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Sep 22, 2016 11:00 PM

NH1 News: Sununu, Van Ostern, repeatedly clash at forum in Concord

NH1 News Political Director

CONCORD – For nearly 90 minutes Chris Sununu and Colin Van Ostern traded fire over issues ranging from clean energy to commuter rail to Medicaid expansion.

What’s more remarkable was that the face-off between the fellow Executive Council members and Republican and Democratic gubernatorial nominees occurred not at a debate, but at an event hosted by AARP New Hampshire that was marketed as a forum.

One of the first skirmishes took place over clean energy. After being criticized by Van Ostern, Sununu said “leave it to the Democrats to lecture an environmental engineer on renewable energy. I used to design these systems. I have supported way more projects than we’ve said no to.”

Van Ostern fired back, saying “over and over again, he has voted against, more I think than any politician in the state of New Hampshire’s history, voted against solar and renewable energy projects. I think that holds our state back and holds our economy back.”

“We need to be investing in clean and renewable energy projects, not trying to hold ourselves back,” he added.

Sununu seemed to get the last word on the issue, saying “I will not be a rubber stamp for every project that comes across my desk. By all means if you want the rubber stamp, Colin is absolutely your choice as governor.”

Minutes later the two candidates clashed over Medicaid expansion. Renewal of the state program which insured some 50,000 Granite Staters will come up again on the next governor’s watch.

“I’ve said I think we need to make it permanent. He’s said we need to end it. He (Sununu) tends to use the word ‘grandfathering’ because it’s more polite than end it. But I think we all know what grandfathering means,” Van Ostern said.

Sununu responded, arguing that “to try and score some political points and imply that I’m against expanded Medicaid is an absolute lie. It really is. I’m very supportive of the program that we have in place. Colin Van Ostern wants to make it permanent. You know what you do when you make federal government programs in this state permanent. You lose all your leverage. You lose your ability to control costs. You lose your ability to push back, ability to make those programs done the New Hampshire way. I believe in doing it our way. I believe in having flexibility.”

“If we need to keep expanded Medicaid going a few more years, sure. I’m very open to that to be very clear. Do not misrepresent,36:44 it drive me crazy when people try to misrepresent my record on that. I’ve been very clear about it. But I will not, I will not just be a rubber stamp that passes contracts without reading them. Ever,” Sununu added.

Van Ostern quickly shot back, saying “certainly some of the things Chris said are factually not true and you can go back and check the record. But I would encourage you to take him at his own words. In his primary campaign he went on a talk radio show and said he fought hard to make sure this never got to the Executive Council. He voted against it.”

“These votes matter. This is an election where the future of our state will be determined by whether we’re going to take something that was a bipartisan compromise, a work from Democrats and Republicans who came together in a New Hampshire way and didn’t’ raise state taxes and continue or are we going to elect somebody who fought against it and who repeatedly bragged about fighting against it. In fact, go to his campaign website right now. It says he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That is how we have had the New Hampshire health protection plan work in New Hampshire.”

Planned Parenthood showdown

The fight over Medicaid evolved into a squabble over state funding for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. After voting against the contract last year, Sununu voted in favor of it this past summer.

But Van Ostern criticized Sununu for his 2015 vote, saying “the reality is that had real direct harm. It’s not about process. It’s about people. There are hundreds of women and families who had a harder time getting access to birth control and cancer screenings. This is not abstract. This about people’s lives. It weakens all of our communities, it weakens our workforce, it weakens our state when we let politics get in the way.”

Sununu shot back, explaining “I voted for this contract four out of five times. The fact that you’re trying to score political points is unconscionable. I’ve stood up strong. Everybody knows it. Democrats. Independents. Republicans. And I will keep going it time and time again.”

Later, Van Ostern repeated his pitch for a passenger rail line that would connect Manchester and Nashua with Boston. He pointed to a study that predicted “commuter rail will help New Hampshire grow 5,600 new jobs and develop millions of square feet of commercial real estate.”

Sununu, who’s a vocal opponent of commuter rail, said “let’s be realistic about what we plan here. to think that kids in Cambridge are going to get on a train and travel an hour north to Manchester every day instead of just going to work in Boston is completely unrealistic. I won’t put New Hampshire’s financial future at risk.”

Van Ostern called Sununu out for voting against Service Link Center, which help support home and community based care for seniors, including transportation options for seniors and assisting them in getting Medicaid benefits.

“Just to be clear I never voted against the Service Link contract,” Sununu protested.

“It was on May 6th of last year. It was about a mile from here at the State House and it was a three-to-two vote,” Van Ostern shot back.

After the forum, Sununu told NH1 News that “Colin talks about votes to politicize them.”

“His attempts to politicize every little vote every which way, to try to pull on the heart strings and the emotions of people without really ever being able to get into the meat of the issues, the details, the real experience that we need in the Corner Office. I shrug that off,” Sununu added.

Van Ostern told NH1 News that “we’ve sat next to the executive council for the last four years. There have been a lot of big issues in front that our next governor will have to tackle.”

“Chris and I have had different points of views over the years on those and that will be an important part of the election going forward,” he added.

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