A pair of Republican challengers are aiming to unseat the Democratic incumbents in a two-member N.H. House district that represents Swanzey and Richmond.
Reps. Barry Faulkner and Jennie Gomarlo, both Democrats, will face off against Stephen Malone and Swanzey selectboard member Sylvester “Sly” Karasinski in Cheshire District 12. All four candidates live in Swanzey.
The top two vote-getters in the Nov. 3 election will represent the district in Concord. Here’s a look at the candidates:
Faulkner, 70, was first elected to the state legislature in 2016 and is a member of the Public Works and Highways Committee.
A Keene native, he worked on transportation-related contracts and urban planning in Massachusetts for more than three decades, including six years for the state’s Department of Transportation, before moving to Swanzey in 2005. Now a land-use attorney, Faulkner also previously served for four years on the Monadnock Regional School Board.
Faulkner highlighted his work on the Public Works and Highways Committee, which he said is responsible for drafting biennial legislation, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to fund the state’s public infrastructure improvements. He added that the committee is the “best example of bipartisanship in the legislature,” since its members must find compromise with limited financial resources.
But Faulkner acknowledged divisiveness over proposals to revise the state’s gas tax, which amounts to about 24 cents per gallon, according to USA Today. He explained that a decline in gas-tax revenue, due to greater fuel efficiency among new cars, has caused local and state roads to be underfunded — forcing the state to dip into its general funds for highway projects and municipalities to raise property taxes.
“If we run out of money from [those] state sources, they just kind of push the costs back onto the property taxpayer,” he said.
Faulkner said he is considering several funding alternatives, including one to create a registration fee based on the number of miles a person drives, but emphasized the need for further analysis.
Noting that proposals for new revenue sources are often non-starters, he called the state’s high property taxes regressive because they harm rural residents, like many of his constituents, who often have most of their wealth in home equity.
“The fact that [the property tax] controls the conversation is unfortunate,” he said. “The property tax, just basically, is unfair.”
Faulkner called for more education funding from the state, explaining that the reliance on local property taxes compels poorer towns to impose higher costs on their residents than wealthier towns in an effort to provide an equal quality of schooling. He praised Granite State public schools for preparing students for the modern economy despite “paltry” state aid and said he supports Democrats’ proposals to reinstate higher rates of the business tax and to create a capital gains tax as ways to raise more revenue.
“Those are the kind of things that I think represent … efforts to make the tax system fairer [and] have the people who can afford more, pay more,” he said.
Faulkner noted that he is wary of promoting residential and economic development as a way to reduce property taxes, since doing so could tarnish the natural landscape that he said draws residents and tourists to New Hampshire. He added that municipalities should use zoning regulations to pursue limited development but said “it shouldn’t make a difference, in terms of how we pay for schools, whether this 100-unit apartment building is on the Keene side of the town line or on the Swanzey side.”
A graduate of Monadnock Regional High School, Gomarlo, 60, has lived in the region for most of her life. She and her husband, Michael, own a gas station and adjacent office space on Route 10 in Swanzey, where they previously operated a supermarket before selling it in 2016.
Gomarlo said she ran for office in 2018 after her husband declined multiple requests from community members to do so. She did not plan to run for re-election but explained that her preferred successor, a former legislator, decided not to seek office due to concerns around COVID-19.
Still, Gomarlo said she is motivated to keep her seat in an effort to maintain Democratic control of the Legislature for the upcoming redistricting process, after this year’s census, criticizing Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to veto legislation that would have created an independent redistricting committee.
“I really think we need to keep our majority to make sure things are redistricted properly next year,” she said.
Gomarlo, a former member of the Monadnock Regional School District’s budget committee who also served briefly as Swanzey’s treasurer, sits on the N.H. House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees revenue and spending legislation. She called for additional state funding for public schools, infrastructure projects and to address public health issues like opioid addiction and mental health emergencies.
Gomarlo expressed concern for states that rely primarily on a single source of revenue, as New Hampshire does with property taxes, adding that the pandemic has depleted other sources such as the state’s meals and rooms tax on hotel and restaurant patrons. To fill state coffers, she said she would consider backing an income tax for wealthy individuals, in addition to a sales tax on luxury goods.
“I think there needs to be some kind of way to capture that wealth that people bring into the state but have never given back,” Gomarlo said. “… I just think we need a diverse revenue stream that is not going to be hindered by something like [the pandemic] happening again.”
She also called for the state to implement a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour, noting that she paid all of her grocery store employees more than $10 an hour.
“I don’t see any way that you can ask people to take care of their children and their homes and pay their mortgages and have them working three jobs to make ends meet,” she said. “I’m really passionate about giving people the opportunity to take care of themselves.”
In addition, Gomarlo noted her support for the paid family and medical leave insurance plan that Democratic lawmakers passed this year and which Sununu vetoed after saying it effectively created an income tax. Saying she “resented” that comparison, she instead likened the proposal — which would have required Granite State employers to offer paid family and medical leave insurance or withdraw 0.5 percent of workers’ wages to pay for a state-run plan, though workers could have chosen to opt out of coverage — to employee-insurance programs that she said benefit workers, like employer-based health care, Social Security and Medicare.
Karasinski, 56, moved to New Hampshire in 1989 before settling in Swanzey five years later.
Now in his second term on Swanzey’s selectboard, Karasinski is superintendent of the North Swanzey Water & Fire Precinct, which provides water for domestic purposes and fire protection, and also does security work for Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. He previously served as a volunteer firefighter in Marlow and later as the town’s fire chief in the early 2000s.
Karasinski said he is committed to keeping taxes low, among other limited-government principles. He explained that as a first responder, he saw firsthand the financial pressure that many people, particularly seniors, are under due to local property taxes.
“If we could keep the property taxes in check and not tax and fee them on everything else, I think a lot of people would be better off with their quality of life,” he said.
Karasinski noted that the state government should help develop local economies and raise property values, saying he thinks much of the money that Cheshire County residents pay in state taxes never benefits their communities. He added that he would oppose efforts to create an income tax, which he said would discourage economic growth, and expressed support for policies to reduce unemployment levels, like the work requirement for people with health insurance through expanded Medicaid that was struck down by a federal judge last summer.
“If we could get more people paying in [to the state’s general funds], everybody wouldn’t have to pay as much,” he said.
Karasinski praised the state’s efforts in distributing federal assistance to municipalities in response to COVID-19 but said he would oppose state spending in the absence of additional federal relief. He argued that keeping taxes low is the best way to help businesses rebound from the pandemic’s harmful consequences.
“We need to continue spurring economic growth with less regulations and more revenue driven by lower taxes,” he said in a questionnaire submitted to The Sentinel. “More people working will drive our economy, in all sectors. Now is not the time to raise taxes and drive business away.”
Praising the development of “outside-the-box” medical practices like a new primary-care facility in Keene, where patients pay a fee directly rather than having the practice bill their insurance, Karasinski also said loosening regulations would help lower the cost of health care. He added that New Hampshire should also ease restrictions on nurse licensing to attract more health workers.
In addition to preserving the local funding model for public education, Karasinski proposed cutting administrative costs in the school system that he said are redundant. He suggested “cost-sharing” measures like putting the state’s public universities under a singular administration and merging the responsibilities of school districts’ curricula supervisors into a single, statewide role.
“If we have one curriculum for the state, maybe we could have some savings [for] when we have to purchase everything from textbooks to computer programs,” he said.
Malone, 68, ran unsuccessfully for an N.H. House seat representing Cheshire County District 15 in each of the past two election cycles. That district includes Marlborough, Richmond, Swanzey, Troy and Winchester.