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March 08. 2013 11:15PM

Two vie to fill Manchester vacancy in House

MANCHESTER - Voters will decide in a special election March 19 who will fill a seat left vacant in the state House of Representatives when a candidate who was elected moved to Florida and resigned.

Democrat Bill O'Neil and Republican Win Hutchinson are the candidates running for the opening in Hillsborough County District 9, Manchester Ward 2.

O'Neil, the president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2320, is running for public office for the first time while Hutchinson is seeking reelection for the second time in five months. Hutchinson was an incumbent last fall, but was unseated when Democrats Linda DiSilvestro and Robert Thompson swept the two seats in the November election.

Thompson left the state and resigned without ever taking office, leaving the seat vacant.

"As soon as I heard he was not going to be there, I said 'Well, I get a second bite at the apple,'" Hutchinson said.

O'Neil considered running last fall, but had two children starting in new schools and decided the timing wasn't right. After the Executive Council approved the special election to fill the vacancy, O'Neil said he started getting calls from friends urging him to run, then his kids chimed in.

"They kind of looked at me and said, 'you'd better do it, Dad,'" he said. "It was kind of nice to have that full support from family."

O'Neil said he has been handing out pamphlets, posting campaign signs and trying to meet as many voters as he can in the ward that covers the northeast corner of the city.

Hutchinson has been doing the same, although he already has a base of support from his election in 2010 and last fall. Hutchinson finished third in the race, 271 votes behind Thompson, as Democrats surged from the minority to majority in the House.

"I think Democrats did an excellent job getting people out to vote," Hutchinson said. "We're working very hard now trying to get the word out to as many Republican and conservative voters."

The winner will take office in time for this the current session and likely face two pressing issues that have been circulating in the State House: casino gambling and increasing the gasoline tax.

Hutchinson said he would support gambling, but he takes issue with Gov. Maggie Hassan's proposed budget already including revenue from it while the budget still needs approval.

"It's not the bill - it's the budget," Hutchinson said. "That's kind of a smoke-and-mirrors thing."

He is leaning against the gas tax because he fears the money will not be spent as intended.

"I can't see us throwing another 15 cents on a gallon of gas at a time like this and have no guarantee that money will go to roads and bridges. It's a bad idea," Hutchinson said. "Once you throw money into the pot of the general fund or any fund at the State House, it seems to evaporate and the original intent is never met."

O'Neil said he would support a temporary gas tax under certain provisions.

"I'd vote for a short-term usage tax to repair roads and bridges that have been closed or in need of immediate repair," he said. "It would be a short-term fix and then we'd work on a long-term fix."

Hutchinson and O'Neil were each polite and respectful when asked about their opponent, but a third party has also become involved. A group called Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire has sent out two mailings casting O'Neil in a negative light.

Hutchinson said he is not in any way affiliated with the group and does not condone its methods.

"I don't do negative campaigning," Hutchinson said. "I don't believe in it."

The first mailing claims that, as president of Local 2320, O'Neil and the union supported a plan that raised electric rates by over 34 percent. The pamphlet cites a Jan. 1 New Hampshire Union Leader article about the Public Utilities Commission approving a rate increase for Public Service of New Hampshire customers, but makes no mention of IBEW. O'Neil said the allegation was even more preposterous because Local 2320's membership consists of communications workers.

O'Neil chuckled a little when he saw the second mailing, which said in big bold letters "Facts IBEW President Bill O'Neil doesn't want you to know about Obamacare." O'Neil is president of a local chapter of IBEW, not the national union president, and is quite far removed from the controversial national health care plan.

O'Neil felt the attacks were clearly anti-labor statements that could backfire.

"It's not true, so I really don't care. If anything, I've gained votes out of it," he said. "A lot of the members who know me were furious that they put that out."


dalden@unionleader.com



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