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Health workers, first responders and elderly prioritized in state's draft vaccine plan

Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, says the plan takes a phased approach to distribution, since the state will likely receive the vaccine in small allotments.

She says so far, New Hampshire has only planned part of the first phase — vaccinating over 87,000 high-risk health workers, first responders, and older people in residential care facilities. The following phases, according to national recommendations, include people of all ages with underlying health conditions, teachers and school staff, and other essential workers in high-risk settings.

Daly noted all the planning is subject to change as experts await more information on the vaccine.

“For example, we want to prioritize the elderly. However, what if the first vaccine that becomes available is shown not to be effective in elderly? Then they’re not going to get that vaccine initially. So there’s a lot of unknowns and we want to make sure we have all the right recommendations,” she said.

States were required to submit their plans to federal health authorities last month. New Hampshire is still awaiting comments from the CDC, but many points in its plan are consistent with national recommendations.

Many states, including New Hampshire, still don’t have a plan for paying for the vaccine’s distribution, which will rely on public and private entities. Daly said the state did receive over $800,000 for planning purposes, and the hope is that more federal funds will be on the way to aid with distribution.

Federal guidance has been released stating that the vaccine, since it is paid for by taxpayer dollars, will come at no cost to those on Medicare and Medicaid, except for a possible administration fee. Private insurance companies are encouraged to cover the cost of vaccines as well.

Daly says the state is working to make sure that everyone in New Hampshire, particularly certain populations deemed “critical” or more susceptible to COVID-19, are able to access the vaccine once it is available.

“We are going to have vaccines that are going to be distributed by the health care providers themselves, like you can go to your local pharmacy. But we also want to reach out to our vulnerable populations who might not be able to go to those locations, and we expect that we’re going to have some type of public clinics as well on the government side,” Daly said.

When it comes to tracking the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, a new framework is being built for that too. New Hampshire is the only state in the nation without a vaccine registry, but health officials say one is expected to be ready by December, when the first doses of the vaccine might be on their way.

“We want to emphasize that whatever vaccine gets distributed in our state will be demonstrated to be safe and effective, and that we have a plan in place for how we’re going to distribute this vaccine initially,” Daly said.

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NH GOP poised to enact agenda after sweeping state government

New Hampshire Republicans are set to regain control of the state Legislature and Executive Council after an electoral surge Tuesday that also propelled Gov. Chris Sununu to a third consecutive term.

The GOP picked up four new state Senate seats, according to results released by the N.H. Secretary of State’s Office, and N.H. House Clerk Paul Smith said Thursday morning the party will also have a majority in that body.

The results end two years of divided government in the Granite State and are likely to have important effects on the upcoming redistricting process, state fiscal policy and the N.H. Supreme Court.

N.H. GOP Executive Director Elliott Gault said residents voted to flip control of the Legislature and Executive Council because they approve of Sununu’s tenure as governor and oppose adding new statewide taxes.

“I think they wanted to see new leadership and make sure we protect the New Hampshire advantage,” Gault said, referring to the state’s lack of common broad-based taxes on income and commercial sales.

In 2018, Democrats captured the N.H. Senate with a 14–10 advantage and the 400-member N.H. House by 66 seats. They had last controlled both chambers in 2010, when Democrats also held a one-seat advantage on the Executive Council.

Results released by the Secretary of State’s Office Wednesday evening show that Republicans reclaimed the upper body in Concord on Tuesday by flipping four Senate districts and successfully defending all 10 seats they hold now.

Bedford Republican Denise Ricciardi earned one of the GOP pickups, in N.H. Senate District 9, which covers 14 communities, including Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Hancock, Jaffrey, Peterborough, Richmond and Troy.

Ricciardi, a former small-business owner active in local government, defeated incumbent Rep. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, by about 400 votes in an election that had more than 35,000 ballots cast. Dietsch, the co-founder of a robotics company, was first elected two years ago with 52 percent of the vote over Bedford Republican Dan Hynes.

Ricciardi said Wednesday that her top legislative priority will be restoring New Hampshire’s economy to its pre-pandemic condition, explaining that the state should encourage growth by reducing taxes and regulations. She dismissed questions about specific policies that may be enacted under GOP control of the state’s political institutions, instead expressing a commitment to bipartisanship.

“My hope is to work on the issues that concern us all and work together, collectively,” Ricciardi said. “Even if we disagree, we can do so agreeably and put the people, and their interests, first.”

Republicans also flipped seats in three other N.H. Senate districts, including one that covers Rindge and several additional communities, which will be represented by former state Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican.

But State Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, easily fended off a challenge from Swanzey Republican Daniel LeClair to win a third term, prevailing by about 7,500 votes.

Smith, the N.H. House clerk, confirmed Thursday morning that the lower body in Concord will shift from Democratic to Republican control, though some results remained outstanding. House GOP leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, said this week that he expected Republicans to hold at least 215 seats in the next legislative session, according to WMUR.

While the body’s Cheshire County delegation remained solidly blue, GOP candidates flipped three formerly Democratic districts and will hold five of the county’s 23 seats in Concord.

Jennifer Rhodes, a Winchester Republican, ousted incumbent Democrat Bruce Tatro of Swanzey with a 51-vote victory in Cheshire County District 15, which covers Marlborough, Richmond, Swanzey, Troy and Winchester. And a pair of Republican candidates — Ben Kilanski of Winchester and Matthew Santonastaso of Rindge — flipped two more local districts by capturing open seats previously held by Democrats.

Results from a N.H. House district in Sullivan County also reveal Republican candidates’ electoral success this year compared to 2018. In District 7, which covers five towns including Acworth and Langdon, incumbent Rep. Judy Aron, R-Acworth, bested Democratic challenger Claudia Istel, also of Acworth, by 614 votes after winning by 132 in the same matchup two years ago.

New Hampshire lawmakers are poised to redraw the state’s political districts in the upcoming term, using data from the 2020 census. This year, Sununu vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have transferred that responsibility to an independent commission, which its sponsors said would have added transparency and fairness to the process.

Sununu argued that the state’s redistricting process is already fair and said instances of gerrymandering — intentionally manipulating political districts to favor one party — are rare. However, reporting by N.H. Public Radio and the AP reveals that the state’s district lines have boosted GOP representation in its political institutions in recent decades.

A new Republican-controlled Legislature would also be more likely to back Sununu’s tax-cutting agenda, which he reportedly said at a victory party Tuesday night could include reductions to the state’s meals and rooms tax, as well as its business enterprise tax. The BET rate was reduced to 0.6 percent in the state’s 2019–20 budget, but in a compromise with Democratic lawmakers, Sununu agreed to restore it and another business tax to their former rates if state tax revenues were lower than expected. (The state narrowly avoided triggering that clause this summer, keeping the reductions in place.)

House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, who won his re-election bid, acknowledged that being in the minority means that many Democratic proposals will not be enacted in the upcoming term.

He declined to identify specific legislation that he thinks GOP lawmakers will try to advance in the new session, noting that he had not spoken with the House Democratic caucus since Tuesday, but predicted that negotiations on the state’s 2021–22 budget will be one of the first major legislative battles.

“We will be reacting and responding to what the governor has on his agenda,” he said. “We will work with the governor and ... the Republican majority when appropriate, and we will oppose [them] when appropriate, as well.”

Republicans also captured a 4–1 majority on the state’s Executive Council, which is responsible for confirming the governor’s appointments to state positions, approving state contracts valued at more than $10,000 and overseeing the state’s 10-year highway plan.

Executive Council Democrats have held a 3–2 advantage since 2018, when four of the council’s districts were decided by slim margins. On Tuesday, GOP candidates won all of those districts, some of which national and state progressives have criticized as being gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.

Milford Republican Dave Wheeler ousted incumbent Debora Pignatelli, a Nashua Democrat, in the 5th Executive Council district, which comprises much of the N.H.-Massachusetts border. The district covers Antrim, Bennington, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Jaffrey, Peterborough, Richmond, Rindge, Swanzey and Troy, among other municipalities.

Vote totals show Wheeler, a small-business owner and former executive councilor, bested Pignatelli by fewer than 1,500 votes in an election with nearly 150,000 ballots cast. Pignatelli has served as an executive councilor in three separate stints since 2005 but lost her bid for a second consecutive term.

Cinde Warmington, a Concord attorney, was the only Democrat to win an Executive Council race Tuesday, capturing a district that stretches across the state and includes Keene and many other Monadnock Region communities. She will replace outgoing councilor Andru Volinsky, also a Concord Democrat, who ran unsuccessfully for governor this year.

With an Executive Council majority, Republicans are in a position to confirm Attorney General Gordon MacDonald as chief justice of the N.H. Supreme Court, should Sununu nominate him again. Democrats on the council rejected MacDonald’s nomination last year, criticizing his lack of judicial experience and past associations with anti-abortion politicians. (MacDonald said at the time that he considers the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade as settled law.)

Sununu called the decision “reprehensible” and vowed to pause judicial nominations until “there’s appropriate perspective from the Council on their responsibilities to the process and to the state.”

In an Oct. 24 op-ed in the Concord Monitor, Warmington predicted that with Republican control of the Executive Council, the governor would again nominate MacDonald for the state Supreme Court vacancy.

“Sununu has ignored recommendations by councilors of other qualified candidates who would likely be unanimously confirmed and made clear his intention to win a majority on the Executive Council and re-nominate MacDonald,” she wrote.

A spokesperson for Sununu could not be reached for comment.

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Region's new reps prepare for first term as people's 'voice' in Concord
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The Monadnock Region will have several new state representatives after Tuesday’s general election, and for many of them, their priority is clear — representing their constituents.

“This is not my seat. This is the seat of the people, and they gave me the confidence to go to Concord and be their voice,” said Republican Jennifer Rhodes, who won the N.H. House’s Cheshire County District 15 seat.

The Winchester resident won by a narrow margin, 4,278-4,227, over long-time Rep. Bruce Tatro, D-Swanzey. The district covers Marlborough, Richmond, Swanzey, Troy and Winchester, and Rhodes was the top vote-getter in all but Marlborough and Swanzey.

A former real-estate agent and former paraprofessional in the Winchester School District, Rhodes, 47, said she’s already preparing for her two-year term.

The new House members get sworn in on Dec. 2, according to Gail Middleton, assistant to the House clerk.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Rhodes said she had started drafting a bill to improve special education in area schools. She declined to share the specifics, as her proposal is still in the works.

“There are a lot of things that I would laugh with my coworker and say, ‘When I’m in charge, I’m going to change that’,” Rhodes said. “I want to get [this bill] presented in the first session.”

Democrat Dru Fox, who won the Cheshire County House District 6 seat covering Keene’s Ward 3, has also started her prep work.

“I have so much to learn,” she said Wednesday. “So today I am going over all of the committees, reading and researching as much as I can find.”

The political newcomer beat Kyle LaBrie, who also was running for the first time, 1,495-853. Fox, 66, is a retired administrative assistant for the Keene School District and a native of the Elm City.

Once in office, she said, she wants to focus her energy on “representing the people,” specifically pointing to members of minority communities.

“I’m just looking forward to getting started,” she said.

And Sullivan County District 8’s new representative, Walter “Terry” Spilsbury of Charlestown, said his work has already begun.

“I have three [education-funding bills] that I have already planned to co-sign literally within the next few days,” Spilsbury said Wednesday.

Spilsbury, 65, who retired from financial consulting in 2008, said these bills align with the education stances he outlined to The Sentinel before the election.

These include ending reductions in stabilization grants designed to supplement school-district revenues, increasing funding specifically for the cost of special-education needs and also coming up with an education-funding formula that is permanent and doesn’t change depending on who is elected to the Legislature.

Spilsbury, a Republican, won the Charlestown district 1,239-1,138 over Democrat John W. Streeter. Although a newcomer to the Statehouse, Spilsbury said he has wanted to pursue government work since he was a teen.

“I was a political science major and I went to law school, but then life gets complicated,” he said.

Now that his children are in college, he explained, he can “fully give back,” adding that he needs to “work for all of [the residents], not just the ones that voted for me.”

Several other new representatives were elected Tuesday to local House districts.

Lawrence Welkowitz, a Keene Democrat, ran unopposed in Cheshire House District 4, which covers Keene’s Ward 1; Antrim Republican Jim Creighton and Francestown Democrat Stephanie Hyland secured seats in Hillsborough House District 38, which includes Antrim, Bennington, Greenfield and Hancock among other communities; and Rindge Republican Matthew Santonastaso won a seat in Cheshire House District 14, which covers Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Harrisville, Jaffrey, Rindge and Roxbury.

Marlborough Democrat Lucius Parshall, 66, said his main priority as Cheshire County District 10’s incoming representative will be raising the state’s minimum wage.

Noting that New Hampshire’s minimum wage — at the federally mandated rate of $7.25 an hour — lags behind that of neighboring states, he told The Sentinel previously that people working a minimum-wage job in the state often can’t afford basic necessities such as food and housing.

He said he wants to secure a $15 an hour wage to “give people a fair shake.”

Parshall — who recently retired after 20 years as a music teacher in the ConVal and Marlborough school districts — narrowly beat Dick Thackston, a Troy Republican, 1,163-1,103. The district covers Marlborough and Troy, with Marlborough favoring Parshall and Troy going to Thackston.

As far as prep work goes, Parshall said he is asking for guidance from a few former state representatives. But overall, he said, “There’s nothing like experience to teach you what a job is about.”

Republican Ben Kilanski — a Winchester selectman and firefighter who won the Cheshire County District 13 seat representing the town — said he is focused on researching the House committees before his first session.

“I’m narrowing down exactly where I want to hit the ground running,” he said.

In regard to policies, Kilanski, 43, said he wants to properly fund education in New Hampshire, as it’s the largest part of residents’ tax bills. He has explained that this could be done by overhauling the state budget and reallocating funding.

Kilanski beat Democrat Natalie Quevedo, 994-935.

Ultimately, Kilanski echoed his fellow legislative first-timers, saying his term is about serving the people in his district.

“I am looking forward to being your voice,” he said.