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Friday, September 28, 2012

Hassan, Lamontange square off at Rivier University

NASHUA – During a respectful but spirited debate at Rivier University on Thursday night, Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Ovide Lamontange tangled over health care, transportation and views about the Republican-led Legislature.

A Lincoln-Douglas style format allowed both to give long answers, but throughout the 90-minute affair, they retreated to their sound byte assaults on each other – Hassan tagging Lamontagne an unyielding arch-conservative, Lamontagne hitting Hassan as a liberal tax and spender. ...

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NASHUA – During a respectful but spirited debate at Rivier University on Thursday night, Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Ovide Lamontange tangled over health care, transportation and views about the Republican-led Legislature.

A Lincoln-Douglas style format allowed both to give long answers, but throughout the 90-minute affair, they retreated to their sound byte assaults on each other – Hassan tagging Lamontagne an unyielding arch-conservative, Lamontagne hitting Hassan as a liberal tax and spender.

Hassan attacked Lamontagne for still opposing the state mandate of public kindergarten and claimed that he was open to turning down federal education aid in the future as he did as chairman of the State Board of Education before becoming GOP nominee for governor in 1996.

Lamontagne said it’s the mandate, not public kindergarten, that he opposes.

“There is a fundamental difference of world view. I support public kindergarten but those decisions should be made by parents and citizens at the local level, not mandated from Concord,” Lamontagne said. “Maggie thinks it should be mandated from Concord.”

Lamontagne said Hassan’s record as a state senator was to vote for nearly 100 tax and fee increases and support huge increases in state spending.

“There is no stopping where she will go for new money,” Lamontagne said.

On health care, they had widely different views about the state’s community rating law Hassan helped revive in 2005 that limits how much health insurances can set premiums based on individual health risk.

Lamontagne said it drove out insurers and has left companies and individuals with high costs and little customer choice.

“We went to a one-size-fit-all mandate system for health care in New Hampshire,” Lamontagne said.

Hassan said she worked with the Republican-led Legislature at the time to restore protections that prevent discriminating against sick workers. Then Hassan criticized Lamontagne for supporting the concept of the state taking over the federal Medicare health insurance program that could make a senior spending the winter in Florida unable to receive services.

“He doesn’t tell you what it is he would change about our current protections for consumers in New Hampshire nor how he would go about running the Medicare system for New Hampshire,” Hassan said. “He would have the Legislature run Medicare for our seniors, a program run by their hard-earned dollars.”

Lamontagne chided Hassan for trying to scare seniors.

“It is absolutely untrue that if Medicare were to be managed by state policy makers in New Hampshire that it would not be portable. Of course it would be portable,” Lamontagne said.

Then he went on the offensive about Hassan’s 2010 bill that originally would have created a new state agency to regulate hospital costs.

“Maggie sponsored legislation, government run health care. She believes we should have government setting prices in New Hampshire. That is not the way it should be,” Lamontagne said. “Fortunately your colleagues gutted it and made it a study committee.”

Hassan said the goal of the study the State Senate ultimately approved unanimously that year was to alert the public to the variance in pricing from health care providers across the state.

“It was aimed directly at making sure our health care providers had transparency in financing and publicly explain what their charges were,” she said.

Both said they would support a federal study of commuter rail but under different terms.

Hassan called the Executive Council’s 3-2 vote rejecting federal grants with a $400,000 state match to study a rail line from Boston to Concord a “terrible decision.”

Lamontagne said he would negotiate with Washington to limit this study first only to extending the rail line to the Massachusetts line in Nashua.

“I would work with our Executive Council and the federal government to phase that study in, what would it cost to phase the rail only to Nashua,” Lamontagne explained.

Hassan said the
Republican-led Legislature in the past two years have become a national embarrassment and chided Lamontagne for praising its work.

“It is not an accident right now that the Colbert Report and John Stewart’s Daily Show make fun of New Hampshire,” Hassan said.

Lamontagne dismissed Hassan’s attempt to draw him into a debate over the leadership style of House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon.

“I am running for governor; not for the Legislature,” Lamontagne said.

The GOP hopeful said as for GOP state budget cuts, he would seek to restore $200 million in state aid to hospitals and $15 million to eliminate a waiting list of families of those with developmental disabilities seeking services.

Hassan pounced on the promises and called on Lamontagne to say how he could afford to do since he’s vowed to oppose any increase in state taxes or fees.

“One of the things Ovide still hasn’t told you is what he is going to cut,” Hassan said.

Lamontagne did not directly answer Hassan’s question but earlier in the debate said experts have advised him the state could save “$100 million to $300 million” a year by modernizing its information technology system throughout state government.

Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce President Chris Williams moderated this second debate since Lamontagne and Hassan scored strong victories to win their party nominations 17 days ago.

They will also debate at New England College next Thursday, cosponsored by The Telegraph and New Hampshire Business Review, New England Cable News and other media partners.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).