3 of 4 Top Gubernatorial Candidates Talk Business Concerns at Concord Forum

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Paula Tracy photo

Three candidates for governor spoke to the New Hampshire chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in Concord Thursday. From left are: former Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington and former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.


CONCORD – Before an audience of business owners and executives, three of the top four candidates for governor took the stage together to introduce themselves. They discussed energy costs, infrastructure needs and their priorities if elected for a two-year term this November.

The candidates tackled issues of taxes, regulations, health care, and economic development in the forum sponsored by the New Hampshire chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

It was held Thursday morning at the Grappone Center and was the first such gathering of the campaign.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, is not running for re-election leaving the door wide open to a new administration.

Two Republicans: former Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem and former U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, who will run against each other and others for their party’s nomination in September, participated along with one Democrat, Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord.

Former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, a Democrat, was invited but did not attend.

The event attracted about 50 business leaders, a large contingent of the state’s media and was moderated by NFIB State Director Bruce Berke.

He gave the candidates an opportunity to introduce themselves, asked questions which each responded to and allowed them concluding remarks over the course of about an hour. 

Ayotte said her goal as governor would be to continue with the successes of Sununu’s administration and improve the function and efficiencies of state agencies. Warmington said she wants to work collaboratively with local officials to solve the affordable housing crisis and said the way to get things done is to sit down with those who disagree to come up with solutions. Morse said he would build on his success as a budget crafter to keep taxes low for hard-working families and small businesses.

Ayotte lives in her hometown of Nashua and was the state’s first female attorney general. She served a term as a U.S. Senator and has been serving on boards of directors of companies including BAE Systems and the international company Caterpillar among other positions.

Ayotte said small businesses are the engine of the state’s economy and they change lives and come up with innovative ideas.

She said she helped her husband start a landscaping and snow plow business which he had for 15 years.

She was a shoveler at night to help his business and a prosecutor by day at the AG’s office.

“I know it is important that New Hampshire have a low tax structure, that we let you do what you are good at and have the freedom to make decisions that need to be made to put people to work,” she said and pledged to work on lowering housing and energy costs.

“Our state is on a great path,” with rankings as the best return on investment for taxpayers and best for children.

Ayotte said she doesn’t want the state to become like Massachusetts where people are leaving because of increased taxes and more regulation. 

“I think we can do a lot better on the state government end on our permitting,” she said.

Alluding to Craig’s absence at the forum, Ayotte said she was honored to share the stage with Warmington and Morse and that the conversation was important.

“There is a top candidate on the Democratic side who is not here today and you know, I think that small businesses are the engine. I want you to know that I will always show up for you. I will always listen to you.” 

Morse of Salem, who owns a small business, Freshwater Farms nursery and garden center in Atkinson, focused on a pro-business agenda during his terms in office. He said he is proud to be part of making New Hampshire the most livable state in the nation and noted “pro-jobs, pro-growth, family-first economic agenda” over his 12 years and made sure there was not an income tax and a sales tax.

He said his parents divorced early and his mother made sure there was food on the table. 

He started in leadership at his church at age 16 and went on to serve his community on the Board of Selectmen, as town moderator before he was tapped to serve in Concord as a state Representative and built his own business with his wife, Susan.

After time in the House of Representatives where he worked on completing expansions on Interstate 93, he said he decided to run for Senate and started working on mental health and disabled children who were “quite honestly being ignored…by a Democratic governor at the time. I said ‘no, we’ve got to lead.'”

The goal was to “get Concord out of your way” and there is still a lot of work to do. 

“I want to go back and I want to finish it,” Morse said. 

He said he thinks he has been part of the state’s success story.

Warmington was then introduced as a mother of two and a grandparent of four with her husband, Bill. They live in Concord and she has served two terms on the Executive Council as its only Democrat. She is a lawyer with experience in the health care realm.

She thanked the group for the invitation and said she thinks it is very important for gubernatorial candidates to hear from the business community. 

“I see everything that is working in our state and everything that has been neglected for too long,” she said.

Warmington said her dad worked in a shipyard and her mom waited tables. They had four kids in five years and she was the first person in her family to have the opportunity to go to college. 

“I got a free public school education,” and she said the opportunity she got is slipping away for many hard-working families. She said the cost of housing, energy and education now are making it very challenging and the state is going to be 60,000 affordable housing units behind its needs. 

“We need to tackle this housing problem once and for all,” Warmington said. “We need to take a look at and protect our public education system. You get your workers because we have a great public education system and we need to protect it. Right now we have a Commissioner of Education that is seeking to dismantle that…” Warmington said referring to Frank Edelblut, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2016 primary as a Republican against Sununu who later appointed Edelblut education commissioner.

“We need to protect that for our future generations,” Warmington said.

She said she has fought for reproductive freedom at the council table and would work as governor to ensure that right.

“We need to trust women to make their own health care decisions without political interference,” Warmington said.

From her experience on her own financially since age 17 she said every decision she will make will be through the lens of the working family that needs to make ends meet.

“I believe that we are going to make a choice in this election and there is a real choice in this election and I believe we are going to choose to live in a state where everyone can love who they love, be who they are, and make their own reproductive health care decisions. I believe we are going to live in a state where every teacher can teach the truth, where students can learn. I believe we are going to choose to live in a state where we can drink water and breathe clean air and where every working family like mine has the opportunity to put a roof over their kids’ heads, to feed them, clothe them, give them a great public school education and retire with dignity. And I don’t think that is that much to ask.”


After their introductions the candidates were asked a number of questions some of which came from NFIB members who submitted them in advance.

All three said they would reject a broad-based sales or income tax.

“Hell no,” said Ayotte.

Asked about state revenues predicted to be in decline and the concept of wealthy donor towns paying more to help out others, Warmington said she has been already meeting with officials on what a responsible budget should look like in the future.

She criticized Sununu for appealing the school funding decision and said things only get resolved “when we sit down and talk.”

Ayotte said she supported the decision to appeal and said she would look at every single agency to do things better and for less. She said federal funds should only be used for one-time measures and not to pay for ongoing needs because there will be financial downturns as is predicted in the next biennium.

Morse said it would be wrong to rely on a superior court judge who is not elected to make an education funding decision.

Morse said it would be wrong to “pit town against town” and “the legislature can solve that problem,” of an education funding formula.

Asked about state permitting, Ayotte said it is kind of a mess right now and that it needs to become more efficient with deadlines so businesses can act and keep costs down.

Morse said he has worked very hard to get the government out of the way and it would be extremely important to work with businesses to improve the system. Departments are struggling with 20 percent vacancy rates for most state departments.

Warmington said she hears child-care businesses waiting a long time for employees’ background checks and every time she hears a similar complaint about state government she wonders how many more businesses and individuals are out there waiting.

Asked about how to get energy costs down, Morse said he endorsed former President Donald Trump for re-election last year because “we should be drilling for oil in our own country” among other things and said the problems are able to be solved.

Warmington said we absolutely need to diversify our energy portfolio in the state and said she has released her energy plan which includes renewable energy. 

Right now, the state government is stopping renewable energy, she said, and New Hampshire is behind other states.

Ayotte said she believes in the “all of the above” policy on more energy and the state is blessed to still have Seabrook going to provide nuclear power. She said small modular nuclear has promise and New Hampshire could produce its own energy but subsidizing only drives up energy costs.

Warmington said climate change is affecting us and we need to move away from fossil fuels.

Morse said he has concerns about impacts to fishermen on offshore wind.

Asked if the state has a role to play in paying for more electric vehicle charging stations, Warmington said “yes,” that during the total solar eclipse people were being told not to bring their electric vehicles. 

“Tourism is an essential part of our industry and we cannot be falling behind other states,” she said, but the other two said the state should not be paying for that.

Ayotte said she knows the Biden Administration subsidizes but she thinks the market should decide and in terms of federal resources for this, if there are such sources she would be willing to fight for some of the money but not use state dollars towards it.

Morse said, “I have a problem with spending your money without you knowing about it.”

Asked how they could help workforce challenges as governor, Ayotte said workforce housing and working with communities to achieve that. She also said technical trade school improvements could be made to fill a “gap.”

Morse said he has proven that we need to build a strong economy and that is growing the state.

“Only Washington is holding us back,” he said.

Warmington said zoning is a problem but there could be ways to encourage municipalities by rewarding them for changes.

The four major candidates were all offered the opportunity to participate in March, Berke said and repeated efforts were made to get Craig to participate up until Wednesday, which were unsuccessful.

Warmington did not directly address the absence of her primary opponent but said she is not afraid of having conversations with people who have different views.

“That is what it is going to take to solve these problems,” Warmington said of affordable housing, mental health services, freedom for women to make their own health care decisions, and “protecting public schools from the dismantling that is going on.”

According to its literature, for 80 years, NFIB has been advocating on behalf of America’s small and independent business owners, both in Washington, D.C., and in all 50 state capitals. NFIB is nonprofit, nonpartisan, and member-driven. Since its founding in 1943, NFIB has been exclusively dedicated to small and independent businesses, and remains so today. 

For more information, visit nfib.com.

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