Conway candidate forum gives voice to viewpoints
CONWAY — Before local residents vying for state offices took to the podium on Thursday afternoon, George Cleveland, executive director of the Gibson Center for Senior Services in North Conway, said the candidates could do whatever they wanted with their allotted five minutes, even sing.
The center has been holding candidates forums for at least 12 years, Cleveland said, including for local municipal elections. For this forum, Cleveland, who is the grandson of President Grover Cleveland, handed the moderator duties to Jill Reynolds, program coordinator at the center.
Holding up a big clock to explain to the candidates how she would let them know when their time was up, Reynolds said, “I wanted the timer, but it buzzes and buzzes and buzzes and George didn't think it was appropriate.”
It was just one of the political forums being held in Mount Washington Valley during the run up to the elections. In the evening, many of the candidates were going to a debate at the American Legion in Conway. Some candidates did not attend because they were attending other forums in the central towns of the county.
The candidates' remarks reflected the divisions that were apparent in the latest session of the Legislature, with several candidates taking offense at the statements of candidates from the opposing party, while others seemed to hold an olive branch out to their more moderate opponents.
Democrat candidate for Carroll County District 2 Syndi White said, “The days of the moderate Republicans are gone,” and then commented that she would have voted with incumbent Rep. Karen Umberger, R-Conway, 70 percent of the time.
Executive Council District 1 Democrat candidate Beth Funicella of Jackson said that while she respects incumbent Councilor Ray Burton, her candidacy provides a choice. Burton, in turn, said he appreciated her willingness to get involved in the political process.
The state's budget was the hot topic, with candidates from both sides concerned about how it affected their constituents, whether as higher fees and taxes or as cutbacks in services. Higher education was on the minds of many.
Republican incumbent District 3 state Sen. Jeb Bradley said that they'd had to tighten their belts, and that he had opposed the reduction in the cigarette tax. He said if revenues go up, then they should be able to restore funds to the university system.
His opponent, Jeffery Ballard of Brookfield said, “If we don't have a healthy, educated work force, we don't have the New Hampshire advantage.” He questioned the wisdom of the Republicans in the last session, whose legislation raised the cost of education while lowering the cost cigarettes.
Democrat Gino Funicella, husband of Beth Funicella, running against Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett for a seat representing Carroll County District 1, charged that the House Republicans have destroyed parts of the safety net after two years of what he said was “slash and burn.”
Calling himself a progressive Democrat, he recited a list of program cuts, and said that Chandler had voted to repeal drug free school zones.
“The Legislature had to make tough choices,” Chandler said. He said the worst time to be raising taxes and fees is during a recession. As to Funicella's wish to restore the funding, Chandler said, “He hasn't said how he's going to pay for it.”
Rep. Frank McCarthy, R-Conway, called the Democrats cowards. “They didn't have the guts to cut, they added and added and added,” leaving the then-incoming Republicans in 2011 to deal with the projected deficit. He said he kept the promise he made two years ago, to reduce government while maintaining services.
Democrat House hopeful Dick Pollock said, “Bluster and volume along are not any indication of truth.” He called the Tea Party advocates slaves to ideology who have taken the state back three or four decades. The Legislature, he said, has become an enemy of the people.
Democrat Tom Buco of Conway, a former state representative, said that, yes, cuts had to be made, but there should be priorities, citing public safety, roads and bridges, and education as three areas that need investment.
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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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