HENNIKER, N.H. — New Hampshire’s candidates for governor repeatedly criticized each others’ credentials as businessmen in a debate Wednesday that also featured disagreements over health care and the presidential nominees of their respective parties.
Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern both currently serve on the Executive Council, a governmental body that approves state contracts and nominations for appointed positions. They are vying to replace Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is running for U.S. Senate.
During their televised debate, they spent a considerable amount of time criticizing each others’ day jobs.
Van Ostern argued that Waterville Valley, the ski resort Sununu manages, has suffered under his leadership, while Sununu said the few years Van Ostern has spent at Southern New Hampshire University and his previous stint at Stonyfield Yogurt hardly make him a business leader.
“What I know about Colin mostly is his background in politics … When he was a spokesperson for the John Edwards campaign, I was cleaning up asbestos landfills in downtown Nashua,” said Sununu, who previously worked as an environmental engineer.
“It’s about experience and making sure we have the right background — a governor who is a stakeholder in the issues that are important to the people of New Hampshire,” he said. “As far as I know, he’s had one private sector job for three years, so I don’t know if that qualifies him as a businessman.”
Van Ostern, a senior adviser at SNHU and the former chief marketing officer for its College for America, countered that being governor is about getting results, and said that’s something Sununu has failed to achieve at the ski area. While he acknowledged that all ski areas suffered from a lack of snow in recent years, he said Waterville Valley has lost considerably more visitors since Sununu took over.
“I don’t think we can allow the sort of mismanagement that has hurt Waterville to hurt our state,” he said.
In their roles on the Executive Council, the two answered several questions about health care, including funding for Planned Parenthood and whether the state should make its expanded Medicaid program permanent. Van Ostern wants to make it permanent, while Sununu said he worries that would leave taxpayers on the hook as the federal government reduces its contributions. On the council, he voted against one of the state contracts to implement Medicaid expansion because the councilors didn’t receive the $292 million contract until shortly before the vote.
Sununu also voted against state funding for Planned Parenthood last year after videos from an anti-abortion rights group claimed to show the group’s employees profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. This year, after the videos were discredited, he voted in favor of funding the organization, as he had in past years.
“Since the day I entered the Executive Council, I have been an incredibly strong supporter of women’s health care in this state,” Sununu said. “I’ve made the tough votes. I’ve thrown politics aside.”
Van Ostern, who has consistently voted in favor of Planned Parenthood funding, called that claim “stunning.” He argued that thousands of women went without critical health care or had their care delayed because of Sununu’s vote last year.
Asked later whether Republican Donald Trump would be “an excellent president,” Sununu didn’t answer directly, saying, “We’ll find out in about three months.”
Van Ostern said he is proud that his two young sons will look up to Democrat Hillary Clinton as the first female president if she wins, and said he wished Sununu would join other Republicans in denouncing Trump.
“It calls into question your judgment,” he said.
The debate was held at New England College and broadcast on New England Cable News.