing 777s on international routes.
Giuda began his political career in the 1990s as a selectman in Warren, and in 2000 was elected to the first of his three terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Although a member of the House Republican Alliance, the conservative faction that often clashed with leadership, he was named deputy majority leader in his last term. In 2010 he ran for Congress, aligning himself with the Tea Party, and placed third among five in the primary.
While serving in the House, Giuda traveled to Kashmir to investigate the maltreatment of Muslims at the hands of Indian authorities, visits that led to congressional hearings in 2003, and returned in 2005 as part of a humanitarian effort to aid victims of the earthquake in the village of Kafal Garrh.
Although he left office, he did not leave politics. In 2014 he went to Bunkerville, Nevada, amid the dispute between cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and federal agencies over grazing rights, he said "to find out just what was going on" and out of loyalty to his close personal friend and former House colleague Jerry DeLemus of Rochester, who has been prosecuted for his part in the standoff. Two years later, Giuda rose to the defense of armed protesters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, DeLemus among them, denouncing the shooting Lavoy Finicum, who spoke for the group, as "a monstrous act of murder." Giuda declined to elaborate on these events other than to say "These things were of such importance that I went to inquire" and to say they were not relevant to the issues of his Senate campaign.
"It's all about jobs," Giuda said of the plight of District 2, where he noted 1,000 manufacturing jobs, including 400 at EFI in Meredith, have been lost in past five years. At the same time, he said 24 of the 27 towns in the district have lost between 5 percent and 20 percent of their population since the 2010 census. "There are no qualified workers," he said.
Giuda called for reducing the taxes and easing the regulations that hinder the growth of resident business and discourage the opening of new businesses. Equally important, he said that the public school system must be "drawn into the 21st century." In particular, he said the curriculum and instruction in the schools is failing to provide high school graduates with the aptitudes and skills expected by employers. "I've visited many businesses," he said, "and they tell me graduates are not prepared to enter the workforce and have no work ethic." He also favors a voucher system that would afford parents choice in schooling their children. And he stressed the importance of providing high-speed internet access to the rural communities in the northern reaches of the state, without which businesses and entrepreneurs operate at a competitive disadvantage.
Fiscally conservative, Giuda has backed a constitutional amendment to forever ban an income tax and legislation to introduce a state spending cap. He is skeptical of perpetuating the expansion of the Medicaid program. He said that he would not have supported the current legislation because it does not include a work requirement for those able-bodied people enrolled in the program, but added before deciding whether to reauthorize the program, "I've got to see the bill."
Giuda said the Northern Pass project should be abandoned unless the entire length of the transmissions are buried. In 2006 he contributed to amending the constitution to limit the power of eminent domain and fears that Northern Pass will seek to become a public utility in order to skirt the restriction on its authority to take private property by eminent domain.
A native of Laconia and retired attorney, Chandler has held a number of elective and appointed positions in local and state government for the past 45 years. He has served as both selectman and moderator in Northfield and Warren, and sat on the Ballot Law Commission, Governor's Commission for Disability and Cannon Mountain Advisory Commission. He presided over a commission to investigate the financial debacle surrounding Financial Resources Mortgage, Inc. Chandler also served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives alongside his father, Earl Chandler of Wilmot, and brother, Gene Chandler of Bartlett, the former Republican Speaker, as the lone Democrat of the three. He has also been a director of several civic organizations and currently is chairman of the board of Franklin Savings Bank.
Chandler picked opiate addiction as the most pressing problem facing the state. "It's getting lots of attention, but it needs more," he said, adding that he is well acquainted with the problem through the experience of a family member who was lost for seven years. "It is a health care crisis," he said. "You're not going to arrest your way out." He stressed the need for greater treatment and recovery capacity, which he suggested would require more state funding. "If you have a problem, you have to deal with it," he said.
Chandler said that he fully — "100 percent" — supports making expanded eligibility for Medicaid a permanent feature of the health care system, along with maintaining the relationship between the state and Planned Parenthood, which provides health care services for many women. While the expansion of health insurance contributes to managing the shifting and increases of costs, he emphasized that "the real reason to sustain these programs is because it's morally the right thing to do."
Public education, Chandler said, "is the core my campaign. Those who boast about a balanced state budget," he continued, " fail to talk about the endless downshifting of costs to local property taxpayers, especially the cost of education." He said the problem has persisted for 30 years and the time has come "to change the conversation and for "the state to accept its responsibility for public education." The reluctance of the state to invest in schools reflects what he called "a moral deficit."
At the same time, Chandler said, "I will not propose a sales or income tax, but I will not take a pledge, any pledge." But, he cautioned that the alternative is "to work within the state budget and make some very, very difficult decisions."
Chandler said that investing in education and encouraging partnerships between schools and businesses is required to strengthen the workforce required for a healthy economy. At the same time, he called for more investment in infrastructure, particularly in the northern reaches of the state, and closer commercial ties to Canada, especially Quebec, which he suggested "offer untold opportunities."
Chandler favors establishing a state minimum wage rather than adhering to the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour, and takes a step further to propose "a living wage" of somewhere between $10 and $15 per hour. "We must be careful," he cautioned. "There are always nuances. But, low wages are perpetuating an underclass and it must stop."
Like Giuda, Chandler insists the Northern Pass project should only proceed if all the lines are buried, which he said was both economically and environmentally sound. He suggested revisiting the railroad rights-of-way as a prospective route for the transmission lines. But, he also expressed support for encouraging all forms alternative energy — solar, wind, hydro and biomass.
"I am not an ideologue, Chandler insisted. "I have a lot of respect for reasonable Republicans." He said that he was very proud of being commended for his work in the House by the then Republican Speaker Harold Burns of Whitefield. "The positions I take will cross party lines."
Senate District 2 consists of 27 towns in three counties: Haverhill, Piermont, Orford, Warren, Wentworth, Dorchester, Ellsworth, Rumney, Groton, Orange, Grafton, Campton, Plymouth, Hebron, Alexandria, Holderness, Ashland, Bridgewater and Bristol in Grafton County; Meredith, Center Harbor, New Hampton, Sanbornton and Tilton in Belknap County; and Hill, Danbury and Wilmot in Merrimack County.