6 Democrats vie for 4 House seats in Hanover, with no Republicans in sight

  • Miles Brown (Courtesy photograph)

  • Mary Hakken-Phillips (Courtesy photograph)

  • Nicolas Macri (Courtesy photograph)

  • Russell Muirhead (Courtesy photograph)

  • James Murphy (Courtesy photograph)

  • Sharon Nordgren (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 9/9/2022 12:31:03 AM
Modified: 9/9/2022 1:00:11 PM

HANOVER — Renewable energy, public education and women’s reproductive rights rank high among issues of importance to Hanover and Lyme residents in Grafton District 12, according to Democratic Party candidates seeking to fill the district’s four House seats in the New Hampshire Legislature next term.

Six candidates, all from Hanover, are running to be the Democratic nominees for District 12, which has historically favored Democratic candidates.

The field includes the four incumbents and two challengers. State Rep. Sharon Nordgren is seeking her 18th consecutive term in Concord, while state Rep. Mary Hakken-Phillips, state Rep. Russell Muirhead and state Rep. James Murphy are currently serving their first terms as state legislators.

The two challengers, Miles Brown and Nicolas Macri, are both students at Dartmouth College. Previous Dartmouth students who ran in District 12 include former Rep. Garrett Muscatel, D-Hanover, who resigned in 2020 due to questions about his residency, and Riley Gordon, a Dartmouth sophomore who ran in 2020 hoping to replace Muscatel.

Nordgren, 78, who has served in the Legislature since 1988, said her constituents have expressed their concern about the environment, public education funding, reproductive rights and the country’s overall direction.

“Our state is in crisis with the reckless leadership we have in Concord, and we need to refocus our efforts to bring us back together for the smooth workings of state government,” Nordgren said.

Nordgren, a longtime member of the House Budget Committee, said that crafting the next budget will be “a difficult challenge,” which will include ongoing funding debates over issues such as public education, but she conveyed confidence in her experience in working bipartisanly with colleagues to create a budget that addresses the state’s needs.

Hakken-Phillips, 41, is an attorney who took a hiatus from practicing law to devote her attention to serving the Legislature. A self-described “social progressive,” Hakken-Phillips said that protecting women’s reproductive rights and public education would remain two of her top legislative priorities if reelected.

Hakken-Phillips said she aims to help reintroduce a bill that would codify reproductive rights into New Hampshire law, which would prevent the state from restricting an individual’s right to terminate a pregnancy. Last year Hakken-Phillips co-sponsored HB 1674, a bill aimed at protecting abortion from restrictive state laws, but the bill was tabled along party lines in the House, effectively ending the bill.

Unlike Vermont, whose voters will consider a constitutional amendment in November that would give individuals “personal reproductive autonomy,” New Hampshire is not a referendum state, meaning that any law guaranteeing reproductive rights to its residents must derive from the state Legislature.

Hakken-Phillips also said that she will support bills to create equitable state funding of public schools, prohibit guns on school campuses and give more authority to local school districts to determine their policies for student health and safety and their curriculum and instruction.

Hakken-Phillips said she would seek to repeal HB 544, sometimes called the “divisive concepts bill,” which imposes restrictions on how issues such as race, ethnicity or gender may be discussed in schools. The law is “unconstitutionally vague,” “threatens teachers’ livelihoods and infringes on First Amendment freedoms to fully discuss American history, racism, sexism and bigotry in the classroom,” Hakken-Phillips said.

Muirhead, 56, said constituents he meets also identify renewable energy, climate, reproductive rights and public education among their top concerns.

“Everyone is alarmed by the more than 50% increase in our electricity rates,” Muirhead told the Valley News. “We are told by the utilities that the increase reflects natural gas pricing. One obvious way to decrease our dependence on natural gas and fossil fuels more generally is to increase the supply of renewable energy sources like wind and solar.”

Muirhead, a teacher at Dartmouth College, criticized Gov. Chris Sununu for vetoing SB 124 in 2020, a bipartisan bill that would have required New Hampshire’s utilities to increase their renewable energy portfolio to 57% of New Hampshire’s total fuel mix by the year 2040.

Muirhead also said he aims to protect reproductive rights in New Hampshire, which he worries will be subject to new efforts by state lawmakers next term to further restrict abortion access, due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Muirhead similarly said he plans to protect public education from efforts by legislators to divert or reduce state funding of public schools or advocate for bills to restrict what educators may say or teach.

Murphy, a 70-year-old retired orthopedic surgeon and the former chief medical officer at New London Hospital, said he also hears concerns from residents about the high cost of living and affordable housing, as well as the importance of education, reproductive rights, and climate and energy policies.

“Many patients have told me that they did not have the financial resources to pay for their medications,” Murphy said. “Nearly 50% of homeowners and renters spend over 30% of their disposable income. It has been shown that when a household spends over 30% of their income on housing, monies available for other necessities are compromised.”

Murphy said he supports state legislation to facilitate the ability to construct a wider variety of housing options, including multi-family housing or “smaller, less costly homes,” such as attached units on existing residential properties.

Murphy also said he supports equitable education funding, universal health care, reproductive rights, background checks for gun purchases and gun registration and policies aimed toward climate relief and reducing fossil fuel consumption.

Brown, 21, said he hopes to be a representative voice for New Hampshire’s young adults while working to engage young people in the political process.

“Young people have long been underrepresented in government, especially in the New Hampshire Statehouse, Brown told the Valley News. “It is essential for our democracy that we keep young people politically engaged. My role as both a student and candidate puts me in a unique position to increase participation in our elections.”

Brown served as a legislative aide in the New Hampshire House during his freshman year at Dartmouth, where he said he worked closely with legislators on issues including voting rights and housing.

“Voters also want to pass legislation that will create more affordable housing in New Hampshire,” Brown said. “Businesses in New Hampshire are struggling to attract new employees because of the housing shortage, and few families can afford to move here.”

Brown said that many District 12 voters also said they want to see New Hampshire’s 24-week abortion ban repealed and for abortion access to be codified in New Hampshire law. Voters also said they would like to see New Hampshire increase its investment in clean or renewable energy, including through higher net metering caps for renewable energy projects and more consumer incentives to invest in clean energy.

Macri, a 20-year-old Dartmouth sophomore, said he hopes as a candidate to help build a more collaborative and harmonious relationship between Dartmouth students and the Hanover community based around shared values and political views.

While the relationship between Dartmouth students and the Hanover community has often been “disconnected” or “pointlessly divisive,” Macri pointed to the move by Dartmouth undergraduate workers in March to unionize to illustrate how the two communities can work together effectively.

“(That labor union) could not have happened without the support of the town government, the churches, the town Democratic Party, neighborhoods and other great supporters, but they also could not have occurred without students,” Macri said. “Only together were we numerous enough to succeed.”

In addition to labor rights and fair wage compensation, Macri voiced support for reproductive rights: rights of the LGBTQ+ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual or questioning); protecting voting rights; and affordable housing initiatives.

Polling stations for the New Hampshire primaries will be open on Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Voting in Hanover will be held at Hanover High School, 41 Lebanon St. Voting in Lyme will be held in the Lyme Community Gymnasium at 35 Union St.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at pfadrian25@gmail.com.

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