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Plainfield-Area Seats Both Contested

— Andy Schmidt and Ben Lefebvre have much in common.

They’re both Democrats living in Grantham. They’re both hoping for their second term in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, representing a two-seat district that covers Cornish, Grantham and Plainfield.

Both were political newcomers who defied the Republican landslide and won contested races for the Legislature.

On Nov. 6, they’ll both be on the ballot as Democratic incumbents facing off against GOP challengers, one brand new to the political scene and one a comparative veteran. (The two-seat Sullivan 1 House district now also includes the town of Springfield, N.H., following legislative redistricting.) The two Democrats also think similarly. When asked if they support or oppose the proposed constitutional amendment that would prohibit a state income tax, Lefebvre and Schmidt’s explanations of their opposition were almost identical.

“I simply do not feel that we should be binding future legislators as to their taxing and legislative powers,” said Schmidt, 69 and a retired insurance adjuster. “If we had a crisis, say, 20 years from now, and our state’s situation was different, we would have to repeal this amendment before we can act. It would basically inhibit the Legislature’s powers to deal with what the state has to deal with.” Lefebvre, who has lived in Grantham for four years but grew up in Claremont, said that a constitutional amendment would “handcuff” future legislators. But that doesn’t mean he wants to add taxes the Granite State doesn’t currently have.

“We like the New Hampshire advantage,” he said. “We like not having a sales tax. We like not having an income tax.” One of the Republicans running to unseat Schmidt and Lefebvr is Bill Walker, 55, who has lived in Plainfield with his wife for four years. He said he aligns with the New Hampshire GOP, though he supported libertarian state Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, during the presidential primaries. Walker contributes to LewRockwell.com, a website of opinion essays with the slogan “anti-state, anti-war, pro-market.” Walker said his top priority upon being elected would be “to just have the government run your life as little as possible.” He most recently worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. before taking a job at M2S, a West Lebanon-based medical imaging company.

The other Republican challenger, Laura Ward, a Plainfield resident who works as a lab technician at Dartmouth College, is running for a Sullivan 1 seat for the third race in a row. In both 2008 and 2010 she came in third.

Ward, 50, has lived in Plainfield for 25 years, but has been a New Hampshire resident nearly all her life, she said. If elected, one of her goals would be to work on the Learn-to-Earn initiative championed by gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne, a program that has high school students intern with businesses that could then offer them jobs after graduation.

She cited the North Country Workplace Education Program as an example of a similar program working smoothly.

“Some of this isn’t really involving a lot of money,” she said. “It’s just involving time and space.” On a grander scale, though, she agreed with Walker’s small-government views.

Walker said he supported the proposed amendment, saying that tying the lack of income tax to a constitutional amendment would prevent frequent changing of tax codes. He cited the IRS, which he said changes its tax codes all the time.

“It doesn’t help to just scramble it,” he said.

On another hot-button issue, Walker said he personally has no qualms with Planned Parenthood, and believes it should exist, but as a private enterprise instead of one funded by taxpayers.

Those who disagree with the organization’s goals or practices on a religious basis, he said, shouldn’t have to pay taxes for its continued existence.

“Imagine you’re being taxed to oppose it,” Walker said. “It’s a way of creating civil wars that we don’t need.” Similarly, he said he supports abortion rights, but doesn’t believe abortions should be publicly funded.

Ward is on the other end of the spectrum.

“I don’t approve of abortion,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of things you can do before you get to that point. Again, it’s education, educating people what they can do to prevent that. You’ve got options available to you before you get to that point.” The two Democrats fall firmly inside party lines. Lefebvre said that the most of Planned Parenthood’s services involve education, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and general women’s health help.

De-funding the organization, to him, is more than just misguided.

“I think it’s absolutely ludicrous, personally,” he said.

Both Democrats also consider themselves supporters of abortion rights candidates.

“For me, it’s a simple thing,” Lefebvre said. “I don’t feel like government needs to stand between a woman’s decision to choose what her health is.” Lefebvre is a full-time Hanover firefighter who considers himself an avid hunter and sportsman. In his first term in the House, he sat on the Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee, on which he voted to keep a state law in place that prohibits loaded shotguns and rifles to be carried in vehicles. The law is meant to deter poachers.

Schmidt, who has lived in Grantham for a decade, sat on the Constitutional Review and Statutory Recodification Committee, which checks proposed bills for their constitutionality.

The four towns are also part of a larger “floterial district,” Sullivan House 9, where state Rep. Tom Howard, R-Croydon, is facing a challenge from first-time candidate Linda Tanner, a Sunapee Democrat. A preview of that race will run in the next few days. Sullivan 9 includes Sunapee, Croydon, Cornish, Newport, Grantham, Plainfield, Springfield and Unity.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.