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Sullivan County Democrats Get Choice

  • Lee Walker Oxenham (Courtesy photograph)

  • Andrew Schmidt (Courtesy photograph)

  • Peter Franklin (Courtesy photograph)

  • Virginia Irwin (Courtesy photograph)

  • John Lunn (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/6/2016 12:33:21 AM
Modified: 9/6/2016 10:20:21 AM

Newport — Democrats in Sullivan County have contested primaries in two two-seat districts on Sept. 13 for New Hampshire House seats.

In District 1, covering Cornish, Grantham, Plainfield and Springfield, state Reps. Andrew Schmidt, of Grantham, and Lee Walker Oxenham, of Plainfield, face a challenge from Cody Dziegelewski, of Grantham.

In District 6, representing Newport and Unity, state Rep. Virginia Irwin, of Newport, who is currently the District 9 incumbent, is on the ballot with former Newport Selectboard member John Lunn and former state Rep. Peter Franklin of Newport.

District 1

Schmidt, 73, has completed three terms in the House and is on the House Education Committee. Oxenham, 66, is seeking her second term. Both are retired.

The Medicaid expansion that was approved last year and covers an additional 50,000 residents was supported by both candidates and despite the reduction in federal money for the program from 100 percent to 90 percent, they believe it is necessary for the state’s low-income residents

“I will continue to support it going forward,” Schmidt said.

Funding for the program and others is an ongoing debate in Concord and while Schmidt said he opposes a broad-based sales or income tax — “our economy is not formatted for it” — he is willing to consider other taxes.

“I am not opposed to some sort of consumption tax,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think we need a lot money to fix some of our problems. We have the capacity. The question is, how do we do it.”

Oxenham said she would entertain an income tax but the problem goes deeper than just passing a new tax.

“We have to start from the ground up; how we collect taxes, what we collect them on and how we spend,” Oxenham said. “Right now it is done piecemeal.”

Oxenham, like many, wants a system that does not rely on two-thirds of school taxes being raised by property taxes because property poor towns need higher tax rates to raise the same amount of money that property rich towns raise. “It is so regressive and it is fundamentally wrong.”

Neither candidate supports the Croydon School District in its battle with the state over tax dollars being spent on private school tuition. The case, now headed to the state Supreme Court, involves the school district using tax dollars to pay tuition for four students at the Montessori School in Newport.

“I am a firm believer in the public schools,” said Oxenham. “In this state, we do not support public school enough and we can’t siphon money off for private schools.”

Schmidt said the legislation that failed last session to allow Croydon to continue the practice “morphed” into a statewide school choice issue.

“I do not support it,” Schmidt said. “Democrats have made it clear that only public schools get public funding.”

Schmidt said he is sympathetic to Croydon, which does not have a large tax base, but he thinks a long-term fix — restoring construction aid and increasing per capita student aid — would help Croydon, which serves grades K-4.

If re-elected, Schmidt said he would like to see the state focus more on job development to improve the labor market.

“We don’t have a job shortage, we have a labor problem,” he said.

In the next session, Oxenham wants to work increasing net metering, an incentive through Eversource to get customers using their own renewable energy source to generate electricity.

Dzgielewski is a 2015 University of Vermont graduate. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. David Wood, co-chair of the Grantham Democratic Town Committee, said in a phone interview Friday he has never met or spoken to Dzgielewski nor has he seen him at any Democratic Committee meetings. The committee has endorse Schmidt and Oxenham in the two-seat district.

Ken Gilchrest and Thomas Greenhalge are the Republicans on the ballot.

District 6

From 2012-2014, Virginia Irwin represented District 6 then switched to District 9 when Sunapee Democrat Linda Tanner ran, unsuccessfully, for state Senate in 2014. With Tanner running for the District 9 House seat, which includes several towns, Irwin, who served one House term in the early 1980s, has returned to District 6.

Unlike Lunn and Franklin, Irwin is not steadfastly opposed to Croydon’s position on using tax dollars for private school tuition and was a sponsor of House Bill 1637, which passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

“It was not a bill that allowed every school district choice,” Irwin said. “It was not a door opener (to private school vouchers). There were still standards.”

The choice would only be allowed if the school district did not have the grade for the student or students and would not be allowed for religious schools. Irwin said the model is in place because tax dollars are spent at St. Johnsbury Academy, Pinkerton Academy and Pembroke Academy.

“I think it is appropriate and does not dilute the public schools,” Irwin said.

Lunn, 58, who is a flutemaker and silversmith and has written novels, is the chairman of the Richards Library Trustees and served on the Newport Selectboard in the 1990s.

“Ideologically, I am against it,” Lunn said about school choice. “I believe we need to support public schools and not water down the public school system. I don’t support using tax dollars outside of public schools.”

Franklin, 85, was in the House for four terms, from 2000 to 2008. He cites his experience on the Newport School Board and the Legislature as qualifications to further serve Newport and Unity residents.

“I think fundamentally it is wrong,” said Franklin about school choice. “I don’t believe tax dollars should go to private schools.”

All three candidates back Medicaid expansion and realize additional revenue will have to be raised when federal funding decreases.

“I am an advocate of a broad-based tax,” Lunn said. “We have to stop with this pledge (against a broad-based tax) especially in Sullivan County where taxes are high and home values down and try to bring in more revenue to the county.”

Another issue important to Lunn is public transporation in the county, which is scheduled to lose its bus service and volunteer driver program as of Sept. 9 because of insufficient funding.

“We have to seriously think of a better way to fund public transportation,” Lunn said.

Irwin wants to see more funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment, agrees with Lunn on public transportation funding and wants to look at the state’s tax structure.

“We need the political will to have the converation on taxes,” Irwin said. “We have a revenue problem and even some Republicans admit that.”

Franklin is bothered by what he said is the Legislature’s practice of taking money from one fund and using it for another purpose. As one example, he said 5 percent of revenues from alcohol sales are supposed to go toward alcohol addiction treatment but doesn’t. He also wants to see more funding for drug courts an in-jail drug and alcohol treatment programs.

State Rep. Skip Rollins, R-Newport, and Bill Schroeter, a Unity selectman, are the GOP candidates in the district.

Democrats currently hold an 8-5 majority in the House delegation from Sullivan County, including all four Claremont seats. Each party has fielded a full slate of candidates for the Nov. 8 general election.

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