Democratic candidate Maura Sullivan visits the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council at the Technology Village in Conway on Wednesday. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — Retired Marine and former Obama administration official Maura Sullivan told the Sun on Wednesday that if elected to Congress she will question authority and fight for affordable health care.

Sullivan, 38, is a Democrat from Portsmouth who is seeking the seat now held by Carol Shea-Porter (D-Rochester). As a Marine captain, she served in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005.

Shea-Porter has said she is not seeking re-election from the 1st Congressional District.

Meeting with the Sun's editorial board, Sullivan discussed her time in Iraq serving alongside fellow Marines who were only 19 or 20 years old.

"What I saw when I was there was that leaders in Washington at the time, this was 2005, made a lot of decisions that got a lot of other peoples' kids killed," said Sullivan. "I felt members of Congress in both political parties didn't ask the right questions, didn't ask tough questions, and I didn't think that was right."

Sullivan said that first off, the U.S. should not have been in Iraq. She said troops didn't get the resources they needed, such as armor on vehicles.

If elected, Sullivan said she would make a case to be on the House Armed Services Committee, on which Shea-Porter sits now. She then would "stand up to the president on matters of national security."

One of her priorities is to make sure the president — any president — consults Congress before taking military action like bombing another country.

Another goal is to calm the "chaos" and "bitterness" in Washington.

As for domestic issues, Sullivan said access to affordable health care is an issue she has experience with.

"I was appointed by President (Barack) Obama to serve on the leadership team of (Veterans Affairs), which is the largest integrated health-care system in the country," said Sullivan, adding the country isn't doing enough for its vets and that it's disheartening the VA doesn't have a secretary right now.

She said during her time at the VA, she helped to implement the Veterans' Choice Act, which she says provides vets with better access to care.

She said not just veterans worry about the price of health care.

"I think we need a public option," said Sullivan.

She said people should be able to buy into Medicare, that Congress needs to explore lowering the age of Medicare and that Medicare should able to negotiate for lower drug prices. There also needs to be more transparency when it comes to health-care costs, she said. Patients have a hard time shopping around because the costs are "opaque." She added that insurance companies need to do more to provide mental health coverage.

She would try to prevent Congress from doing away with protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Another domestic priority for her is curbing gun violence. She called for an assault weapon ban and universal background checks. She said AR-15s are not needed for hunting or personal protection. Arming teachers, she said, is a bad idea.

"Teachers are supposed to teach," she said. "I think it's absurd to even consider it."

During the meeting, she addressed criticisms that she is a "carpetbagger," a person who moved from out of state to run for office. She came to New Hampshire last summer.

A Midwesterner, Sullivan said she first came to New Hampshire at age 12 for skiing at Attitash.

"I fell in love with the White Mountains," she said, adding that she had hoped to attend Dartmouth College. When she didn't get in, she found a home in the Marine Corps instead.

During her time in the Marines, she lived in Japan, trained in Korea and served in Iraq. After retiring from the military she came to New England for graduate school.

Sullivan earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School, where she was a John F. Kennedy Fellow and a George Fellow. She received a BA from Northwestern University, which she completed on a Marine Corps ROTC scholarship.

In 2006, she campaigned for Shea-Porter and later in 2008 for Obama. Between 2006 and 2008 she said she would come to the state for hiking and skiing.

Sullivan and her fiance, Marc Sorel, a Naval Reserve Officer, bought a home in Portsmouth, where they originally intended to raise a family.

"That's what I thought I'd be doing for awhile until Carol said she wasn't running," said Sullivan. "I was going to help her get re-elected."

Asked if she would address news reports about military footage of UFOs, including a New York Times story from a retired Navy pilot who now lives in New Hampshire, Sullivan said she would look into it as part of her job on Armed Services Committee.

"I would be asking questions about digging deeper into the UFO issue," said Sullivan, who said she also would ask the Pentagon about its personnel and training budget because she is concerned about military accidents like the recent helicopter crash that killed a soldier from New Hampshire.

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