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Two New London-Area Seats Open

  • Karen Ebel

  • Andy Schmidt

  • Dan Wolf



Valley News Correspondent
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New London — A former Sullivan County lawmaker now is running in the two-seat Merrimack 5 House district representing New London and Newbury, as are the Democratic and Republican incumbents.

Former state Rep. Andy Schmidt, a Democrat who resigned from his Sullivan 1 seat last year after moving to New London from Grantham, is on the ballot, as are state Reps. Karen Ebel, D-New London, and Dan Wolf, R-Newbury.

All three candidates agree that education funding with its heavy reliance on property taxes is unfair to towns that struggle to raise education dollars locally because their property values are not as high as other towns, such as New London and Newbury.

“It needs a major shakeup,” said Wolf, 71, who has served one term and works in real estate and property management.

Wolf believes a more equitable distribution of education dollars is needed.

“Students should not be treated differently because a town does not have the resources,” Wolf said. “For me it is about equalization.”

Wolf said he isn’t convinced right now that more revenue is going to be the answer, but eventually the state may have to raise more money.

“But we have to equalize it and we have to take care of school districts that can least afford it.”

For Ebel, the long-standing problem of education funding in New Hampshire is “an embarrassment to the state” and unfair to property-poor towns.

“I really feel for places like Claremont,” she said. “Kids are suffering and it is not fair.”

Because of the large difference in what the state provides per student ($3,600) and the average per-pupil cost of $14,000, Ebel said it becomes “too heavy a burden for many towns to lift.”

Like Wolf, Ebel would like to see a more equitable distribution of the available education dollars and with additional revenue raised by the state.

From Schmidt’s viewpoint, the concept of property-rich towns becoming “donor towns” to property poor ones is a flawed approach that is not “politically workable.”

“In my view, we need to look at other taxes to support the school system,” said Schmidt, quickly adding that he would not support an income or sales tax.

Instead, Schmidt said, smaller taxes on consumption that would not adversely affect anyone could be considered.

“We can look at other sources that are politically possible,” he said, suggesting a tax on soft drinks as one example that he called “sugar water for children.”

Marijuana legalization falls into the category for Schmidt, who said in “general” he supports legal pot, but only if certain conditions are met. These would include public safety mechanisms to determine impairment, prohibiting marijuana in food products that could get into the hands of children, establishing a structure for collecting taxes and limiting advertising.

“There has to be those caveats,” Schmidt, 75, said.

Neither Ebel nor Wolf, both of whom supported decriminalization and medical marijuana, said at this time they would not be behind full legalization.

“I am not in favor of legalization for recreational use,” Ebel, 64, said. “I think it sends the wrong message at a time when New Hampshire’s substance abuse problems are legion. I have talked to constituents and have not found broad support for legalization.”

Wolf said there are just too many unknown impacts for him to support it.

“We should not legalize it just for the money,” Wolf said. “I want to see how things go in Colorado and Washington (two states that have legalized marijuana). Colorado has a serious problem with people under the influence.”

On the question of whether New Hampshire should establish its own minimum wage rather leave it at the federal level of $7.25 an hour, Wolf said that few if any businesses pay minimum wage, even for the most entry-level positions and right now he is not ready to “embrace” an increase. For him, the more important issue is the underemployment problem.

“We have a shortage of workers so it won’t matter how much you pay if you don’t have the workers,” said Wolf, who describes himself as a “middle of the road Republican.” That is my biggest concern: How do we retain and grow our workforce.”

Ebel and Schmidt said establishing a New Hampshire minimum wage is a good idea. Even though most earn above the federal minimum now because of the strong economy, Ebel said that should not be the deciding factor.

“It should not be tied to the success of the economy,” she said, though she is not certain what level of minimum wage she would support. “People have to make a living whether the economy is good or bad.”

Schmidt takes a similar view in that he would favor a minimum wage increase, perhaps somewhere between $10 and $12 an hour. “Certainly $7 an hour is not acceptable.”

Schmidt opposed the 2017 repeal of the concealed carry permit that was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu. He also supports stricter background checks but wants to be sure all of the pertinent information is part of the database for those checks, such as restraining orders or felony driving under the influence convictions.

“It would help keep guns out of the hands of people who would misuse them,” Schmidt said.

Ebel also voted against the repeal of the concealed carry permit and would support reinstating it.

“The situation has arguably become more acute with school shootings,” she said, adding that law enforcement generally was opposed to repeal.

Wolf was absent for the 2017 vote on concealed carry and said he had “no strong opinion either way.”

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