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Sullivan County House Candidates Talk Minimum Wage, Legal Pot

  • Sue Gottling

  • Gates Lucas

  • Virginia Irwin

  • Skip Rollins

  • John Callum

  • Larry Flint



Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, October 14, 2018

Newport — Veteran lawmakers holding Sullivan County House seats representing the Newport and Sunapee areas are facing challenges in next month’s election as Democrats and Republicans battle for control of the Legislature.

State Reps. Virginia Irwin, D-Newport, and Skip Rollins, R-Newport, hold the two seats in Sullivan 6, which represents Newport and Unity. Also on the ballot are Larry Flint, a Newport Democrat, and John Callum, a Unity Republican.

Irwin, a retired educator who currently serves on the Newport School Board and was previously a Selectboard member, is seeking her fourth consecutive term in the House. She also served for two years in the early 1980s.

Before winning one of the two general election ballot spots last month’s Democratic primary, Irwin said she wants to consider alternatives to state funding of schools that would make some major expenses incurred by all school districts — such as salaries, health insurance and special education — a state responsibility. She argued that property-poor districts such as Newport that struggle to raise money through taxes would not be at such a disadvantage to towns with more property wealth, she said, though she acknowledged that shifting those expenses to the state would require more revenue.

“I am open to any serious discussion that looks at another revenue stream,” Irwin said, adding that she staunchly opposes the current annual decreases in the stabilization grants that send adequacy aid to the districts.

Flint, 72, who also made it on the ballot after the three-way race in the Democratic primary, said he would focus on legislation that promotes healthy aging if elected and will bring an “open mind” to Concord on the issues of education funding. Nevertheless, he said he sees a need for the state to provide more money at the local level for schools that struggle with the property tax revenue.

“If a town doesn’t have the economic base, it comes down to the households. Where is the equity in that?” Flint asked.

Rollins, 65, seeking his fourth term in the House, agrees that the state is not meeting its education funding responsibilities particularly for school districts like Newport and Unity. And though he would like to see more money coming to his district, he said he does not see the need for a new revenue source.

“They (lawmakers) can find it in the budget. It is there. I think if we work at it, we can find it,” said Rollins, who works at LaValley Building Supply in Newport.

Callum, 75, is a member of the Unity Selectboard and has served in various capacities in local government going back to the early 1980s, including one term as a Sullivan County commissioner.

In a recent interview, Callum said he has not formed an opinion or looked very much into the issue of education funding because of his current focus on town government as a selectboard member.

“I’ve not had much time as this point to stop to think about it,” Callum said.

On the question of taking further steps to full legalization of marijuana, Callum opposed “across-the-board recreational use,” while the three other candidates said they want to see safeguards in place.

“I think in time it will be legal, but right now the public would be upset if someone gets in an accident, so they need to have good test for impairment,” Flint said, echoing the views of Irwin and Rollins, both of whom supported decriminalization of small amounts — which passed last session — and medical marijuana.

“I am more inclined to (vote for) legalize it than less inclined, but I want to see how it plays out in other states (that have legalized marijuana),” Irwin said. “We also have to figure out how to test for impairment and how to tax it before I would support personal consumption.”

Rollins also said he wants to see a test for impairment but would not back full legalization in New Hampshire until the federal government legalizes marijuana use. “If we got both, I would tend to be in favor,” he said.

As for minimum wage, responses were mixed.

Callum opposed an increase in the state’s $7.25 minimum wage, which matches the feceral government’s, and believes a “fair market” that allows for business growth will do more to raise wages.

“If you force people to pay more, it will lock out kids looking for a job, and I think there is proof of that,” he said. “People will pay more if the market is good.”

Irwin, Flint and Rollins all say New Hampshire needs to set its own minimum wage at a figure above the federal level.

“I can see an increase of a dollar or $1.50 max,” Rollins said. “But $15 an hour is ridiculous.”

Irwin said “personally” she backs $15 an hour and perhaps the state will get there eventually over time but for now wants to see a minimum wage of at least $11 an hour. She called the current $10.25 hourly Medicaid reimbursement for home health care aides “unfathomable” and said for that reason alone she supports an increase.

Flint strongly backed a wage increase to a level that he said gives working families the chance to earn a decent income.

Candidates spilt along party lines on the question of guns, in particular arming teachers. Callum and Rollins said they would consider it while Irwin and Flint were staunchly opposed.

“Teachers should not have guns,” Flint said. “I think that would be disastrous and is not a deterrent as some say.”

If a teacher receives the proper training and keeps up to date with that training, Callum said he would not oppose allowing that teacher to have a firearm in school; Rollins took a similar position.

“I have no problem as long as a teacher wants to be armed,” Rollins said. “But they need to be certified on how to handle a weapon.”

Irwin, who said she wants to strengthen animal cruelty laws if re-elected, said she would never ask a teacher to take on that “terrible responsibility” of carrying a weapon.

“I would much rather increase security around a building and make it more difficult to get in,” she said.

The four candidates will be on the ballot Nov. 6.

Sullivan 2

In Sullivan 2, which represents Sunapee and Croydon, state Rep. Sue Gottling, D-Sunapee, is being challenged by Gates Lucas, a Republican from Sunapee making his first run for political office. Gottling, a Sunapee Selectboard member, is seeking her sixth term in the House. She said she supports a new formula for funding education and an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

“I would be looking for a way to return to the early decision that allows for targeted aid,” Gottling said.

She is waiting to see what emerges in the coming weeks from a House study committee that is expected to propose a new funding formula and at the same time put the brakes on the annual 4 percent decrease in the stabilization grant, which provides adequacy aid for cities and towns.

Gottling said the current cuts and funding amount is not working.

“It is very clear there is a problem in how we address the need for all of our kids to get a good education,” Gottling said.

Lucas, 25, is a 2016 Dartmouth College graduate who works in information systems for Liberty Mutual Insurance. He said he believes his degree in government and work in the private sector make him well-suited to finding solutions to the state’s problems.

“I think I can use those to my advantage and also bring a younger dialogue to Concord,” Lucas said.

He agreed with Gottling that the state needs to fund more of the local education cost but said that does not automatically trigger a need to raise taxes.

“I think we need to find strategic solutions and that doesn’t necessarily mean the money has to come from taxes,” said Lucas, who was born and raised in Sunapee. “We need to find alternatives to funding and a different way to pay for it” with existing state revenues.

Both candidates supported the decriminalization of small amounts marijuana, which Gottling voted in favor of in the last legislative session. But they were both less inclined to back full legalization, including recreational use.

Gottling said she wants to see a better system in place, including how to properly tax it and collect revenues and how to ensure impairment does not become a safety issue.

“I wouldn’t vote for (full legalization) now because we don’t have a decent structure,” she said.

Lucas said he needs to study it more before deciding on legalization so he can make an informed decision.

“In the future it could be good for New Hampshire because it would generate revenue,” he said.

Gottling would like to see New Hampshire raise the minimum wage while Lucas said the best way to ensure wage growth is to create a business climate of less regulation.

“Let the free market (raise wages) because it would be beneficial across the board,” Lucas said.

In Gottling’s view, the current $7.25-an-hour minimum wage is not close to covering the cost of living for low-income workers and she said she would support an increase.

“People need to earn enough, and clearly it is not enough especially with housing prices,” she said.

Gottling calls the idea of arming teachers to prevent school shootings “pathetic.”

“I don’t want guns in my hospitals, in my schools and hopefully not in my churches,” she said.

Her opponent was not completely opposed to the idea but said he also wants to see more money spent on mental health to help students.

“(Teachers) must be qualified, and I don’t want the kids to know which teachers have a gun,” Lucas said. “Concealed carry for some teachers might be beneficial.”

All four towns, as well as several others, are also represented in the Sullivan 9 House floterial seat, currently held by Rep. Linda Tanner, D-Sunapee, who is being challenged by Plainfield Republican Margaret Drye.

Democrats currently hold seven seats in the county delegation versus six for the Republicans.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.