CONCORD, N.H. — Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern are familiar with each other and each other’s policies.
The men vying to be New Hampshire’s next governor serve together on the Executive Council, a 5-member body that approves gubernatorial appointments and state contracts. On the council, they’ve sparred on energy projects, health care and more topics that will help define the contest in the coming weeks.
The winner of the Nov. 8 election will succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan for a two-year term.
Van Ostern has consistently voted in favor of state funding for Planned Parenthood, while Sununu has voted both for and against it. He favors abortion rights and voted to fund the organization after his election in 2010.
But last year, after videos from an anti-abortion rights group claimed to show the group’s employees profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, Sununu voted against the contract. This year, after the videos were discredited, Sununu again voted in favor of funding the organization.
Van Ostern also wants to make Medicaid expansion permanent. The program uses mostly federal dollars to provide health care to roughly 50,000 low income people. Right now, lawmakers must vote to renew it every two years, and the council votes on contracts to implement it.
Sununu has indicated a willingness to continue Medicaid expansion but says making the program permanent would leave taxpayers on the hook as the federal government reduces its contributions. On the council, he voted against one of the state contracts to implement Medicaid expansion because the councilors didn’t receive the $292 million contract until shortly before the vote. He said he won’t vote for something he hasn’t read.
Van Ostern wants to fund full-day kindergarten in every New Hampshire school district. Districts with full-day programs currently receive only half the normal amount of money per student. Van Ostern suggests raising the cigarette tax to provide more funding.
Sununu, meanwhile, talks about expanding “local control” and removing the Common Core education standards from New Hampshire schools. He’d also like to increase funding for charter schools and boost career and technical schools.
On higher education, Sununu is proposing a fund that would help New Hampshire students who stay in the state in professions like teaching and nursing pay down their debt. It’s unclear how much money he’d put toward the program. Van Ostern is calling for tying more in-state funding for colleges and universities to a set of outcomes like graduation numbers in areas of high workforce demand. Both say they’d boost collaboration between employers and the university and community college systems.
Van Ostern supports extending commuter rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester to bring more workers and businesses into New Hampshire.
Sununu sees fixing roads and bridges as a higher priority. His campaign says he’s open to expanding rail to Nashua but believes taking it to Manchester is risky and would cost taxpayers.
Both said they wouldn’t raise the gas tax to pay for road and bridge repairs at a recent Concord Chamber of Commerce forum. Both indicated they’d spend the state’s dollars more efficiently, but didn’t offer any new ways to pay for improvements.
Sununu supports the Northern Pass project to bring hydropower from Canada into the New England energy grid. The project, in its current form, would transport most of the energy through above-ground transmission lines. Many politicians have been hesitant to back it or have called for more burial, citing potential harm to New Hampshire’s natural landscape. Sununu says burying the whole line is “uneconomical.”
Van Ostern has pushed to approve solar projects and says the state needs to focus on promoting more clean and renewable energy sources.
Both cite their own careers to highlight their business and economic know-how. Sununu is the chief executive of Waterville Valley Ski Resort. Van Ostern worked at Stonyfield Yogurt and helped start a competency-based college program at Southern New Hampshire University.
Sununu says he’d further reduce New Hampshire’s two main business taxes and impose a 90-day moratorium on new rules and regulations.
Van Ostern says he’d work to raise the minimum wage and promote paid family leave.