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At issue: Local candidates face off at forum in Hollis

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup District 5 Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler responds to one of several questions posed to him and Debora Pignatelli, his challenger in the Nov. 6 election, during Sunday's candidates forum organized by the Hollis-Brookline Rotary Club.

HOLLIS – While state Senate District 12 candidates Melanie Levesque and Kevin Avard agree the state’s opioid crisis needs to be met head-on sooner than later, they’re fairly far apart when it comes to how each would go about it.

But the issue on which their views seem to differ the strongest is whether tax dollars should be used to help parents pay their children’s tuition to private schools.

“Absolutely yes,” Avard said in response to the question.

“Absolutely no,” Levesque answered.

The question was one of a series faced by Avard, Levesque and several other candidates for state office, when they gathered at Town Hall Sunday for an informational forum sponsored by the Hollis-Brookline Rotary Club.

Staff photo by Dean Shalhoup Jim Belanger, a longtime Hollis resident running for a state representative seat in the Nov. 6 election, responds to a question at Sunday's forum organized by the Hollis-Brookline Rotary Club. Candidate Jim Kelly is in the background.

Levesque, a longtime Brookline resident and former three-term state representative, is looking to unseat Avard in District 12, which represents Hollis, Brookline, Greenville, New Ipswich, Mason, Rindge and Nashua Wards 1, 2, and 5.

Also taking part in the forum were District 5 Executive Councilor David Wheeler and his challenger, Debora Pignatelli, a Nashua resident who previously held the District 5 seat for several terms.

In addition, six of the eight candidates vying for state representative seats in three districts in and around Hollis took turns answering the series of questions, which moderator Eitan Zeira said were prepared by four Rotary Club members.

The state representative hopefuls include Brett Hall and Brian Rater, vying for the seat that represents Brookline; Jim Belanger, Jim Kelly and Michelle St. John, running for two seats that cover Hollis; and Kat McGhee, candidate for one of the so-called “floterial” seats that represents Hollis, Milford, Mont Vernon and New Boston.

Not present were Tom Harris, a candidate for the Hollis seat, and Keith Ammon, running against McGhee for the floterial seat.

As for the state Senate forum, Levesque said she agrees with Avard that overprescribing opioid medications is a major contributor to the epidemic, but that the way “to attack this problem is, first of all, by funding it.

“Medicaid expansion is one of the biggest tools against the opioid epidemic. Treatment, education and recovery are criticial to fighting it,” she said.

Avard said long term care is critical to people with addiction, noting that the state has “spent $73 million on the crisis. That needs time to work.”

But the community needs to step up, Avard said. “Creating a burocracy is not going to solve (the crisis) … neither will money. There needs to be community involvement.

Would either candidate support a move to institute a state income tax in New Hampshire?

“Absolutely not,” Avard said, while Levesque answered, “not at this time,” adding a study would be needed first.

Levesque said she would support the legalization of recreational marijuana, while Avard said “not at this time.”

Wheeler and Pignatelli, meanwhile, both voiced their opposition to the state’s current practice of awarding so-called “no-bid” contracts, meaning the council decides which company to hire for state projects rather than choosing from several submitted bids.

“It makes no sense to me why we do this,” Pignatelli said of the current system.

The two also agree that the state’s judicial selection process needs to be more transparent.

Wheeler in his closing statement touched heavily upon his stance on the second amendment, telling attendees “people shold have the right to choose what type of firearm they want to defend themselves with.

“Forcing good people to be defenseless does not make bad people harmless,” he said, going on to suggest those who “want to mandate what firearm you can use … want no firearms at all.”

The state representative candidates likewise alternated between agreeing and disagreeing, most notably in their responses to the question regarding supporting a state income tax.

Kelly and Belanger answered “absolutely not,” while St. John and Rater both said, “conditionally.”

Hall “won’t rule it out,” while McGhee said she “would have to see the legislation.”

Kelly and Belanger both favor, and would support, so-called “right to work” legislation, while the other four said they would not support it.

Belanger, a fixture in town for decades who has served on pretty much every town board or committee over the years, said that if elected he may reintroduce legislation he proposed four years ago to create a state registry for drug dealers with three or more convictions.

It would work similarly to the state’s sex-offender registry, but it wouldn’t be public, Belanger said.

“The legislature turned it down … said it would be too expensive,” he added.

The six pretty much agreed that the current healthcare system needs work. Kelly, a primary care physician, said the change needs to start “with the way we think about access … first, there should be transparency, and second, we need to eliminate state lines,” he said, referring to rules that prohibit residents from signing up with an out-of-state provider.

“There should be a national insurance marketplace,” Kelly said. “If we let it work, it will take down the costs.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.

GATEWAY TO THE ELECTION

Three candidate forums, sponsored by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce in partnership with The Telegraph and Rivier University, will take place beginning today at the Holiday Inn, 9 Northeastern Boulevard, Nashua.

Today’s forum, featuring the candidates for state senator and Executive Council, runs from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Registration opens at 4 p.m. $10 per person. Light refreshments.

The second forum, featuring the candidates for governor, is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 22, from 12:30-2 p.m., with registration opening at noon. $20 per person. Lunch included.

The third forum is set for Thursday, Nov. 1, from 4:30-6 p.m., with registration opening at 4 p.m. Featured will be the candidates for New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. $10 per person. Light refreshments.

All three forums will take place at the Holiday Inn.

To register in advance for each event, and for more information on the series and the candidates, go to www.nashua

chamber.com/candidateseries2018.