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November 01. 2012 10:04PM

Ovide, Maggie mix it up in final debate


Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Ovide Lamontagne take part in gubernatorial debate at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College Thursday night. (Kathy Remillard/Union Leader Correspondent)

GOFFSTOWN - With pointed arguments over casino gambling, abortion and property taxes, gubernatorial candidates Maggie Hassan and Ovide Lamontagne sought in Thursday night's debate to establish clear differences in the days leading up to Tuesday's election.

The candidates got into a heated exchange early in the debate, when Hassan, the Democratic former state Senate majority leader, said Lamontagne, the Republican candidate, would eliminate kindergarten.

"With respect, Ovide this summer said he thought it was a mistake for the state to require that kindergarten be established in every community," Hassan said after Lamontagne denied the charge. "Are you now reversing your position, Mr. Lamontagne?"

"Senator Hassan, again, you are misrepresenting my record," he said. "I support the law that currently requires students to attend kindergarten in New Hampshire and I would not sign a bill to reverse that."

The New Hampshire Union Leader and WMUR partnered to present the Granite State Debates. Tonight features back-to-back debates, with Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta debating Democratic challenger and former U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (7 p.m.), followed by Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Bass taking on Democratic challenger Ann McLane Kuster (8 p.m.).

Hassan and Lamontagne also sparred over abortion during the debate, with Lamontagne saying that claims that he would work to undermine abortion rights are not true.

"As governor of the state of New Hampshire, I am duty bound to uphold the laws of this state and this country," he said. "Roe versus Wade is the law of the land whether I like it or not."

After the debate, Lamontagne said the governor could not overturn the federal law, but that he would personally prefer if Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, were overturned.

Hassan, however, said the state could take steps to undermine abortion rights.

"There are bills in the New Hampshire Legislature right now that would essentially limit or ban abortions. The governor would have to decide whether to sign those," she said.

The candidates agreed that the state should expand gambling to include a casino, but differed on how to do so. Hassan said she would prefer a bidding process, while Lamontagne said the casino should be placed at Rockingham Park in Salem.

The Republican's position drew criticism from Hassan, who charged that Lamontagne, a business attorney, was targeting Rockingham Park because "it's one of his firm's clients."

"Yes, it's been a client of our firm's, but if I'm elected, I'm removing myself from my firm and selling my interest," Lamontagne said. "I'll have no interest in whether it's Rockingham or anywhere else."

He said expanded gambling should be a strategic move and that having a bill move through the Legislature would ensure transparency.

Hassan disagreed. "Because Rockingham is a client of his firm's, it doesn't instill public confidence in the process to have a candidate for governor essentially say that he has preselected the site."

When asked if they had visited a casino, both candidates said they never had.

Each candidate said they would, in some ways, govern like Gov. John Lynch, who enjoys high approval ratings. However, each said their approach would differ from Lynch's.

"I would be a leader," Lamontagne said. "I would either sign or veto a bill. I won't sit back and let bills become law without my signature as he has done."

Hassan said she does differ from Lynch on some issues, citing her support for expanded gambling as an example.

At one point, moderator Josh McElveen asked the candidates to respond "yes" or "no" during a lightning round that included questions about helmet laws, seat belts, whether to repeal the state's same-sex marriage law and whether to repeal the death penalty.

When Hassan gave long answers to some of the questions, Lamontagne gave the debate a light-hearted moment by replying, "Since it's a lightning round, no," when it was his turn to answer.

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Tim Buckland may be reached at tbuckland@unionleader.com.


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