Parties battle for 3 seats

  • John Cloutier (Courtesy photograph)

  • Jeremy Herrell (Courtesy photograph)

  • Sean McCarthy (Courtesy photograph)

  • Gary Merchant (Courtesy photograph)

  • Andy O’Hearne (Courtesy photograph)

  • Walt Stapleton

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 10/24/2022 9:19:38 PM
Modified: 10/24/2022 9:19:41 PM

CLAREMONT — Four incumbents, three Democrats and one Republican, and two political newcomers are vying for the three seats in the Sullivan 6 District of the New Hampshire House representing Claremont and Croydon.

Democrat John Cloutier, 64, is seeking his 16th two-year term while fellow Democrats Gary Merchant and Andy O’Hearne are running for their third and fifth terms, respectively. Republican Walt Stapleton, 76, has served two terms and Republicans Jeremy Herrell and Sean McCarthy are making their first run for statewide office.

State funding for K-12 education remains an unresolved issue 25 years after the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the Claremont II decision.

For Merchant, targeted aid for communities most in need would reduce the heavy reliance on raising money locally with the property tax in both communities in House District 6.

“How do we get the support into the communities that need the support and not just give all communities support because all communities don’t need it,” Merchant said. “Why don’t we have more targeted aid with the money we do raise?”

Cloutier, who does not see any support for a broad-based tax currently, and therefore wants to see the Legislature “reform” the tax structure to make it fairer because reliance on the property tax is too burdensome for Claremont, Croydon and communities that have struggles.

“There are no easy answers but reforming the tax structure is the best way in my opinion,” Cloutier said.

Both McCarthy, 60, and Herrell, 43, view the public education system as being top heavy with administrators which takes money away from the classroom.

“There is too much management and that needs to be reduced,” said McCarthy, who served in the Merchant Marines and retired after a career in the federal government in communications and cybersecurity. “Yes, we need a new way of funding things.”

As an example, McCarthy thinks 100% of the Keno money, which goes to support kindergarten, should remain in the town where it is earned and not to towns without Keno. He said that would help Claremont, which has eight Keno locations. Under current law, 92% goes into the state education fund.

Both Republicans back the Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs) that allow tax dollars for education to be spent on private and religious school tuition as well as home-schooling.

“A lot of people are unhappy with the red tape and the constant need for more administrators because of laws passed that don’t necessarily benefit children in the long run because educators are not able to be teachers,” said Herrell, whose children receive EFAs for a private religious school. “It takes away the ability to be a teacher and what happens is kids lose.”

Regarding funding, Herrell, owner of a local media company, supports legalizing marijuana and taxing it for education funding.

Stapleton, who retired after a career in the railroad industry, said the state has to define “adequacy” and it should not mean getting everything a district wants. More money with broad-based taxes is not the answer, he added.

”We’ve got to get to the crux of the problems,” said Stapleton, who supports EFAs. “The Republican Majority this term helped ease the education tax burden with a $100 million reduction in the SWEPT (State Wide Education Property Tax), but we do need a permanent and equitable solution, so the work needs to be ongoing until we reach the finish line.”

On the future of abortion in New Hampshire, which has a ban after 24 weeks of gestation, Stapleton said his position is quite clear.

“I am a professed pro-life person believing that life is sacred from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death,” Stapleton said, adding the 24-week period gives enough time to end pregnancies from rape or incest. “I have not introduced any life bills for the next term, but will continue to defend the reasonable restrictions on abortion in the FLPA (Fetal Life Protection Act),” the bill that includes the ban after 24-weeks.

McCarthy describes himself as “pro-choice” and said in his research of the issue, he had found that a majority of citizens on both sides are “happy with where things are.”

“I have no intention of meddling with that,” he said. “If a change is proposed, my beliefs are second to what voters want.”

Herrell, though opposed to all abortions, said he would act in the same manner: listening to voters.

“Personally, I would like to see no abortions,” Herrell said. “But as a state rep., I represent the district, not my own interests. If there is an effort to ban completely, I would listen to voters and I would vote toward that, but also explain why I support a ban.”

Cloutier, a security guard and substitute high school teacher, backs a woman’s right to choose and thinks there is one way to protect that right. “I think the best thing to do is codify Roe vs. Wade in New Hampshire law.”

Merchant opposes government involvement in what he said is a private health care decision.

“It should be decided between a female and her provider and get the government out of it,” Merchant said. “Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision almost 50 years ago and I would fully support going back to what it was.”

Similar to his call for targeted aid for education funding, Merchant and other Democrats supported House bill 2023, passed last month, which targeted aid to those most in need of relief from increases in energy bills. He called it a short-term solution for the coming winter but in the long term, thinks there has to be a shift to renewable energy.

“We have to get off this addiction to fossil fuels,” Merchant said. “Fossil fuels prices are going up and renewables are not going up as much.”

Cloutier also wants to encourage use of more renewables as the state is too dependent on natural gas, which is the main reason electric rates have increased.

“We can do so much more with solar, hydro, wind and geothermal,” he said. “Those are the way to go. They are cleaner, cheaper energy and better for the environment.”

He also criticized Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a net metering bill passed when the Democrats held the majority in the Legislature. “That could have helped and we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in.”

The best approach, in Herrell’s view, is to diversify by using all energy sources available, including wind, solar, natural gas, coal and nuclear.

“We shouldn’t pigeonhole one thing and say that is our primary source when there are other ways to get it,” Herrell said, disputing those who claim renewables are automatically better for the environment because of the mining of lithium and disposal of batteries and solar panels when no longer useful.

Stapleton agreed that HB 2023 is a short term aid measure and blamed the Biden Administration for causing an energy crisis by opposing increases in domestic oil and gas production. “Wind, solar, and hydro electricity producers are incrementally helpful to the energy crisis but they are not a panacea,” Stapleton said. “We need to bolster nuclear for the long-term power needs and protect clean-burn, carbon-fueled plants for continued reliable power supply as power consumption demand grows.”

Other issues for Stapleton are crime — he said the bail reform law of 2018 needs to be “fixed” to restore safety — and affordable housing.

“Private-Public partnership is the only viable answer to our shortage,” said Stapleton, who also sees more private investment in housing ahead as the real estate market cools.

Merchant promises a pragmatic approach if re-elected and will work with Republicans.

“How do we get away from extremism on both sides and work with each other?” said Merchant, who also wants to see younger representation in the Legislature and would like to look into helping them with child care and getting time off from work to serve.

Cloutier lists more money for both state and local roads and bridges to fund the state’s 10-year transportation plan as a priority for him if re-elected. “I am constantly concerned about state and local roads and we need to find other ways to fund it.”

Cloutier also supports marijuana legalization, regulation and taxation with the revenue to fund addiction treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse.

“I want to be an advocate for the people,” said McCarthy. “Representatives should be able to cut through the red tape. You got a problem with the state, I’m going to stand up for you and get answers.”

Messages left for O’Hearne were not returned by deadline.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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