By Kevin Landrigan
The two major candidates for governor battled Wednesday night over their personal backgrounds in business and on topics ranging from the minimum wage and the economy to gun control.
But their sharpest attack during their first televised debate was support for state contracts for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Republican Executive Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields defended his 2015 vote against Planned Parenthood contracts and criticized Gov. Maggie Hassan for failing to put those contracts on hold while other states investigated whether that national organization sold fetal body parts.
"She refused to simply look into it and provide more information," said Sununu, 41.
"When the governor is not willing to be accountable, I am not going to support that."
State probes concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.
Democratic hopeful Colin Van Ostern of Concord said Sununu can't be trusted to support reproductive rights for women.
"It's stunning that Chris can talk about votes and try to put blame on people and not recognize the harm it did to thousands of people," Van Ostern declared. "This isn't about politics; this is about peoples' lives."
Hassan is not seeking re-election as governor, but instead is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.
Near the outset of the debate at New England College in Henniker, Sununu belittled Van Ostern's business experience, saying his opponent is best known as a political consultant.
"When he was working with the John Edwards presidential campaign, I was cleaning up asbestos landfills in downtown Nashua," Sununu said.
Van Ostern, 37, said he got valuable experience working for Stonyfield Yogurt in Londonderry and Southern New Hampshire University.
Van Ostern counterpunched that ski trips to Waterville Valley resort have dropped significantly since Sununu became its CEO in 2010.
"Unfortunately, I don't think we can allow the kind of mismanagement of Waterville Valley for our state," Van Ostern said.
Sununu said Waterville Valley is the only ski resort in the East undergoing a major expansion. "That is success," Sununu said.
The two also tangled over whether to restore a state minimum wage and raise it.
Van Ostern said he supports as a starting point raising it from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $12 an hour though he expects the Legislature would move to raise it "somewhere in the middle."
"Right now we have the lowest minimum wage in the nation; it's the same as Alabama," Van Ostern said.
Sununu said Van Ostern proposes raising the minimum wage much higher than any state has in recent years.
"Let's be clear; the minimum wage as my opponent has proposed it would be disastrous for New Hampshire," Sununu said.
They also broke over gun control; Van Ostern said he agrees with Attorney General Joseph Foster and believes New Hampshire should end its status as the only New England state that doesn't share its mental health information about gun applicants with the national criminal background check system.
"I do think we should do it in a responsible way that respects the Second Amendment," Van Ostern said.
Sununu said he does not believe gun owners in New Hampshire should be subject to federal definitions of mental health care.
"If we go down the path of what the federal government says is mental health issues, that's a slippery slope and I oppose that," Sununu said. "This is the live free or die state; this is the state where we cherish personal liberties."
(c)2016 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)