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Candidates for Senate District 5 Seat See Race as Referendum

In the race for the New Hampshire Senate district in the heart of the Upper Valley, both candidates are framing the election as a referendum on the direction the state has taken under the Republican-controlled Legislature since 2010.

While state Rep. David Pierce, D-Etna, has tied his opponent to what he refers to as the “radical” agenda pursued by House Republicans during the last biennium in Concord, state Rep. Joe Osgood, R-Claremont, said he doesn’t see the last two years as negative, maintaining that the state has been heading in the right direction under the GOP’s watch.

If elected as senator, Pierce said, his focus would be to lead Senate District 5 “in a common-sense direction, not the same radical policies as these last two years.

“My opponent has a more conservative voting record than (House) Speaker (William) O’Brien,” Pierce said. “And when people are told that, they kind of gasp.” Osgood, who describes the last two years of Republican control as an ongoing effort to heal economic damage incurred by Democrats, agreed that he is in fact a “strong conservative” who advocates for smaller government and less regulation on businesses.

“I think that I’m the type of conservative that founded this country, and there’s no reason to feel bashful about it,” Osgood said.

The Senate district, which was redrawn earlier this year, runs from Lyme to Charlestown and includes Hanover, Lebanon, Claremont, Plainfield, Cornish, Enfield and Canaan.

Besides representing disparate Upper Valley towns in the New Hampshire House, the two candidates also have different personal backgrounds.

Pierce, who turns 49 tomorrow, grew up in Texas, the youngest of seven children and the first in his family to earn a college degree.

After completing college in Texas, Pierce moved to Washington, D.C., where he was licensed as a certified public accountant and where he would eventually meet his partner of 23 years, Dartmouth lecturer and Handel Society Director Robert Duff.

Pierce, who holds a law degree and a master’s in business administration from George Washington University, worked for a law firm in Los Angeles and eventually moved to Hanover when Duff was offered his job at Dartmouth. Pierce and Duff have two young daughters, and Pierce said he is grateful to be able to raise them in the Upper Valley.

In the House of Representatives, Pierce served as vice chairman of the committee on election law for the 2009-2010 session, as well as on the committees for redistricting and legislative administration.

Born and raised in Claremont, Osgood, 59, has always lived in the Granite State. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for 38 years. They have three grown children, along with four grandchildren.

A Stevens High School graduate, Osgood served as police chief for the town of Cornish for 15 years, and now operates Joe’s Family Car Care in Claremont, which he opened in 1998.

Osgood has served all three of his legislative terms on the House Ways and Means Committee, and served as chairman of the Executive Finance Committee for Sullivan County in his most recent term.

Different Directions Both lawmakers have served three consecutive terms since 2006, but they have different views on the nature of the Legislature in the time since their election.

Osgood said New Hampshire was a “decided state for business” when he first arrived in Concord, but “four years of over-regulation destroyed that attitude” when Democrats controlled the Legislature. “And for the last two years, we’ve been headed in the direction of getting accountants and economists to agree that New Hampshire is again a good place to do business,” Osgood said.

Pierce, meanwhile, has characterized the Republican majority that took control of the Legislature in 2010 as primarily focused on social issues, with economic matters in tow, pointing to attempts by House Republicans to repeal same-sex marriage, funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, and a proposed 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

“What these radicals in Concord have done is that they put their economic agenda hostage to their radical (anti)-abortion agenda,” Pierce said in reference to the waiting period. “They attached an abortion bill to (the research and development) tax credit bill that would help spur economic growth and create jobs, just because they’re so wedded to that radical agenda.” Osgood, who supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood and who describes himself as “pro-life,” said he votes on “any social issue that comes before me,” but added he has sat on the House Ways and Means Committee for all three of his terms, which he said was focused entirely on “straightening out the fiscal damage that was done to the state in the prior four years.” When Democrats controlled the Legislature before GOP victories in 2010, Osgood added, “social issues were crammed down our throat,” using as an example a Democrat-sponsored bill that would have allowed transgender individuals to use any bathroom, regardless of their physical sex. The bill narrowly passed the House in 2009 before being rejected in the Senate.

“That thing had everybody in uproars, and it was coming to the House on a weekly basis,” Osgood said.

When it comes to Planned Parenthood, the nonprofit family-planning organization, Pierce has described the defunding as a “political football framed up by the Republicans to rile the base.

“Only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s operations are related to abortion and abortion-related services,” Pierce said. “State and federal money is prohibited from being used to fund abortion related services.” “It’s not true,” Osgood said of Pierce’s assertion. “They just do an accounting shuffle and say these monies aren’t going there.” Osgood said he would consider supporting state funding to women’s health care organizations that do not provide abortion services.

“Unfortunately, (abortions) are not Planned Parenthood’s last resort,” Osgood said. “It seems to be their first resort.” Fiscal Policy The two candidates are split over a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban a broad-based income tax from ever being enacted in the state of New Hampshire. Granite State voters will decide the amendment’s fate in the Nov. 6 general election.

Pierce, who is opposed to the amendment, said almost every town in the Senate district voted for a measure from a “fair tax” coalition that sought to get lawmakers to consider other options, including an income tax, to ease the burden of property taxes.

“Fair-tax is based on your ability to pay, income tax is based on your ability to pay,” he said. “I think in District 5, the sentiment is pretty clear that we support some form of linking income to tax liability.” Pierce also said the amendment would “put a shadow over business in the state,” given that New Hampshire taxes business profits, adding, “you can’t really create and maintain an inviting business environment if the businesses coming into New Hampshire know they’re the only chance of income in the state.” But Pierce qualified his support for an income tax, saying it would have to include “pretty generous” exemptions for low-income families, as well as equally generous property-tax exemptions, “so people can get relief on their property taxes.” Osgood, who described himself as “highly unlikely” to vote for an income tax, said he is “very pleased with the tax structure that we have with business profits and enterprise taxes now,” although he added that the state could benefit from the enterprise tax being lowered. “The enterprise tax is kind of a spin-off of an income tax, so if we come out with an income tax, I would feel obligated to do something to do away with the enterprise tax,” he said.

Osgood said his top priority, if elected, would be “getting corporations to move into this area, and one of the main things that would assist that a great deal is right-to-work,” referring to legislation currently in place in 23 states that prohibits mandatory union membership and union dues. “We need right-to-work in New Hampshire, because individuals should have a right to choose whether or not they’re going to pay dues into a union,” he said.

Pierce, who uses a “three-legged stool” analogy on the campaign trail, said, “You can’t talk about focusing on the economy unless you focus on (education and health care) as well.” He said Republicans cut state funding for higher education by 50 percent last session. “And the majority of the Republican caucus voted to abandon the state’s constitutional duty to fund K-through-12 education,” he said.

“We know that we can’t attract businesses to New Hampshire unless we can offer them a skilled and educated work force,” he said.

While Osgood agrees with Pierce that education is “vital for a skilled work force,” he said, “the public education system is not developing the skills needed,” adding that “children that go to private schools come out way ahead when it comes to being ready for the work force than those in the public school system.” “I want the public school system to admit to their problems and fix their problems,” Osgood said.

Osgood said he favors increasing competition between public and private schools, and said a bill that passed the state House and Senate earlier in the year that offers tax credits to private companies that donate to scholarship funds to help send children to private schools or public schools out of their local jurisdiction, was a “first move” in that direction.

The two men are running for an open seat in a district widely acknowledged to favor Democrats. Outgoing state Sen. Matthew Houde, D-Plainfield, who now works for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, has endorsed Pierce, describing him as “a thoughtful, articulate, passionate advocate.” Houde, who served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the 2010 election was an “aberration in New Hampshire politics,” and said that it resulted in a Legislature with more socially conservative Republicans. He said state Republicans prior to 2010 had a different agenda.

“The House (before 2010) didn’t take steps to take women’s health care backward and try to undo things like marriage equality,” Houde said. “Those were things that the state had moved forward on.” “If (Republicans) balanced the budget,” he added, “they did so on the backs of the most needy.” Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Prozzo is endorsing Osgood, whom he said he has known for “many, many years.” “He cares about the people,” Prozzo said. “He certainly is a man of his word, and he’s out there trying to help everybody, regardless if you’re a Republican, Democrat or an independent.” Prozzo, who said his biggest concern is the state of the economy, said Osgood’s experience as a police chief helps him as a lawmaker, because “being a law enforcement officer, you see the good and the bad in everybody.

“You work with a lot of people: those who are well-to-do, those who are very poor, you see the gamut being in law enforcement,” he said. “I think that is a good perspective to have, to be open minded about everything. Never judge a book by its cover.” The two candidates will debate Wednesday, at 7 p.m., at River Valley Community College in Claremont, and on Oct. 24, at 7 p.m., at Kilton Library in West Lebanon, in forums hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Upper Valley.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.