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Five Candidates Compete for Four Lebanon House Seats

  • Richard Abel

  • Susan Almy in West Lebanon, N.H., on March 28, 2011. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Michael Balog

  • Laurel Stavis

  • George Sykes



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, October 01, 2018

Lebanon — Voters in Lebanon will be asked in November to choose between four Democrats and one Republican hoping to represent the city in the New Hampshire House next year.

Democratic state Reps. George Sykes, Susan Almy and Richard Abel are seeking re-election to Grafton District 13, which is made up of four seats representing all of Lebanon’s three wards.

Former Dartmouth College administrator Laurel Stavis, a Democrat, is running to replace state Rep. Andrew White, D-Lebanon, who is not seeking re-election after almost a decade in Concord. White recently retired from a 24-year career with the Lebanon Fire Department and has enrolled in nursing school at NHTI, Concord’s Community College.

Republican Michael Balog, a retired Connecticut police officer, is the lone GOP candidate in the race. The top four vote-getters will win seats.

The district is widely considered a Democratic stronghold. The last Republicans elected to represent Lebanon in the House were former City Councilor Terri Dudley and then-Mayor Ralph Akins in 2002. Akins lost a re-election bid the next year running as an independent, and now is a Democrat.

Stavis, 68, said she would like to join Lebanon’s veteran Democratic delegation in addressing social issues.

The chairwoman of the Listen Community Services board of trustees, Stavis said she would build coalitions with nonprofits to advocate for social service programs, affordable housing and the environment.

She also hopes to garner state support for the revitalization of downtown West Lebanon, and seek ways to alleviate an ongoing shortage of nurses in Grafton County.

Potential shortfalls in state revenue worry Almy, a former agricultural researcher who specialized in developing countries in Africa.

The Legislature has been incrementally decreasing state business taxes, which could be disastrous in the event of another recession or economic downtown, she said.

“The entire economic landscape is in turmoil and we don’t know if (taxes are) going to continue to produce enough revenue to keep things at least the way they are now,” said Almy, 72, who called for a reversal of the tax cuts.

She also vowed to continue advocating for condominium residents as a member of the House subcommittee working to address condo issues. Next year, Almy hopes to pass legislation that will create a state arbitration board that settles disputes between homeowners associations and residents.

Sykes, a retired Lebanon deputy fire chief, said he plans to introduce legislation banning single-use plastic bags from large retail stores.

If successful, New Hampshire would become the second state to ban the bags from widespread use, after California instituted its own prohibition in 2014.

Sykes, 67, also hopes to create a commission that would study providing drivers licenses to legal immigrants. Many students obtain visas to study at New Hampshire colleges, such as nearby Dartmouth College, he said, but barriers often make it too difficult for them to obtain a driver’s license.

And Abel, a former book publisher and Franklin Pierce University professor, said he intends to address issues with the Westboro Rail Yard this year.

The former train depot in West Lebanon has been subject to recent scrutiny because of a Rymes Propane & Oil offloading operating within the busy commercial district. City leaders worry the surrounding neighborhood could be in danger if a fire causes an explosion, and business leaders have expressed concern that future development could be limited.

Abel, 68, hopes to introduce a bill requiring the state Department of Transportation to communicate with municipalities anytime railroad property is subleased. The bill also would have a provision requiring any sublease to abide by local safety regulations.

“I’m just doing that in response to the concerns of a lot of residents that have been worried that their safety might be at risk,” he said.

Other initiatives on his agenda include raising the state’s minimum wage and instituting a system of universal health care.

The 67-year-old Balog said the state’s opioid crisis is among the top policy issues facing the Granite State, and more efforts are needed to prevent problems from “draining resources” and causing unnecessary deaths.

“It’s very unnerving and unsettling,” he said of news reports of heroin and fentanyl addiction.

Balog said he plans to oppose taxes in Concord that would hit at the wallets of Upper Valley residents, and vowed against an income tax, sales tax and proposals to increase the gasoline tax.

“Common sense is the key way to handle problems, not just throwing money at it,” he said.

Balog also voiced support for school choice legislation, such as the so-called Croydon Bill, which now allows some school districts to use taxpayer money to send students to private schools.

This is his second run for the House, having challenged Lebanon’s four incumbents in 2016. He received 2,353 votes in that race, the lowest total after Abel, who garnered 4,176 votes.

Addressing gun control policy, all four Democrats said they would support amending state law to allow local school districts to regulate firearms on school grounds.

While the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act bans carrying firearms within 1,000 feet of a school, New Hampshire law dictates that the state Legislature has sole authority to regulate firearms and knives.

That means a Lebanon School District policy banning guns on its grounds violates state law, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

“My position is that in a public place, the public building is under the control of a body elected by the people and that body ought to be able to decide whether it is safer with or without guns all over it,” Almy said, adding that she regrets originally voting for the current gun law.

“Any sentence that contains the two words ‘guns’ and ‘schools’ just doesn’t make sense to me,” Stavis said.

Meanwhile, Balog called for Lebanon to abide by state law and reverse its policy. Instead, he said, there should be classes on gun safety and promoting student wellness.

Balog also called for retired police officers and members of the military to help patrol schools.

All of the candidates agreed that the state needs to better fund education, rather than continue to overly rely on local property taxes.

But the Democrats and Balog differed on how to address the problem.

Balog said he would like more state lottery and charitable gaming funds to be used for education, adding that less money should be spent on enforcing Common Core standards.

Democrats argued some form of taxation ultimately will be needed to increase school aid.

“I think the state has not followed its responsibility to provide for an adequate education and keeps pushing costs onto local communities and local school boards,” said Abel, who suggested increasing business taxes to aid schools.

Another lawsuit might be needed to force the Legislature to act, Sykes said, adding New Hampshire’s minimum allocation of $3,600 per student is too little.

New Hampshire’s general election is scheduled for Nov 6.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.