Gubernatorial candidates lead off week of debates

CONCORD (AP) – The Democrats competing to challenge Republican Gov. Chris Sununu faced questions about inconsistent tax policy positions Tuesday during a televised debate a week before the primary.

Both former state Sen. Molly Kelly and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand were asked to clarify their positions on enacting a sales or income tax, both of which New Hampshire has long resisted. Kelly has said she has been clear in her opposition to both, but as a state Senate candidate, she said all options were on the table. Asked Tuesday about that inconsistency and her claim that she has remained true to her progressive values, she emphasized that she is now running for a statewide office.

“I represent, running for governor, the entire state, and as a senator, you do not,” she said. “What’s important to me, and when I speak about my values, is making sure every child has a quality education in this state. That hasn’t wavered. That we make sure children aren’t hungry. That we put at the top of the budget what’s most important to us, so the working families of today are represented across the board. Those are the values that have not changed.”

Marchand often emphasizes that he has refused to take the traditional pledge against the taxes, but he told a newspaper two years ago that he would veto them and has said during this campaign he opposes them. On Tuesday, he didn’t directly answer why a broad-based tax would be wrong for New Hampshire but said after holding hundreds of events around the state, he believes it’s time to start changing the mindset around the issue. He’d start by giving local governments the ability to use income in determining individual property tax liabilities.

“One of the things that becomes clear… is that the way we are doing it now does not work, and we have to begin by making cultural change,” he said. “If we do not begin to get to a place where people’s ability to pay is not a significant factor in how much they actually pay, we will end up where we are right now, with some of America’s highest property taxes, slowly diminishing quality of public services and increasing inequity between the have and have-not communities.”

The two also were asked to defend other actions that appear inconsistent with their stated positions. Marchand served as a state director for the centrist organization No Labels, which honored then-candidate Donald Trump with a “problem solver award.” Marchand said he found out “at the last minute” that Trump was among the recipients.

“Donald Trump does not have anything to do with the future of our party and our state and our country. I was the Democrat in an organization that was bipartisan,” he said. “I have been consistent in my public policy my entire adult life. If you want to know how long I’ve been for universal health care, its ever since in the early ’90s my family had to file for bankruptcy because we didn’t have insurance when the economy went south.”

Kelly was also asked to defend her vote for a constitutional amendment to reduce the state’s share of education funding. She said the amendment was aimed at making sure the schools that needed the most got more money.

“Education is my priority, and it will continue to be my priority,” she said. Democrats seeking the nomination in the 1st Congressional District will debate today, followed by 1st District Republicans on Thursday and 2nd District Republicans on Friday.

Tuesday’s debate kicked off four days of debates sponsored by The New Hampshire Institute of Politics, WMUR-TV and the New Hampshire Union Leader.