Gubernatorial candidates Ovide Lamontagne and Maggie Hassan agree strong leadership and expanded gambling would help jump-start New Hampshire’s economy, they just don’t agree on much else.
Lamontagne, a Republican from Manchester, and Hassan, a Democrat from Exeter, seek to replace Gov. John Lynch in the election Tuesday. Lynch is stepping down after four terms.
Both candidates are running on platforms that place improved economic prosperity at the top of the priority list.
“I think the election is going to turn on economic issues,” said Lamontagne, 55, a lawyer and former chairman of the state Board of Education.
Both are promoting the creation of jobs, a balanced budget, incentives to help businesses and improving health care, among other issues. Yet they disagree on how tax dollars should be spent and government’s role.
Hassan said her opponent’s views are “radically different” than her own and harmful to the needs of New Hampshire’s middle class.
Lamontagne said opposing adoption of a sales or income tax will help grow the economy and reforming the state’s business tax structure and cutting regulations will help companies prosper. He also supports limiting government spending, which Lamontagne said sets him apart from his opponent.
“She is open to raising taxes,” he said. “That is not the recipe for success.”
It’s one reason why Hassan, a state senator for six years, was not re-elected in 2010, he said.
Hassan, a 54-year-old former state senator and lawyer, said she had a proven record of fiscal responsibility while serving in the Legislature.
“I’m the only candidate in this race who has balanced a budget,” she said. “We did it without an income or sales tax, which I would veto.”
Lamontagne has said Hassans’s vow to veto a broad-based tax is a false promise because she opposes a proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit adoption of an income tax.
Hassan said the keys to improving the state’s economy are providing workforce training, offering tax credits to businesses and helping those firms by giving them technical assistance. She also said millions of dollars cut from the university system’s budget needs to be restored.
“I want to move this state forward,” she said.
Both back casino gambling
One way to boost New Hampshire’s economy is allowing expanded gambling, which Lynch refused to support.
Both candidates agree the development of a multi-million-dollar casino in Southern New Hampshire would help generate much-need revenue. They just don’t agree on the process of selecting a casino, but both believe Rockingham Park in Salem would be an ideal location.
Putting a casino at the former Salem racehorse track would create hundreds of jobs and provide a major economic boost as out-of-staters flock to New Hampshire.
“It makes sense from an economic (perspective),” he said. “Gambling has been a historic part of the economic fabric of a community like Salem,” he said
While Lamontagne said the state’s only casino should be at Rockingham Park, Hassan said a location near the Massachusetts border — but not necessarily “The Rock” — should be chosen through an open bid process. That would help maximize state revenue, she said.
“Rockingham would be an excellent site for it,” she said. “I’m very confident that Rockingham will be a very competitive bidder.”
Any casino, though, would need to be strictly regulated, Hassan said.
Both candidates spoke at public forums on expanded gambling at Rockingham Park this summer, winning the support of Salem residents who believe their community would benefit from a casino.
Hassan has raised the stakes in the race by accusing Lamontagne of backing the Rockingham Park proposal because his law firm represents its ownership. Lamontagne said he has not personally represented the racetrack and would no longer be affiliated with the firm if elected.
Health care reform
Another key issue is health care. Lamontagne supports free-market reforms of the health-care industry he said would promote competition among providers, lowering costs while improving care and coverage.
Hassan said reducing health insurance costs and improving accessibility to health care needs to be a priority. She contends Lamontagne would withdraw New Hampshire from the federal Medicare program and opposes funding of Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.
The two candidates met Thursday for their 12th and final debate before the election. Along with debating traditional issues such as the economy and health care, Hassan accused Lamontagne of supporting the elimination of mandatory kindergarten.
“I have no intention of repealing that law” if elected, Lamontagne said in an interview Friday.
Both candidates said Friday they will continue to seek voters’ support through Election Day. That means a lot of campaigning in the next few days.
“In the end, it’s going to turn into a ground game,” Lamontagne said.
Polls in recent months have indicated the race will be close.
The so-called undecided voters will be key at the polls Tuesday. A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, released Oct. 23, gave Hassan a 6-point lead over Lamontagne, 37 to 31 percent, with a 3.5 percent margin of error. Libertarian candidate John Babiarz received 2 percent and 29 percent were undecided.