Sununu, Van Ostern clash at first televised general election gubernatorial debate
HENNIKER – Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Sununu and his Democratic rival Colin Van Ostern traded fire in their first televised debate of the general election.
The fellow executive councilors disagreed on such issues as New Hampshire’s minimum wage, state funding for Planned Parenthood, Medicaid expansion, and increased background checks for gun buyers, Wednesday night at a gubernatorial debate at New England College that was hosted by NECN.
The fireworks between the two candidates started early in the one hour showdown, with Sununu pointing out Van Ostern’s years as a political operative.
“What I know about Colin, mostly, is his background in politics. He’s run many political campaigns, I understand he’s quite good at it. There’s no doubt about that. He’s run Annie Kuster’s campaign. He was a spokesperson for the Democratic party for many years. When he was a spokesperson and working on the John Edwards campaign in 2004, I was cleaning up asbestos landfills in downtown Nashua,” Sununu said.
Sununu, who’s also CEO of the Waterville Valley Resort, when to say that “when he was running Annie Kuster’s campaign, I was working, putting together a program to put Waterville back into local hands, and managing what I think is one of New Hampshire’s most storied assets and businesses.”
“As far as I know he’s had one private sector job for three years, so I don’t know if that qualifies him as a businessman,” Sununu added.
Van Ostern touted his resume, saying “I’m proud of my work in the private sector. I’ve managed a $100 million P&L (profit and loss statement) at Stonyfield and I helped create a workforce development college at Southern New Hampshire University, taking it from a dozen employees and no paying students to 5,000 students and hundreds of employees.”
Van Ostern then criticized Sununu’s management of Waterville Valley, saying “unfortunately I don’t think we can allow the sort of mismanagement that has hurt Waterville hurt our state. Since Chris’s family bought that ski mountain and he became CEO, skier visits have fallen in half. Now I know we’ve had some tough winters, but look at Loon, one if its competitors, they’ve dropped by less than 10%. Waterville has fallen from I think 12th or 13th in the rankings for Ski East to 15th to 17th to 20th, this year actually got dropped off the list.”
Sununu shot back, saying “I could not be more proud of Waterville Valley. The proof is in the pudding. Waterville Valley is the only resort on the entire east coast this year, we’ve invested millions of dollars and we’re expanding.”
“We’re growing, we’re adding new trails,” he added. “The only resort on the entire east coast. That is success.”
Late in the debate, the two candidate re-fought their resume battle.
Clashes over minimum wage, Planned Parenthood
Sununu and Van Ostern also clashed over the state’s lack of a minimum wage. New Hampshire’s minimum wage follows the federal level of $7.25 an hour. The GOP nominee wants to keep it that way, with the Democratic nominee suggesting the possibility of a state wage at $12 per hour.
Sununu charged “the minimum wage as my opponent has proposed to raise it would be disastrous, potentially, to the state of New Hampshire… unfortunately it would result in the loss of jobs.”
Van Ostern shot back, saying “the reality is that a higher minimum wage in New Hampshire is good for the state. Chris believes we should have no minimum state wage at all, that we should surrender our control to Washington.”
Numerous times during the debate, Sununu criticized Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who’s challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte instead of running for third term in the Corner Office.
When the discussion turned to state funding of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Sununu’s well publicized Executive Council vote in2015 against extending the contract, he blamed Hassan.
Sununu, who voted in favor of the contract in previous years, and who voted to restore funding this summer, criticized Hassan for failing to put those contracts on hold while other states investigated whether Planned Parenthood sold fetal body parts.
“She refused to simply look into it and provide more information,” he said. “When the governor is not willing to be accountable, I am not going to support that.”
Investigations in other states eventually concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
Van Ostern criticized Sununu’s 2015 vote, saying it prevented many women from receiving crucial reproductive health care. And he charged that Sununu can’t be trusted to support reproductive rights for women.
“It’s stunning that Chris can talk about votes and try to put blame on people and not recognize the harm it did to thousands of people,” Van Ostern said. “This isn’t about politics; this is about peoples’ lives.”
Wednesday’s debate was the first of three televised face offs in the general election campaign. Among the two to come is an NH1 News debate on Wednesday, October 26.
The most recent public opinion poll in the race indicates Sununu with a very slight edge over Van Ostern.