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Candidates Fight For Sullivan Seat

  • Margaret Drye

  • Brian Sullivan

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/2/2017 12:20:52 AM
Modified: 11/2/2017 12:20:58 AM

Plainfield — An energized and engaged crowd peppered Margaret Drye and Brian Sullivan, the two candidates for state representative in Tuesday’s special election in the Sullivan 1 district, with questions on education, health care and reproductive rights during a Wednesday night debate.

More than 100 residents of Cornish, Grantham, Plainfield and Springfield packed into Plainfield Town Hall to listen to opening statements from the candidates — and then ply them with pointed questions.

Drye, a Plainfield Republican, and Sullivan, a Grantham Democrat, are running to replace Andy Schmidt, a Democrat who moved to New London. Drye was unopposed in the Republican primary, and Sullivan handily defeated Cody Dziegelewski in September for the Democratic nomination.

The winner will serve out the one year remaining in Schmidt’s two-year term before coming up for re-election.

Sullivan, a recently retired teacher advocate with the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, said his experience as a union negotiator had given him the skills to “cut deals, compromise and come to conclusions.”

“If you are continually saying ‘My way or the highway,’ you are never going to get to where you want to be,” he said.

Drye, a longtime resident who has served on countless community boards, including as president of the Hanover Co-op board of directors, emphasized the connections she had made during her decades in town.

“If you live in Plainfield or Cornish, there’s a good chance I’ve been to your house for an emergency,” she said, referring to her 37 years as a volunteer EMT, “ ... or I’ve been on your road or I’ve been at your neighbor’s house.”

“Our roots go deep here,” she added, “and we know this community.”

During the question-and-answer session that made up most of the evening, residents were sometimes blunt.

Mary Mancuso, of Cornish Flat, asked the candidates to explain how they would serve everybody when it came to education, noting that Drye had home-schooled her nine children and that Sullivan had worked for 25 years at NEA-NH.

“Margaret, you’ve been a home-schooler for a long time,” said Mancuso, herself a home-schooler, “and I want to know how you’d support public education from that background, because a lot of people think home-schoolers don’t support public education.”

To Sullivan, she said, “I want to know, if you become a representative, what would you do to enable people in New Hampshire to enjoy the educational freedom that we have? Frankly, what I’m afraid of with you is that you’re going to go to Concord and put up roadblocks in some way for home-schoolers.”

Even though some people believe home-schoolers are “in opposition to public schools,” Drye said, “that isn’t the case.” For her family, the decision to home-school had been more of a lifestyle choice, she said.

In addition to preserve existing New Hampshire law that makes it easy to home-school, Drye said she would like to curb regulations that weigh down small school districts with costs. “I think we should maybe start to look at relaxing some of these requirements to help schools save money.”

Sullivan, for his part, said he had “no opposition” to home schooling or private schools.

“I fully support parents’ ability to choose what is best for their own children,” he said.

He added, however, that he does not support the use of public funds to pay for home schooling, private schools and parochial schools.

Later in the evening, both candidates expressed skepticism about SB 193, a pending bill that would establish “education savings accounts,” a voucher-like program that would allow parents to use state educational funds to home school or at parochial and private schools.

Sullivan said the legislation may run afoul of the state constitution, which forbids spending public dollars on parochial education, and said it would have a “very negative effect on public schools” financially.

Drye said she didn’t think the bill was “well written,” and added that she doubted home-schoolers would accept state money if it came with “strings and requirements” attached.

The contenders also distinguished themselves on reproductive rights, where they struck divergent stances in response to questions about abortion and Planned Parenthood funding.

Drye, who in the past has supported a federal bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, said it was the “the state’s duty to protect innocent human life,” including “those whose life is in danger simply because they exist.”

Sullivan, in contrast, described himself as “pro-choice” and said the government’s business was not to “tell anyone, especially women, what to do with their lives (and) their bodies.”

Sullivan also said he was a “strong supporter” of Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health network whose government funding has become a focus for anti-abortion advocates, whereas Drye said she favored giving people vouchers to spend where they wished, rather than fund a specific organization.

Later in the night, Richard Atkinson, of Plainfield, pressed the candidates to tell him how they would vote on the renewal of Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire. If they were unwilling to vote in favor, he asked, “How would you fund the response to the opioid crisis?”

Drye, who answered first, told Atkinson she agreed that Medicaid’s funding for the drug response was “one of the good things.”

“One of the bad things about it is people’s costs went up about 52 percent” this year, she said. “The challenge for the next Legislature is how to pay for our part.”

Sullivan said he was “fully prepared” to commit to a “yes” vote on renewal and then, in what became a running theme of the night, went on the attack against Drye, saying she was unwilling to say how she would vote.

Sullivan said he was strongly opposed to so-called “right-to-work” legislation, which would eliminate mandatory fees paid by nonunion employees to support unions.

“I didn’t hear Margaret say whether she would work for it or against it,” he said. “I would vote against it.”

Asked by the moderator to clarify, Drye said, “I haven’t spent 25 years negotiating. I am certainly willing to listen and learn more.”

But on Medicaid expansion, Drye said, her stance was clear: it can’t be rolled back, but it has to be fixed.

“Once you expanded Medicaid you can’t un-expand,” she said. “The question is, now, how do you pay for it?”

Despite their differences, both Drye and Sullivan said their backgrounds would enable them to work across the aisle as legislators.

“I believe in civil discourse, and I believe that’s sorely needed today,” Drye said, noting that she had been re-elected Co-op board president during a divisive employment dispute “because of my vow to maintain civil discourse.”

“I did spend 25 yrs doing what some people view as pounding on the table and making demands. It doesn’t really work that way,” said Sullivan, who added that he was proud to have been endorsed by a retired school superintendent, Jacqui Guillette, who once had sat across the table from him. “She will tell you that we solved a lot of problems together.”

Wednesday night’s debate was co-sponsored by the Sullivan County Democrats, the Sullivan County Republicans, and the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire. The election is Tuesday.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.


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