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Redistricting Resets Races in Claremont

— Claremont stands alone this election year.

No longer grouped with Unity and Lempster under the House redistricting plan, the city has four seats, one for each ward and a “floterial” district covering all three wards.

Democrats are running two established incumbents, one former state represenative who served 12 years, and a newcomer who has been a full-time Claremont police officer since 1996.

On the Republican side, there are two first-term incumbents and two newcomers, one of whom lost a bid for the House two years ago.

One of the main issues of the campaign is a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution and prohibit any more taxes on income, including a state income tax. The House passed the bill to put it on the ballot 257 to 101 and the Senate, 19-4.

Sullivan House 3 The seat covering Ward 1 is a contest between Claremont Police Officer Andrew O’Hearne, a Democrat, and Republican Steve Picano, who lost a bid for the House in 2010 and also ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2011.

O’Hearne, 45, has been with the police department since 1989 and a full time officer since 1996. This is his first run for public office.

He said in an interview he opposes the constitutional amendment to ban an income tax and doesn’t believe those who are advocating for it have the best interests of the voters at heart.

“I would vote no on that,” O’Hearne said. “I don’t believe they are trying to do what is best for the people. They have an agenda and are wasting time.” Picano, 69, said he is “undecided” at this time whether he would support an income tax, but is against banning it under the state constitution.

“I may or may not be opposed to an income tax but I am absolutely opposed to the constitutional amendment,” he said.

Picano also said he would never agree to signing the “pledge” taken by many candidates against broad-based taxes.

In the last legislative session, the House passed a resolution, 179-134, “urging” the U.S. Congress to declare the grant from the U.S.

Department of Health and Human Services to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England to be “unconstitutional and void.” The move came after the Executive Council voted in June not to fund Planned Parenthood from the federal grant. That was followed by a decision by the federal government to give the grant directly to the organization. Republican House leaders, who oppose abortion rights, saw this as a violation of the state’s rights under the New Hampshire Constitution and proposed the resolution.

Picano said he strongly backs the resolution, which did not pass the Senate.

“As long as they are still permitting and paying for abortions, if the vote were up to me, I would not vote for them to receive anything,” said Picano.

“I am definitely ‘pro-life.’ I realize mammograms and so forth are important but not nearly as important as (stopping) the killing of a baby,” Picano said.

O’Hearne summed up his feeling this way: “You don’t tell me what to do with my body and I won’t tell you want to do with yours,” he said.

If voters send him to Concord, O’Hearne said he wants to keep in mind those who elected him.

“What I think has been lost, is that the Legislature has forgotten to listen the people, the ones who sent them down there,” said “O’Hearne, who recalled contacting five of the House lawmakers from Claremont during the last session and only hearing back from two.

“I want to be more responsive to the voters and not go down there with an agenda,” he said.

Picano also promises to give the voters a voice in Concord and hold regular meetings to listen to what his constituents want.

“I have a campaign sign that says ‘a voice for the people,’ “ Picano said. “I am going to do the best I can for the people I represent and understand what they need. I also will remember I am coming from Claremont, not just Ward 1.” Sullivan House 4 The District 4 House race pits first-term state Rep. Charlene Lovett, R-Claremont, against former state Rep. Tom Donovan, a Democrat who served 12 years in the House before deciding to sit out the 2010 election. The district covers Ward 2 in Claremont.

“I saw what was going on the last two years with the erosion of the safety net for people I’ve advocated and work for,” Donovan said about his reason for getting off the sidelines and back into politics. “I owe it to those people to try to do something.” Neither Donovan nor Lovett back the amendment prohibiting another tax on income.

“I have a fundamental problem with amending the constitution for fiscal policy,” said Lovett, who went against the House leadership and did not support putting the amendment on the ballot.

“I don’t believe in taking anything off the table.” Lovett said she is not suggesting an income tax is a complete solution but wants to be sure it lowers property taxes, especially for those on fixed incomes.

“A lot of people on fixed incomes cannot afford another tax,” she said. “Some are thinking of selling their home or are losing their home.” Donovan has a similar view.

“I don’t think it is wise to be taking anything off the table that can bring in revenue,” he said. “I support gambling, to a degree, and I am open to a progressive type of tax.” Lovett voted against the resolution that targeted Planned Parenthood and, like Donovan, agrees that the organization provides critical services to women and young families.

“I certainly don’t want to hurt anything that is delivering basic health care services like mammograms,” said Lovett, adding that she opposes any public money going toward abortion services.

“I’m a pro-life Democrat,” said Donovan, 65, a case manager for Heritage Case Management which works with the elderly and disabled to help them stay in their homes. “I support the quality of life but I also support Planned Parenthood because they do a fantastic job with health screening and counseling. You have to look at the issues separately.

Planned Parenthood has great programs.” Donovan, who served as vice chairman of the House Health Committee when he was in the Legislature, said health care would be his main focus in the next session because changes are coming with the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act and the switch from fee-for-service to managed care for state Medicaid recipients.

“They will have a huge impact on so many consumers,” Donovan said. “I think the result will be a win-win for everyone.” For Lovett, a 49-year-old career Army veteran who now serves on the Claremont School Board, health care, the economy and tax reform will be priorities in Concord.

“Health care costs are crippling municipalities and businesses,” she said. “On tax reform, there has got to be fairer distribution for paying to cost of running the state.” Sullivan District 5 State Rep. Ray Gagnon, 63, a former U.S. Marshal and former Claremont mayor and city councilor is seeking his fourth term against political newcomer Richard Madigan for the district that covers the city’s Ward 3 district.

Gagnon, a Democrat who is semi-retired, is hoping the election brings what he terms a “natural swing to the center.” “I believe the House will not be as inflexible and extreme as it has been the last two years,” Gagnon said, adding that he expects lawmakers will work on economic development issues and also wants to return funding to the university system of colleges.

Gagnon did not back putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot banning an income tax.

“It ties the hands of the Legislatures and takes a way a tool we could have,” he said. “It determines what future generations could do.

It may sound nice but it won’t work.” Madigan, the Republican candidate who is retired from a career in banking, supports the amendment but with “reservations,” he said.

“Some day down the pike it may be needed,” said Madigan, 71. “Right now, we can work around it. We don’t need it (income tax).” If elected, Madigan said he would focus on education in Concord.

“What I would do is overhaul the state’s education system, top to bottom,” Madigan said. “We need to look at some of what we are teaching.

Right now, we are not teaching civics and if you don’t know how government runs, you will become a victim of government.” On the fiscal side, Madigan believes the state needs to “spend better,” not necessarily more.

“But that does not mean ripping the guts out of the expense side,” he said.

Neither candidate supports the House resolution on Planned Parenthood funding.

“Planned Parenthood is the whipping boy of the right,” said Gagnon.

“If Planned Parenthood didn’t exist, young families and women would have not a place to go to have access to a whole spectrum of crucial health care services.” As for the abortion question itself, Gagnon said it is the “law of the land” and is about women’s rights, which he said he supports.

Madigan was less committed on the abortion question.

“I can see both the pros and cons of the debate,” he said.

But because he believes Planned Parenthood is helpful to a lot of citizens, he agrees with providing funding.

“It provides important services to a lot of women,” Madigan said.

Gerald Donatelli, a musician and Elvis Presley impersonator who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2009, is also on the ballot as an independent. He could not be reached for comment.

Sullivan District 10 Veteran Democratic lawmaker John Cloutier will be seeking to return to Concord for his 12th two-year term against first-term incumbent state Rep. Paul LaCasse, a Republican and former city councilor.

The floterial district encompasses the entire city.

Cloutier, 54, works as a security officer and as a substitute teacher in Claremont and Unity.

He opposed putting a constitutional amendment banning an income tax on the ballot and also voted against the House resolution on Planned Parenthood.

“Planned Parenthood provides vital health care services for low-income people,” said Cloutier, who added that he generally votes in support of abortion rights. “The (House) bill would have hurt Claremont.” “The whole abortion thing is a red herring because the Hyde amendment says no public funds can be used for abortion,” he added, referring to federal law.

Amending the state constitution to ban an income tax is the wrong approach to fiscal policy, Cloutier said.

“We don’t need it and I think it binds the hands of future legislatures to deal with a fiscal crisis. It would only put more pressure on property taxes and adding other taxes like a sales tax, which would hurt low-income people,” Cloutier said.

In another term, Cloutier wants to focus on jobs and the economy and restoring state funding for the state’s public university and community college system, which was cut in half in the last session.

Another priority will be to look for ways to pay for repairs for roads and bridges, both for the state and cities and towns.

“I tend to favor a small increase in the gas tax, which has not increased in 20 years,” he said.

LaCasse, 62, is the code enforcement officer for Newbury, N.H., and a former Claremont city councilor and planning board member.

“I did vote for it,” LaCasse said about the bill to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot. “I think it should be passed. It is the only way we can control spending in Concord.” On the question of funding Planned Parenthood, LaCasse said he opposes abortion rights, except for cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is endangered. Records show he did not vote on the Planned Parenthood resolution.

If voters re-elect him, LaCasse said he will continue with the same philosophy he brought to the Legislature the last two years.

“I want to get back to more local control and smaller government,” he said, adding that the state’s fiscal problems cannot be solved by more spending and taxation. “New Hampshire does not have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem.” Claremont did have five House lawmakers for the last decade, but lost a seat under redistricting as Lempster and Unity joined other districts.

The fifth incumbent, state Rep. Joe Osgood, R-Claremont, is running for Senate District 5 against state Rep. David Pierce, D-Etna.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.