CONWAY — U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas packed a little fun into his day of touring Carroll County and meeting with local business leaders Wednesday, making stops to hike Black Cap and to take his first-ever downhill mountain bike run, joining Cranmore Mountain Resort General Manager and President Ben Wilcox on the beginner trail of the resort’s new mountain biking park.
The first-term Democratic 1st District congressman has routinely returned to the valley since he took office to meet with constituents, hear their concerns and learn what’s new in the area.
Earlier in the day, he held a business roundtable at Hobbs Tavern in Ossipee, attended by state Sen. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro), Hobbs owner Ash Fischbein, Jac Cuddy, executive director of the MWV Economic Council and Denise Roy-Palmer, executive director of the Wentworth Economic Development Council.
He and those present discussed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) programs.
After his Cranmore stop, he met with business leaders at the Christmas Loft, then hiked the 1.5-mile Black Cap trail with representatives of the Appalachian Mountain Club to discuss the impact of the Great American Outdoors Act would have on tourism-dependent and outdoors-oriented New Hampshire.
Pappas loved the mountain bike ride and said the park provides the epitome of safe social distancing.
“It was incredible. I have a bike at home where I ride rail trails, but that was a first going downhill. It was very gentle and rolling — I think I pedaled twice!” said Pappas, thanking Wilcox for the experience. “What a great year for this park to be launched. Add the chairlift rides, and it’s a perfect activity.”
After a quick change into his street clothes and wearing a mask, the Manchester native spoke with the Sun about efforts to help small businesses in New Hampshire during the pandemic, prospects for a vaccine and the need for stronger national leadership from the White House on how to combat spikes in COVID-19.
Pappas gave a thumbs-up on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s pick Tuesday of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) to be his running mate.
“I think she (Harris) has an incredible resume and a great background (as a former California attorney general and first-term senator as well as former presidential candidate) that has well-prepared her for the position. Vice President Biden I am sure thought long and hard about this decision and I trust his judgment. I think she will bring a lot of energy to the ticket,” said Pappas, who is running for re-election himself. He is unopposed in the Sept. 8 Democratic primary but facing Republican opposition in the Nov. 3 general election from five candidates (Michael Callis, Jeff Denaro, Matt Mayberry, Matt Mowers and Kevin Rondeau).
Q: What is the focus of your efforts these days in Washington?
PAPPAS: We’ve got to continue to look at what we can do to help New Hampshire small businesses and workers survive, but no one has a playbook for any of this. As quickly as people are innovating to adapt to COVID-19, they get thrown a curve ball to the local economy.
I spoke with (Conway Town Manager) Tom Holmes last week as part of a discussion with local leaders across the state about increased expenses and lost revenues that are falling on town shoulders. Costs are being downshifted from Washington to Concord and to towns.
We’ve got to act to provide additional support to towns.
Three months ago, we passed the HEROES Act, the centerpiece of which was to provide significant support to cities and towns to deal with the loss of revenue due and increased costs associated with COVID-19.
That is still on the table as part of bipartisan negotiations. I am really frustrated that leadership on both sides have not been able to come to a solution. But compromise is never easy — I say let’s split the difference and figure out how we can provide support.
Included in that package has to be aid for communities to deal with lost revenue due to COVID, and that’s not a political statement: All the mayors in New Hampshire, all of our county commissioners joined the bipartisan letter that Annie Kuster (D-N.H., 2nd District) and I wrote, calling on the leadership of Congress to provide local government funding to provide support without disruption to our tax base to stay ahead of that for communities forced to make tough cuts or even to raise taxes, which is just unpalatable at this time.
Q: Russia announced it had a vaccine for COVID-19 Tuesday although many Westerners are saying it has yet to undergo a rigorous clinical test. What is your assessment of where efforts stand?
PAPPAS: What I have read in the papers is that Russia has blown through the checks and balances one has to go through with a vaccine before it is ready for a population at large.
We have a number of vaccines in Phase 3 of clinical trials and they are showing great promise, and I hope we would be able to start with those early next year.
A New Hampshire company, Lonza (Pharma and Biotech) of Pease International Tradeport of Newington is part of the Moderna vaccine project and they are already manufacturing a vaccine that is in Phase 3 so there are some exciting developments that are showing immune response.
But it has to be safe and go through all the protocols and we also need be ready to be able to provide it to the health providers and the population that needs it most.
We also need an agreement so there is more money for contact testing and deployment.
Q: You have called upon President Donald Trump to enact the Defense Production Act to make more masks and PPE for frontliners. Comment on where those efforts stand?
PAPPAS: I and the rest of the New Hampshire congressional delegation asked the president to fully deploy the Defense Production Act to make sure that we got the PPE we need but it didn’t happen. We are still lacking a national testing strategy. You look at the infection rate in the United States and the rest of the world, and we are not leading. The disinformation and the lack of preparedness of this administration has produced the numbers of cases that we are seeing today.
So, we’ve got to move beyond that. Masks, social distancing … Talking with folks at places like here at Cranmore, they tell me they would like a mandate for masks as a state regulation as it would make it easier on our business population opposed to their having to be the ones to implement it in place.
Studies have shown we might have 300,000 deaths from COVID in the United States by Dec. 1. If we had 95 percent of the public wearing masks today we could reduce that by 70,000 deaths. That’s just what we could do over the next few months. So we’ve all got to stay vigilant.
Q: What hope would you give to New Hampshire residents given the challenges of the past six months as we move ahead?
PAPPAS: The silver lining of this all has been that we have all come together. How we will get through this is by staying together in this unprecedented crisis.