Tough questions put to lawmakers at gathering in Nashua


NASHUA - As has happened on the general assembly floor, emotional discussions of such social issues as gay marriage and medical marijuana dominated a legislative forum Monday at Nashua High School North. Four Republicans and four Democrats debated social issues, transportation, capital projects and the state budget in a discussion moderated by Chris Williams, executive director the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce. Judging by applause and occasional booing, Republicans dominated the roughly 75 people who attended. Audience members also had a chance to ask their questions at the end. However, at least half of the questioners had either served in or ran for public office, and most questions were crafted as an attack on the positions of one of the political parties - particularly the Democrats. For example, one man asked state Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, to describe how two same-sex partners would consummate their union, thus making it a legal marriage. After being pressed about whether she understood the question, Lasky responded, “I’m grown. I have two children. I understand the question, but I am not here to define marriage for anybody else, nor will I ever.” On the Democratic side of the stage, Lasky was joined by fellow state Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, and Nashua state Reps. David Campbell and Cindy Rosenwald. Republican state Rep. Peter Silva of Nashua said he opposes gay marriage for religious reasons. Silva added that the issue is one of the most divisive in the state Capitol building. “There’s never been more than a 10-vote margin to separate any vote that has ever happened,” Silva said. Silva was joined by fellow Republican state Reps. Pam Price and Carl Seidel, both of Nashua, as well as by Stephan Stepanek of Amherst. Stepanek chairs the Hillsborough County Republicans and Granite State Taxpayers and is a former state representative. Constituents are overwhelmingly against gay marriage, Silva said, but Democrats want to change the definition of marriage to appease 1 percent to 2 percent of the state’s population. Citizens should vote on the issue because the state can’t rely on “a couple hundred people” to decide an issue that affects millions, Silva said. Lasky countered the state’s 424 legislators constitute the third largest legislative body in the world, with each legislator representing about 3,000 people. “We are not a referendum state,” Lasky said, noting the state Supreme Court said as much when it issued a decision on education funding. In response to a question, Stepanek said none of the GOP’s budget suggestions had been accepted by the Democrats, the party that has been in power for the past 2½ years. Had they been adopted, Democrats wouldn’t have been talking about “revenue enhancements - i.e. taxes.” “We have a spending problem in the state of New Hampshire,” Price said. Asked about the large shortfall in funding pensions for state employees, Campbell said, “It didn’t happen over the last 2½ years. It happened over the last 50 years.” Plus, pension funds have been poorly managed, Gilmour said. Republicans criticized Democrats for using one-time stimulus money to balance the budget, paving the way for huge budget deficits in the future. Gilmour said the deficit would be made up as the economy recovers through a resurgence in businesses that are paying taxes, and in real-estate transaction taxes when the housing market picks up. Health and human service caseloads, a huge budgetary expense, also will decrease when the economy improves, Rosenwald said.
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