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Candidates stick to party lines in NH Senate District 8 race

  • Jenn Alford-Teaster (Courtesy photograph)

  • Ruth Ward

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2020 9:41:21 PM
Modified: 9/22/2020 9:41:18 PM

NEWPORT — Voters in the 24 towns that make up New Hampshire Senate District 8 will be asked in November to settle a rematch between state Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, and Sutton Democrat Jenn Alford-Teaster.

Both candidates say they’re running for the Sunapee-area seat to improve access to education and make life better for Granite Staters, but the two hold vastly different views on how to achieve those goals. The district stretches from Grantham to Weare and also includes the Upper Valley towns of Newport, New London, Croydon, Springfield and Unity.

Ward, 83, is a school choice advocate who hopes to expand access to charter schools and educational options. Meanwhile, Alford-Teaster, 43, says public schools need more support to succeed. The two also have opposing views on gun control, paid family leave and the minimum wage.

The two last faced off in 2018 when Ward won the Republican-leaning district by a 647-vote margin, 12,859-12,212.

Ward says she hopes to ensure New Hampshire children “have the best possible education” by expanding school choice offerings in her third term.

“I think kids have had very little choice in where they can go to school, being forced to stay in their ZIP code area and not being able to move place to place depending on where they can get the best education,” Ward said in a phone interview Tuesday.

In her first term, she co-sponsored the state’s so-called “Croydon Bill,” a 2017 measure that allows some students to attend private schools using public money.

Ward said she also wants to see more charter schools in the Granite State, saying they’ve been “held down very hard” by Democrats who don’t want traditional public schools to face competition. Lawmakers earlier this year rejected a $10 million federal grant to expand charter schools, with Democrats worrying the money would burden future budgets and harm existing schools.

Meanwhile, Alford-Teaster says she’s running a second time to continue fighting for public schools and advocate for New Hampshire’s social safety net.

“Public education is literally the strongest return on investment in almost every area of our lives from well-being to health to economic opportunity,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

New Hampshire’s education funding model, which largely relies on property taxes, fails to meet a constitutional obligation that every student receive an adequate education, Alford-Teaster said.

The state’s current contribution to towns starts with a base payment of $3,708 per student, but the per-pupil cost to educate the average child in New Hampshire stands at $16,346, according to the state Department of Education.

“The state should be doing its fair share to cover the cost per pupil so it doesn’t matter the ZIP code you live in and can have a resourced school district that meets the needs of each child,” she said.

Alford-Teaster said she would support rolling back reductions to the state business profits tax, signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu in 2016 and 2018, and reinvest that money back in public schools. “We give tax breaks to out-of-state corporations at the expense of taxpayers,” she said, adding that the burden to make up the difference falls on the backs of homeowners.

Alford-Teaster said her views are shaped by her upbringing on the Seacoast, where she was raised by her grandmother and mother, who both worked part-time jobs to support a family of four children.

Alford-Teaster left home for North Carolina at 18 and also worked for minimum wage at a coffee shop until her employers encouraged her to apply for college. She enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and earned an undergraduate degree and later several graduate degrees while working.

She moved back to the Granite State in 2005 and is now employed as a researcher at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.

Ward also had a challenging upbringing, being the eldest of four siblings raised by Swedish Baptist missionaries in China. Her father, Viktor Brännström, was killed by a Chinese communist and the family fled by boat first to the United Kingdom and then to Denmark and Sweden.

At age 22, Ward took part in a medical exchange program that saw her immigrate to the United States and begin work at Boston Children’s Hospital. She worked as a nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital while earning a bachelor’s degree from Fitchburg State College and a master’s in nursing from Boston University.

Her family moved to New Hampshire when Ward retired in 1995 and she’s served on the Stoddard planning and zoning boards, as well as volunteer for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and Appalachian Mountain Club.

In the Senate, Ward has been a solid Republican vote, joining colleagues in blocking Democratic-led efforts to raise the minimum wage and institute a paid family leave program, while supporting measures to roll back gun control laws and implement right-to-work.

However, she has bucked party leaders, like when she voted to abolish New Hampshire’s death penalty and subsidize the state’s struggling biomass industry.

In the minority since the 2018 election, Ward voted against raising New Hampshire’s $7.25 minimum wage, now tied to the federal level, to $10 in 2021 and $12 an hour by 2023. Ward says she opposed bills because they could put stress on “mom and pop stores” that rely on student, entry-level and part-time labor.

“If they’re going to be forced to pay much more, they’re not going to be able to hire them,” she said.

Alford-Teaster said she supports increasing the minimum wage. Those low-skilled jobs aren’t just for high school and college students, she said, and many people take on second or third jobs to support their families.

“For me, an increased minimum wage is about living with dignity,” she said.

Alford-Teaster also backs a paid family leave plan vetoed by Sununu this year, saying it “would have helped us tremendously during this pandemic.”

“It is something we are long overdue to have,” she said.

The program would have required employers to deduct 0.5% of weekly wages to the program, under which people could receive up to 12 weeks of time off at 60% of wages for the birth of a child, an adoption or non-employment related health emergencies or family illness.

The deduction prompted Ward and fellow Republicans to say the plan amounts to an income tax. “If you look carefully at the bill as proposed, it was essentially taking money out of your wages,” Ward said, adding that she would support a voluntary plan put forward by Sununu and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott last year.

The two candidates also have opposing views on gun control. Ward co-sponsored legislation that eliminated New Hampshire’s concealed carry permitting system and opposed a so-called “red flag” law put forward this year.

The bill would have allowed a family member or housemate to seek an “ex parte” order — meaning that the defendant would not be present — to temporarily get firearms out of the possession of someone who poses a risk to others or themselves.

Ward said she voted against the bill because it lacked “due process,” even though a judge would be required to approve the orders. “I think it needs to be much clearer and much more exact in what’s being done,” she said.

But Alford-Teaster, who said she is a gun owner herself, said it’s that judicial review that made her comfortable with the legislation.

“Family members who are feeling like a loved one’s in crisis need to have tools available to them to ensure the safety of their loved ones and themselves,” she said.

The general election is scheduled for Nov. 3, although absentee ballots are being sent to towns and cities this week.

Alford-Teaster’s campaign has so far received $124,311 in donations and spent $87,865, according to filings last week with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office. Her backers include the Michael Bloomberg-backed nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety and political action committees Democratic Victory Fund and End Citizens United.

Ward has $59,699 in her campaign coffers and has so far spent $19,317, according to filings. Her donors include utility companies Eversource and Liberty Utilities, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the New Hampshire Realtors PAC.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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