Wilton hosts forum for local candidates
WILTON – The presidential election is Tuesday, Nov. 8, but Election Day also includes those important "down ballot" offices.
Eight local candidates for state offices met for an informal discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 25. In spite of some sharp differences in stands on several subjects, the event remained friendly and civil.
The forum was sponsored by the Wilton Lions Club and held in the Parish House of the Second Congregational Church, with Town Moderator William Keefe officiating. About 40 people attended the two-hour program.
The questions covered a wide range of subjects, but the main topics included the economy, a commuter rail line, the opioid crisis and health care in general.
Speakers included four people seeking Statehouse seats, Kermit Williams and Carol Roberts, in District 12, and Richard McNamara and Bianca Peco, in District 38; two for state Senate, Gary Daniels and Roger Tilton; and two vying for Executive Council, incumbent David Wheeler and Dan Weeks.
After each candidate’s two-minute opening statement, Keefe and some audience members asked questions.
Concerning the economy, the candidates agreed it needs to be strengthened, and that education has to include trades and technology.
Williams said there needs to be less red tape and less intrusion by state government.
"We need to increase career counseling in high schools about trades," he said. "Not everyone goes to college."
Daniels said he was for "a free market, states’ rights and individual liberty. We need to unlock the potential in others."
Tilton said, "Change is in the air. Higher pay promotes growth. I support a minimum wage."
There was little agreement on whether commuter rail would help. Particularly supporting it were Roberts, Tilton, Weeks and Williams. Wheeler was opposed.
"We need an intermodal system, bus services," Weeks said. "When was the last time you took a bus from Wilton to Nashua? (The railway) could bring 5,600 permanent jobs. We also need to expand broadband internet services"
Wheeler and Weeks were widely divideed on health care issues.
Weeks said the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (Medicaid) should be expanded.
"It is up for renewal this year," he said. "People rely on Medicaid."
Wheeler said he opposed Planned Parenthood – which drew a few boos from the audience – saying it was being sued by several states for improper billing.
"I refuse to do business with them," he said.
Weeks said he was a strong supporter of the program since it is the only provider in some parts of the state.
"They have a good record in New Hampshire," he said.
The opioid problem was discussed at length, with all agreeing it is a major problem, but various routes in combating it were suggested.
Wheeler said the state supports the Narcan program.
"We have to understand how this affects families," he said.
Roberts talked about drug courts and the good they are doing, and Williams described the lack of treatment programs at Valley Street jail in Manchester and how it should be changed.
"People are released without treatment and return to their former life," he said.
McNamara noted that the drug courts are for the addicted, not the criminals.
"Focusing on the dealers hasn’t worked," he said.
Tilton is an outspoken advocate of medical marijuana and total legalization of it.
"This isn’t a war on drugs, it is a war on people," he said.
"It begins at home, with prescription drugs," Tilton said. As for pot: "Legalize it, regulate it and tax it."
Daniels said the opioid problem "needs to be attacked from several fronts – increased funding, the need to find the source."
While Wheeler said studies show that marijuana use leads to heroin addiction, Weeks disagreed. Weeks said more prevention programs are needed in middle and high schools.
In his opening remarks, Williams, seeking a third term in House District 12, said people who run for an elected office should make the office a priority.
"It is a lot more than once a week," he said. "Everyone serves on standing committees, and they meet at least twice a week. I’m committed to putting this job first."
Peco, seeking her first term in District 38, said she "represents the Millennial Generation" – those born between 1987 and 2000. "It’s a great idea to get a younger person’s perspective in the House."
She said she supports health care for all, education reform – more than 30 percent of her income goes to pay student loans – and full-time kindergarten.
Wheeler said one of his main objectives was to be sure Milford kept its district court and motor vehicle substation "so we won’t have to drive to Nashua to register our cars."
Weeks concluded by noting, "We need to get big money out of politics and make investments for the future."