Two Dartmouth Students in Running for N.H. House Seats

  • Polly Campion

  • Webb Harrington

  • Mary Jane Mulligan

  • Garrett Muscatel

  • Sharon Nordgren

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/6/2018 12:02:45 AM
Modified: 10/6/2018 9:45:54 AM

Hanover — Four Democrats and one Republican, including two Dartmouth College students, are vying for the four seats representing Hanover and Lyme in the New Hampshire House.

Democratic state Reps. Sharon Nordgren, of Hanover, Polly Campion, of Etna, and Mary Jane Mulligan, of Hanover, all are seeking re-election in the Grafton 12 district, while the two Dartmouth students — Democrat Garrett Muscatel and Republican Baronet “Webb” Harrington — are running for the first time.

Muscatel, 20, grew up in a suburb west of Los Angeles, and also has lived in the suburbs of Chicago. Despite his youth, the college junior already has spent years racking up political experience, with a Washington internship in the office of U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., and volunteer campaign work for both Brownley and former President Barack Obama.

Harrington, also a 20-year-old junior, grew up in Boulder, Colo., attended Phillips Exeter Academy in southern New Hampshire, and is the co-editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review, the conservative newspaper at Dartmouth. He also has political experience, having interned for U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

In New Hampshire, Muscatel has advocated for voter rights, and signed on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against SB3, a voting reform law that he says disenfranchises voters.

“Election law is probably my focus. Voter suppression scares me,” he said. “It’s damaging our democratic process.”

He said young voices would help bring a new set of experiences to the mix in the Statehouse.

“I’ve managed to rearrange my course schedule, so I wouldn’t be taking any classes during the legislative session,” he said. “I won’t miss any days because of school. I’ll be 100 percent focused on the legislature.”

Harrington said he probably would have voted against SB3 but understands the “motivation” of supporters of changes to election law who believe people voting in New Hampshire elections should have some enduring tie to the state. Harrington, who has a New Hampshire driver’s license, said he has gone to school in the state for seven years and likes that it shares the “spirit of freedom and libertarianism” that also is found in the mountain state of Colorado.

“I really love New Hampshire. ... It’s really treated me well, and I want to give back to the community that’s done so much for me here,” Harrington said.

Because the top four votegetters will win seats, at least one of the Dartmouth students is certain to be elected, but he will not be breaking new ground. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, at least four Dartmouth students have served in the Legislature in the past 42 years, including Mike Hanson, of Laconia, and Mark Connolly, of Bedford, who were elected to the New Hampshire House in the 1970s.

Among the three incumbents, Nordgren, who is seeking her 15th term, is by far the most experienced legislator. She has served on the House Finance Committee since 1992, with an expertise in health and human services funding.

“I think my historical perspective is probably important,” she said. “It’s important in looking at new budgets and seeing where we’ve come from.”

She said she grew up in a Republican household in Minnesota, but concerns about issues such as health care, reproductive rights and the death penalty became central to her identity as a Democrat. She moved to Hanover in 1972.

Mulligan, 70, worked as an attorney and a child advocate in Maryland, but left the field when she moved to New Hampshire in 1997 because of a lack of reciprocity regulations regarding her legal credentials. She has been substitute teaching in the area for about 20 years, and also has served as a guardian ad litem.

Campion, 66, grew up in upstate New York and moved to the area in 1976. She has worked as an inpatient oncology nurse, and in a variety of administrative positions focused on clinical quality improvement and patient safety. She retired from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in early 2011 and has worked since then for the Foundation for Healthy Communities and the Home Care Association of New Hampshire.

“I bring an experience and knowledge base that helps me to understand where the real needs are, particularly for safety net services for New Hampshire residents,” Campion said.

All four of the Democratic candidates described themselves as “progressive,” but none of them said they were fully in lockstep with the progressive movement.

Muscatel said his progressive values are tempered by what he learns as an economics major.

“I like numbers. I like facts,” he said. For example, he said, he argued against a prescription drug coupon system in California because he felt that it ultimately gave name-brand pharmaceuticals an unfair advantage over generic alternatives.

Nordgren said she accepts the progressive label only reluctantly.

“I’m not big on labels,” she said. “My record is pretty clear.”

Mulligan said her main problem with the progressive movement is that it is not progressive enough on issues such as gender equality.

“We are 50 percent of the population and I think we deserve representation,” she said.

Campion, by contrast, said she often advocates for more measured change.

“I tend to believe that moving forward takes time,” she said. “It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary.”

She also said that her background in public health has made her “very conflicted about legalizing recreational marijuana.”

Harrington, the Republican, said he favors legalizing marijuana, and also wants to bring more tech jobs to the state. He also said he probably would not support an increase to the state’s minimum wage, which is tied to the federal level of $7.25 an hour.

“In general, I approach things as a libertarian unless there’s a really compelling reason,” such as if a free market is not functioning properly, Harrington said. He also argued that increases in the minimum wage most threaten the jobs held by people “already in the weakest position in society.”

Asked about gun control, all four Democrats said they favored measures such as universal background checks.

Muscatel said he supports raising the age for purchasing a gun to a minimum of 18.

“I’m not trying to take anyone’s guns away,” he said. “I’m trying to balance that with people’s right to live.”

Nordgren also favors a serious look at adopting a “red flag bill,” which would allow officers to seize guns from people deemed an “extreme risk” to themselves or others; a similar bill was adopted in Vermont earlier this year.

Mulligan said she supports gun free zones, mandatory waiting periods, and banning assault weapons.

All three incumbents said they’d like to overturn a concealed carry law that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law in February 2017.

“I’ve been told that some schools don’t feel comfortable bringing kids to the Statehouse, knowing that there are legislators carrying concealed weapons,” Mulligan said.

But Harrington said he generally supports gun rights.

“If someone is not a proven threat to the public, then they should have a right to their constitutional rights, which include bearing arms,” Harrington said.

There also was general agreement among all four Democratic candidates on education funding — they oppose efforts by Sununu to introduce a school voucher system that would allow parents to shift money away from public schools and toward private schools.

Campion and Mulligan also said they were opposed to a 2017 law that uses funds from the electronic gambling game keno to help pay for full-day kindergarten instruction.

“I think using keno as a funding mechanism is not only unreliable, but it’s a shameful way of funding education, frankly,” Campion said.

Campion and Mulligan both said they felt full-day kindergarten instruction is important, but had not identified alternative sources of funding.

Mulligan, who is serving her first term, sits on the Children and Family Law Committee and sponsored or co-sponsored four bills in the Legislature this year.

One, which raised the minimum age to marry to 16 (and which was co-sponsored by Campion), was signed into law in April. She said it was a compromise from her initial desire to increase the age to 18.

The other three, which have stalled in the legislative process, would have required presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns, required seat belts for motor vehicle passengers unless specifically exempted by law, and expanded sexual assault definitions to include cases in which the perpetrator and the victim are legally married minors.

While on the Finance Committee, Nordgren has sponsored or co-sponsored one bill this year. The bill, which was adopted, prevents the governor from giving emergency funding to the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, adds oversight to the center and establishes a committee to seek alternatives to the center. She said it did not fully meet her initial increased funding target for the center.

Campion, who is serving her first term, sits on the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, and sponsored or co-sponsored 10 bills this year, of which five, including the one raising the minimum age to marry, have been signed into law.

The other four that passed authorized recovery programs for nurses impaired by substance use disorders or mental or physical illness, clarified laws that protect the elderly from fraud, expanded pathways for nurses with licenses from other states to practice in New Hampshire, and raised the threshold for criminal prosecution of welfare fraud so that it applies primarily to cases in which the amount of fraud exceeds $1,000 (the threshold previously was $100).

The open seat in the district came about after state Rep. Patricia Higgins, D-Hanover, opted not to seek a fourth term.

Staff writer John P. Gregg contributed to this report. Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at or 603-727-3211.

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