Walt Havenstein and Gov. Maggie Hassan engage in first televised debate on NH 1 Wednesday night.

Oct 22, 2014 8:43 PM

Kevin Landrigan: Hassan and Havenstein tangle in first televised debate on NH1


CONCORD - The first televised debate for governor turned into a war of words over the program to expand federal Medicaid health insurance to low-income adults.

Gov. Maggie Hassan didn't get exactly the design she wanted as Senate Republicans forced her to accept moving these clients onto private insurance by mid-2015.

Every other major Democratic candidate-including Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster-gets put on the defensive about the controversial Affordable Care Act and its limitation for consumers.

But Hassan put Republican Walt Havenstein on the defensive about what he would do to keep coverage for the up to more than 20,000 who already have it.

The federal government picks up 100 percent of that cost of insurance for the first three years, limiting the state's burden to administrative expenses that will cost $18 million over that period.

Havenstein was moved to say he would not repeal this coverage but said it's a ticking time bomb as the federal government could decide in future years to push more of the costs onto state taxpayers.

"I liken it to Lucy taking the football away,'' Havenstein said, referring to the Peanuts cartoon character who pulls the ball away from Charlie Brown just before he kicks it.

On the riots in Keene, Havenstein said administrators and security workers at Keene State College have to "do a lot of soul searching'' about whether they could do more to prevent the mayhem.

Hassan said state investigators would look into whether any college staff should be held accountable.

Hassan went on offense about Havenstein's plan to reduce state spending by 2.5 percent or $90 million in the next two-year state budget.

She predicted this would lead to a return of dramatic cuts in spending for higher education, human services and public safety that took place in 2011 when Republicans took complete control of the Legislature.

The biggest verbal explosion between the two came over Havenstein's opposition to a gas tax increase that will be used to complete the widening of Interstate 93.

Havenstein said he would not pursue repealing the tax but said more money for road and bridge work would come from ending diversions from the Highway Fund to support road administration.

"That proposal could take as many as 80 percent of our state troopers off the road,'' Hassan said.

Havenstein angrily responded, "80 percent, seriously. That is just outlandish. I have never proposed that. I've been fully supportive of our state troopers.''

Hassan got the last word noting that state trooper and local police officer unions are backing her re-election to a second term.

"And the law enforcement of our state have endorsed me because they know I have stood up and funded the resources they need,'' Hassan said.
Havenstein criticized Hassan's support for a casino as a revenue pipe dream given that several casinos in Atlantic City have closed in the past two years.

"It doesn't make any sense to be betting on a casino,'' Havenstein said.

Hassan said studies show New Hampshire could realize tens of millions a year in profits from one casino even if voters in Massachusetts next month vote to keep in place the three casinos legalized in that state.

An assortment of more well-known Republicans turned down the chance to run against Hassan such as former Congressman Charles Bass, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Bedford businessman Chuck Rolocek.

Then the party elders turned to Havenstein, best known for having been the state CEO of BAE Systems in Nashua during years of booming defense industry spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Havenstein said he managed a budget at BAE three times the size of the state budget and would instill a teamwork culture to make state government more efficient.

While Havenstein wanted to talk about his New Hampshire work, the Democratic Party focused on his tenure of SAIC, a Virginia-based defense contractor.

Havenstein took that job at the height of the national recession which caused SAIC to lose tens of millions a year in federal contracts. As a result, the company's stock plummeted by 30 percent and the firm shed more than 5,000 jobs while Havenstein was in charge.

Hassan faced her own challenges entering this race.

Hassan had to deal with a very sluggish economy that caused state revenues to sink and her to impose an across-the-board freeze in state hiring, out-of-state travel and equipment purchases.

Wall Street did not lower the state's bond rating but changed its outlook to negative after hospitals sued the state over a tax they paid for Medicaid reimbursements.

Hassan forged a settlement with the hospitals but it came at a price. Over the next two years the state budget will lose about $50 million in tax payments as a result of the agreement.


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