RINDGE — Jeanne Dietsch is a passionate champion of her community whose experience as a technology entrepreneur has prepared her to devise legislation to improve the state economy.
Lee Nyquist is a fierce advocate for New Hampshire families, committed to public service through his role as New Boston moderator.
So said the two Democratic state Senate candidates Tuesday evening at a debate at Franklin Pierce University ahead of next week’s primary. With six days left to make their case for the Democratic nomination for District 9, Nyquist and Dietsch answered questions from a panel and crafted their final pitches for the job.
The stakes are high: The winner of the Sept. 13 primary will face off against incumbent Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, who won the past two elections.
Sitting before a half-filled auditorium with about 30 attendees, the candidates took open questions on the opioid crisis, education and infrastructure from representatives of Franklin Pierce’s Fitzwater Center for Communication and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, which co-hosted the debate. On many issues there were few areas of disagreement.
Both candidates strongly support abolishing the death penalty in New Hampshire, which Nyquist slammed as a violation of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Dietsch called an eye for an eye “feudal sort of arrangement that we no longer believe in.”
They both expressed disagreement with Gov. Maggie Hassan’s decision to support a temporary halt on the acceptance of Syrian refugees in the wake of a Paris terror attack last November, the only Democratic governor to do so.
They stood in favor of background checks for gun purchases, calling them reasonable limits that adhere to the spirit of the 2nd Amendment.
And they embraced similar positions on the state’s heroin and opioid crisis, touting support for a five-point plan released last month by the nonprofit organization New Futures. That plan includes bringing back a statewide alcohol fund, introducing a permanent Medicaid funding plan, funding evidence-based prevention programs, advancing behavioral workforce development and eliminating obstacles for insurance coverage.
Speaking first, Nyquist rattled off the five points and referenced colleagues he said he has lost to opioids. He said he would prioritize making the Medicaid expansion permanent.
“I want to be very clear that we all understand that this is a problem that affects all of us,” he said.
Dietsch said she also supports the plan and said the opioid crisis can be solved long-term only by improving the economy.
“We need to stop telling children that their future is dire,” she said. “We need to convey optimism and hope.”
But while the two were often united in their political stances, they diverged on approaches to funding.
Nyquist said he would push for new revenue sources through a cigarette tax, and would advocate for the use of federal Medicaid funds for opioid programs and for future state budget surpluses to go toward education and infrastructure. This year’s $100 million budget surplus has been reportedly appropriated for opioid programs.
Dietsch, meanwhile, would raise revenue through a tax on capital gains; only dividends are taxed in New Hampshire. She would also roll back the business profits taxes in the aim of attracting new business and supporting research and development initiatives. And she would push for the use of social impact funding — government-monitored programs that rely on collaboration between private investors and nonprofit organizations — as a primary funding source to fight opioids.
Both candidates advocated for an enhancement of the gas tax to be used to improve infrastructure and clear out the state’s 150 red-listed bridges, which represent one of the highest numbers in the country.
The two come from different backgrounds. Nyquist, a practicing attorney at Shaheen and Gordon in Manchester, has been the New Boston moderator the past 24 years. Of the two, he’s the only one who has attempted a run at the seat before, losing to Sanborn in 2012 and 2014.
“I promise I will bring to you my career of being a fierce advocate for the principles that I believe in,” he said.
Dietsch, of Peterborough, founded Omron Adept Technologies, a mobile robotics company, with her husband, later providing some of the technology to Microsoft. She has been elected to the ConVal school board and has also served on the Peterborough Zoning Board of Adjustment.
“We need better leadership in Concord,” she said. “My track record shows that I care and I get things done.”
Running against Sanborn, the Democrats face an uphill battle. The district has been in Republican hands for decades, held by Raymond White for the two-year term before Sanborn and by Sheila Roberge for the 26 years preceding. Many of the general elections in recent cycles have been won by Republicans with wide margins.
But both candidates expressed a conviction throughout the debate that they could turn the tide.
N.H. Senate District 9 includes the local communities of Dublin, Fitzwilliam, Greenfield, Hancock, Jaffrey, Peterborough, Richmond and Troy, along with Bedford, Lyndeborough, Mont Vernon, New Boston, Sharon and Temple.
Speaking on a stage framed by a large American flag backdrop, the candidates gave calm, measured responses, declining to address or criticize each other’s talking points. For audience members, that style of debate, while informative, made choosing between the candidates difficult.
Irene LeMessurier of Sharon said both candidates impressed her, calling particular attention to Dietsch. But she said she sees Nyquist as a stronger competitor in the general election.
“I think more people are going to see him as someone that can beat (Sanborn)” “He’s been around for awhile so more people are familiar with him.”
But Diane Callahan of Peterborough said Nyquist’s past attempts cause her to favor Dietsch.
“I’m leaning toward Jeanne — I know that he has run against Sanborn a number of times and ... I’m hoping that she can make a difference.”