By Chris Jensen
In the race for state senator to represent the North Country, incumbent Democrat Jeff Woodburn is being challenged by Republican Dolly McPhaul.
The issues in the race include who is the fiercest opponent of Northern Pass, abortion rights, eminent domain, state spending, funding Planned Parenthood and helping low-income residents with healthcare.
Woodburn, of Dalton, is seeking a third term. He has a background in business, journalism and education. He graduated from Franklin Pierce University. From 1988 to 1990 he served in the state’s House of Representatives. He’s currently the Senate Minority Leader as well as the Executive Director of the Council for Children and Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions.
McPhaul, who was raised in Sugar Hill, graduated from St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains (now called The White Mountain School) in Bethlehem and Bradford Junior College. Her family owns a business in Littleton and her volunteer work includes serving on the board of the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families. She’s been a fierce and outspoken opponent of the Northern Pass project since it was announced.
Woodburn says he’ll do a better job for the North Country because, as a third-generation Coos resident, he has the best understanding of the region’s challenges and strengths and recognizes that sometimes the government should spend money rather than turn its back on people who need help.
He also says he knows how to succeed in a Republican-controlled legislature.
“I’ve proven I can work with people and I can get things done,” he says.
McPhaul argues that Woodburn isn’t focused enough on the North Country and she questions whether he has wider, statewide ambitions. She says he has voted for issues that have helped other parts of the state at the expense of the North Country and has weakened on his opposition to Northern Pass.
“Four years ago I crossed party lines to vote for Jeff and since that time I have watched him change his focus on what and who is important to him,” she says. “More and more the southern part of the state is what counts. His heart and his votes are not where the people are. I am running to be a voice and a fighter for the people.”
Here are some of the campaign issues in the Nov. 8 vote.
* Extending Medicaid: Woodburn fought for the program that provides health insurance to 48,000 low-income residents statewide, including many in Coos County.
“I know people who are on Medicaid,” he says. “They are my neighbors. I see how hard they are working. These are working people who are busting their tails to get by. I do not see the stereotypical welfare queen.”
He says Medicaid is a smart investment that helps people get ahead. “It makes our people better, healthier, saves our hospitals money,” he says.
McPhaul says she would “probably” vote for Medicaid, but struggles with the question, fearing that some people are getting a free ride.
“If the person is an able-bodied person and can work but just doesn’t like the jobs that are around, I have a problem with that. But I like to help people,” she says.
* Taxes, expenditures: McPhaul’s campaign literature says she has signed a pledge from David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity to oppose any income or sales tax.
Traditionally that pledge also includes opposing the Affordable Care Act (including Medicaid), cutting spending and the size of government and passing a right-to-work law.
McPhaul says she doesn’t remember the pledge she signed covering anything but opposition to a sales or income tax and she “would not commit to anything further than that.” But over several days she couldn’t provide a copy of the pledge she signed.
The important things, she says, is that the state must learn to live within its means.
“I am a fiscal conservative and at this point and time we need to be very careful about how we spend our constituent’s money because there is not much of it,” she says.
Woodburn says he has faith in “human potential” and sometimes it is necessary to spend money to help people achieve that.
A review of the bills Woodburn sponsored (but were not passed) includes a property tax credit for disabled veterans; money to help school districts with the cost of lunches; establishing a minimum wage; providing aid to the permanently disabled and prohibiting an employer from retaliating against an employee who requests a flexible work schedule.
“I do believe you need to invest in people, especially kids,” he says.
“I don’t think the North Country can afford an ideologue or somebody who is against government or against investments. We have a tremendous need here and we need somebody who will be working every day to understand those needs.”
* Abortion: McPhaul says she opposes abortion except in the case of rape, incest or the mother’s life being in danger. Woodburn says he is Pro-Choice.
* Funding Planned Parenthood: McPhaul is against funding the program because it offers abortions. Woodburn favors funding, saying Planned Parenthood provides a wide range of healthcare services – not just abortions – to about 12,000 women statewide.
* Northern Pass: The Senate has nothing to do with approving the controversial project. That decision will be made by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.
But McPhaul made it an issue, saying Woodburn is too soft on Northern Pass because he no longer insists it be completely buried.
“That to me is a sell out,” she says. “The majority of his constituents do not want the Northern Pass.”
Woodburn says having the entire line buried is the ideal. “But if we got 99.9 percent would I be willing to look at that? The answer is ‘yes.’ Of course. I would consider 99.9 percent.”
But Northern Pass would need to compensate communities where the lines are not buried, he says.
McPhaul also notes Woodburn has accepted money from unions supporting Northern Pass.
Woodburn says he “welcomes support from all sorts of people — from labor, business, environmentalists and average North Country residents, but I have also stood up to powerful interests like the Northern Pass.”
He also asks why, if McPhaul is so strongly against Northern Pass, she has not disavowed Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu, who was quoted by The Union Leader saying he favors Northern Pass.
Asked whether she supports Sununu, McPhaul said she has been busy campaigning and “I will decide what I am doing when I get in the booth.”
* Protection against eminent domain: Woodburn voted against a bill that would have greatly expanded the rights of property owners should a pipeline company use eminent domain. For example, if part of a parcel was taken, the utility could be required to purchase the entire parcel.
McPhaul says she can’t understand why a legislator wouldn’t want to provide that protection to constituents.
Woodburn says: “I felt it went above and beyond what was reasonable.”
* Drug addiction: Woodburn was a sponsor of the bill that provides about $1.5 million for law enforcement to combat drug abuse.
McPhaul also says drug abuse is a huge issue and fighting it must be a priority.
* Balsams: Woodburn sponsored a bill that makes it legally possible for the state to guarantee a loan in Dixville Notch. That means if the state’s Business Finance Authority approves Balsams’ developer Les Otten’s financial plan the state could guarantee up to a $28 million loan. However, that would require the approval of the Executive Council and governor. McPhaul and Woodburn each say they would like the Balsams to be a success but need to see Otten’s financial plan before deciding whether backing the loan is a good idea.
* Gax tax: In 2014 Woodburn voted to increase the gas tax four cents, up from 18 cents. That was the first increase since 1991. Almost 60 percent of the money raised goes to improve local roads with the rest for the widening of Interstate 93 near Manchester.
McPhaul says this is another example of Woodburn turning his back on his constituents by ignoring opposition to the tax. She says the tax hurts people in the North Country who often travel long distances.
“That was pretty big for a lot of people up North,” she says.
Woodburn says the tax was needed to pay for road repairs, including those in the North Country.
* Economic growth: Both candidates say they would work to make it more attractive for businesses to locate in the North Country, which would also help keep young people from leaving.
As part of that effort, Woodburn cites his successful opposition to a bill that would have taken a tax break that has been solely for businesses locating in Coos County and expanded it statewide. He argued that it would have taken away from Coos a badly needed advantage.
McPhaul says she favors more cuts in business taxes and she feels that will bring more jobs and prosperity.
Woodburn says helping the economy isn’t going to be free.
“I believe in public investment, I believe we need to be building our economy so it works for average people, rural people,” Woodburn says.
“If we want to attract young people to the region we need to invest in things like family leave, sick time, making quality child care available and affordable. Good schools. These are all things that young families need.”
* Gun control: Woodburn and McPhaul both support the Second Amendment. Woodburn voted against a bill that would have eliminated the need for a special permit to carry a concealed weapon. He says the current system has worked for decades. “My governing philosophy is there needs to be compelling evidence before we either take any gun laws off the books or add any to it,” he says.
* Federal purchases of land: Woodburn opposed a bill that would have prevented the federal government from buying land without the approval of the Executive Council and governor.
The bill was prompted by concerns of some communities, particularly in the North Country, of a loss of tax revenue that occurs when the federal government takes over land. McPhaul says she would have supported such legislation.
Woodburn says he voted against the bill (which failed) because “people who want to sell their property should not have the state government standing between them and the federal government that wants to buy it.”
* Border patrol arrest powers: Woodburn proposed giving the Border Patrol police powers in Coos County. He argued police can be few and far between in Coos and often the Border Patrol is the first to arrive when there is a call for help such as a violent, domestic dispute. But without police powers, Border Patrol agents risk being sued for intervening. The idea ultimately became law as part of a different bill sponsored by Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett.
* Free skiing for seniors: McPhaul criticizes Woodburn for sponsoring a bill to take away free weekday skiing for seniors at Cannon Mountain. She says it was a “long-held tradition” and the ski lifts were running anyway.
Woodburn says it helped a small number of people, Cannon could use the extra revenue and nobody should get in for free.
“Cannon is not there as a playground for those who have the ability to live their life comfortably and successfully. Everybody should pay something,” he says. “I am not going to back down an inch because I believe it was the right thing to do.”
Under a compromise seniors will start paying $5.