Abortion, energy addressed in NH gubernatorial debate

CONCORD (AP) — Gov. Chris Sununu and state Sen. Tom Sherman debated energy policy, abortion and more Tuesday, with the Republican incumbent emphasizing his track record and the Democratic challenger arguing the state has veered off track.

Sherman, a physician from Rye, argued that while residents are struggling to afford housing, childcare and electricity and businesses face workforce shortages, Sununu is “taking the state to places where I never thought we would go, with the first abortion ban in modern history and blocking nearly every effort to expand our energy options.”

“New Hampshire deserves a governor who will focus on the people of New Hampshire, and I’m running to do exactly that,” he said. “These are solvable problems.”

Sununu, seeking his fourth two-year term, acknowledged that the nationwide problem of inflation is hitting hard. He argued that under his leadership, the state has become a magnet for businesses and young families attracted to its high wages and personal freedoms.

“When you have fiscal responsibility at the top, that gives you leverage, that chance to really make investments the state’s never made before,” he said. “I don’t ask people to vote for me based on platitudes. I do ask folks to just look at the record. We have a tremendous record of success here in New Hampshire.”

On abortion, Sununu again defended his decision to sign a state budget last year that included a ban on abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, saying the alternative would have been a veto that would have shut down state government during the coronavirus pandemic. Though he has endorsed candidates who favor further restrictions, he also supports adding exemptions to the current law for victims of rape and incest.

Sherman said refusing to veto the budget was disingenuous given that the governor vetoed a budget two years earlier because it lacked business tax cuts.

Sununu’s veto of numerous Democrat-backed bills related to renewable energy also came up in the debate, which was sponsored by New Hampshire Public Radio and the New Hampshire Bulletin. Sherman argued that the state would have lower energy costs if it more aggressively embraced renewable energy, but Sununu flatly rejected that idea.

“This idea that renewables, all renewables, lower your energy costs is completely wrong, like beyond wrong. It’s all on your bill,” Sununu said. “So there has to be a transition, but it has to be at the right pace.”

Later, Sherman took Sununu to task for supporting expansion of the state’s new “education freedom accounts” that provide parents earning up to 300% of the federal poverty line with money for private or home school expenses. Participants get about $4,500, the average amount the state pays per pupil to public school districts each year.

Proponents say the program provides school choice to low-income families, while opponents argue it siphons money from public schools while providing no oversight of the education provided by private institutions. Sununu said during the debate he would support eliminating the income requirements, an idea Sherman called “shocking.”

“Currently, 85% of the children taking advantage of it were never in public schools. The governor is willing to expand that to anybody at any income level,” he said.