CONWAY — Abortion, guns, Free Staters and inflation were the hot topics du jour at Tuesday's debate among N.H. House candidates seeking to represent Conway.
The debate organized by the Conway Daily Sun and aired later on Valley Vision.
Moderated by Sun Publisher Mark Guerringue, the event drew about two dozen people to the North Conway Community Center.
Incumbent Republican Karen Umberger and incumbent Democrats Tom Buco and Stephen Woodcock face challenges from Democrat David Paige as well as Republicans Mike DiGregorio and Frank McCarthy. The general election is Nov. 8.
Perhaps the most dramatic lines of the night came from DiGregorio and McCarthy when asked about the Planned Parenthood contracts that the Executive Council rejected for the reason that Planned Parenthood provides abortions.
"Planned Parenthood is nothing but an abortion machine," said DiGregorio, who is also a Conway Village Fire District commissioner and Conway School Board member. He added that he would consider supporting women's health clinics that give unbiased help and advice, but not Planned Parenthood. "That organization was created by Margaret Sanger, who was a racist, who wanted to kill all black babies."
According to Planned Parenthood's website, which denounces Sanger's interest in eugenics, "There is no evidence to support the claim that Sanger supported 'black genocide.'”
McCarthy agreed with DiGregorio that Planned Parenthood should not be supported by the state.
"I don't think that taxpayers' money should be used for Planned Parenthood so that they can make millions of dollars selling baby parts," said McCarthy.
According to plannedparenthood.org, "Planned Parenthood does not and has never had any financial interest in fetal tissue donation" that it says helps with "lifesaving scientific breakthrough."
Woodcock strongly disagreed with McCarthy and DiGregoio. He said Planned Parenthood offers health services like cancer screenings. He said tax dollars aren't going to abortions.
"That's a horrible characterization of Planned Parenthood," said Woodcock about DiGregorio's comments. Planned Parenthood does "a host of good things," Woodcock said.
Umberger said the Executive Council voted against Planned Parenthood because a majority felt that money sent to Planned Parenthood for other services would also end up supporting the abortion arm.
"Just a suggestion to the Planned Parenthood people, if they would separate it, and move the abortion clinic to a different place, instead of having it connected physically, that might in fact change people's minds," said Umberger. "But right now, because it's all in one, it's hard to delineate where the money has gone."
Paige said the money has been audited and doesn't see why the contract was rejected.
Buco seemed to agree with Woodcock by saying that Planned Parenthood performs a number of services like cancer and STD screenings. He said Gov. Chris Sununu voted for the contract when he was an executive councilor.
Guerringue also asked the candidates if legislation to allow teachers to be armed is a good idea.
Paige simply answered "no."
Umberger, said, "As long as the training occurs, and the teacher wants to do that. I see no problem with it at all."
DiGregorio agreed and said the training has to be "high level" and perhaps the guns could be kept in secure areas and accessible to teachers in an emergency.
"I can tell you those kids down in Uvlade, Texas, would have liked to have teacher in that building to protect them," said DiGregorio.
Buco was skeptical that introducing more guns into a situation where there are numerous children is a good idea. "It doesn't sound like that increases the safety factor at all," said Buco.
McCarthy said his high school English teacher was a U.S. Marine sergeant who just got back from the Korea. "I see no reason in the world where that man or anybody else who was properly trained to handle a weapon should not be able to carry that weapon into school to protect the children," said McCarthy. "No reason whatsoever."
Woodcock said federal law prohibits guns in schools. He said he asked the police chief if he thought arming teachers was a good idea.
"He said when we come into the building in a shooting situation, when that team (of officers) comes in, we do not know who are the good guys or the bad guys," said Woodcock. "So, we (police) definitely don't think that's a good idea. I would concur."
Guerringue said inflation is a top concern of voters ad asked what the candidates would do about it.
Buco guessed the only thing a state representative could do is try to control the budget.
McCarthy answered by pontificating on the differences between Republicans and Democrats/Progressives. He said Democrats want to create new taxes and increase existing ones.
Paige said inflation is mostly caused by global forces. What the state can do is provide things like fuel assistance.
"Rather than focusing on the question of how do we get inflation down, which is really a national or even global issue, we should be asking how do we make sure that people have the help they need over the short term to get through this rough patch," he said.
Umberger said state reps can work to foster a business-friendly environment so employers can provide good jobs. The state should also be careful not to overspend tax dollars.
Woodcock said Paige and Umberger raised good points, but he added that New Hampshire received a lot of money from Washington and the $600 checks people received from the federal government is part of inflation.
DiGregorio agreed with Umberger that the best thing New Hampshire can do about inflation is to be business friendly.
Guerringue said about 40 Free Staters in the Legislature seem to be displacing more moderate Republicans. He asked the candidates how much the Free Staters are affecting state politics.
McCarthy sad during his six years in the House, the Free Staters didn't get their way all the time. He added that the Free Staters didn't always vote with Republicans and were unwilling to compromise.
"They wanted it all or nothing," said McCarthy, adding Republican leadership during his time wouldn't put up with their antics.
Buco said in the past session, the Free Staters tied up the budget and tried to add things that aren't even budget items.
"They do have an oversized influence," said Buco.
DiGregorio said the Free Staters get painted as extremists but not everything they believe in is bad. He said they raise a valid point about limits on the governor's authority.
Paige said he hasn't worked with them in the Legislature so he didn't have any direct knowledge of what they are like to work with.
Woodcock said the Free Staters have a "strong influence" on the Legislature and that has grown since McCarthy was in office.
Umberger said, "I think that the Democrats have as many wackos ... as Republicans. If you talk to some of my Democratic friends, they will support that 100 percent."
Woodcock asked Umberger to name names.
"Which wackos are you talking about?" he said.
Umberger replied, "I didn't mention your name, Steve, so you're not one of them."