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Gubernatorial Candidate Molly Kelly Shares Vision for New Hampshire

  • New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly answers a question during a meeting with the Valley News editorial board in West Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly discusses gun control and the concern of school shootings parents must deal with during a meeting with the Valley News editorial board in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/24/2018 12:02:14 AM
Modified: 10/24/2018 9:37:41 AM

West Lebanon — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly on Tuesday drew sharp distinctions between her priorities and those of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, saying she would focus on working families.

And the former five-term state senator from Cheshire County said she can defeat the first-term incumbent, even with polls showing him 10 percentage points ahead two weeks before Election Day.

“Do not underestimate me. I have been underestimated before as a single mom, raising three small children while putting myself through school, through college,” she said in a meeting with Valley News editors and reporters. “People said, ‘Don’t do it. You can’t do it.’ I did it.”

Kelly worked her way through Keene State College as an adult, managing dorms, waiting tables and delivering newspapers to provide for her family. She then worked while attending Franklin Pierce Law Center before taking a job as a financial adviser and ultimately being elected to the state Senate in 2006.

It’s that experience that makes her want to fight for New Hampshire’s working-class families, advocating for a paid family leave program, increased education spending and a minimum wage increase.

“I want to invest in the people,” she said. “I am concerned and I see that Chris Sununu’s priorities are corporate special interests. That’s his agenda, and my agenda is the people.”

Kelly said she’s never taken a dollar from corporations, while taking aim at Sununu for catering to energy and bus companies that donate to his campaign.

Emails sent to Sununu’s campaign spokesman seeking comment were not returned on Tuesday.

Sununu has raised nearly $1.5 million for his campaign, relying heavily on corporate backers. His most recent campaign filing includes donations from officials at energy company Unitil, gun-maker Sig Sauer and a $500 contribution from Joanne Conroy, CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

“Dr. Conroy has not publicly endorsed any candidate in any political race. Consistent with Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Political Activities Policy, her political contributions are made as a private citizen, and not as CEO and President of Dartmouth-Hitchcock,” D-H spokesman Rick Adams said in an email on Tuesday.

Kelly, who has raised just over $1 million, has gotten money from thousands of individual donors, but also has benefited from other interests, including $62,000 from Emily’s List, the political group backing Democrats who support abortion rights. She also has raised money from such unions as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 17.

Kelly’s signature issue in the race is to institute a paid family leave program, one she says could have helped when she was struggling to make ends meet.

“I know the challenges that working families face. I know them,” she said. “Paid family medical leave is one of the issues that I understand to my core.”

Kelly has thrown her support behind a bill that would have allowed for six weeks of paid family leave for pregnancies, illnesses and other qualifying conditions. The state-run program was estimated to cost $14.5 million to start, and would have been available to all private sector employees, who would be expected to pay in 0.67 percent of their wages.

The legislation passed several times in the House but was killed in the Senate after Sununu, who campaigned on paid family leave in 2016, threatened a veto. At the time, the governor criticized the measure, saying it amounted to an “income tax.”

By contrast, Sununu has endorsed an alternative plan being drafted by Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, that is being called a “public-private partnership.”

The proposal would contract with a private insurer to offer a paid family and medical leave plan for the state’s 10,000 public employees. The plan would then be made available to private employees, who could be expected to pay premiums to join. However, Giuda has said the plan still is in the beginning stages, and could be a year away from implementation.

“It’s my experience that every time Chris Sununu or the Republicans disagree with a policy and don’t want to support it, they call it an income tax,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a political scare tactic. I think the voters are smarter than that and they understand that.”

Kelly said that it’s now time to rethink how the state funds its public schools, saying she would be in favor of devoting more state aid to property-poor towns such as Claremont.

“I believe that every child no matter where they’re born, no matter where they live and no matter what income their parents have, they have a right to a quality education,” she said.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, and attorney John Tobin have been touring the state, arguing before school officials that New Hampshire has failed to provide an adequate education in the wake of the Claremont cases. They say the state’s contribution of $3,636 per student isn’t enough because the average cost to educate a single student in New Hampshire now tops $15,000.

Kelly helped write the formula that determines how much money is sent to area schools, but she believes it is no longer working.

Kelly, who does not support a sales or income tax, said she would repeal a law Sununu championed that cut the state’s business profits tax, and consider using the roughly $100 million in revenue to boost public education.

She also would work to implement gun control legislation, and has endorsed measures that would re-implement concealed-carry permitting and allow school boards to ban adults from bringing guns onto school property.

While the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act bans weapons within 1,000 feet of a school, municipal police cannot enforce the federal law, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

That’s because state law gives the New Hampshire Legislature sole responsibility to regulate firearms, leaving school boards and municipal officials powerless on the issue, although Granite State schools can prohibit students and teachers from bringing firearms on school grounds.

Kelly said she never had concerns about gun violence when her children attended school, but now she “worries every single day” about her seven grandchildren.

“I do not want to wait for a tragedy to happen here in New Hampshire,” Kelly said, adding she supports universal background checks, so-called “red flag” laws and a two-day waiting period on gun purchases.

Sununu signed the law that did away with the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Kelly supports increasing the minimum wage over time to $15 an hour, a proposal opposed by Sununu. New Hampshire follows the federal minimum, which is set at $7.25 an hour, but Kelly said she’d like to see it go up to about $10 an hour in 2019, as a start.

The two also diverge on marijuana legalization. Kelly supports legalizing and regulating the drug, while Sununu once referred to the industry as “big tobacco 2.0.”

“We would have greater control over it. If we were regulating it, it would be safer and accessible with responsibility and accountability,” Kelly said.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police on Monday reiterated their opposition to legalization, arguing it could negatively impact public safety, especially without a proven and effective test for motorists who may be impaired.

But Kelly said she would attempt to work with police to find a compromise.

“I would certainly work with the police to make sure that their concerns are addressed, and to pass legislation that dealt with all of those issues, so that we do have solutions before we put anything into law,” she said.

Kelly and Sununu will face off in a debate this morning on New Hampshire Public Radio. The election is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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