With the power and authority to single-handedly approve or deny all contracts that involve state funding, the New Hampshire Executive Council has become a small committee of elected officials as powerful as the governor. It’s a power used by the EC to politicize family planning funding in 2011, when it voted to deny a contract with Planned Parenthood as a Title X funded family planning provider.
Many responded to the move with outrage and Daniel St. Hilaire, believed to be the swing vote for de-funding, chose not to run for re-election in the fallout from the incident. Now, two new candidates are vying for the vacant seat. Businessman Colin Van Ostern, a Democrat who vocally supports the reproductive health care provider, is up against Republican Michael Tierney, a conservative lawyer who works with New Hampshire Right to Life, and who instigated a lawsuit that anti-choice activists hoped could get the group’s pharmaceutical license pulled.
Both candidates agreed to answer a few questions that put their very different views on health care, family planning, and the role of the council on display.
Do you believe that the lawsuit against Planned Parenthood may turn off potential voters?
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Republican candidate Michael Tierney: No. The lawsuit is a Freedom of Information Act request on behalf of my client, New Hampshire Right to Life. The suit is to obtain copies of government documents regarding how the department of Health and Human services determines how to fund entities. While many voters have very strong opinions regarding the government funding of Planned Parenthood, one thing that most voters can agree on is that there should be openness and transparency regarding how our government operates.
Democratic candidate Colin Van Ostern: New Hampshire voters want public servants who will focus on jobs & economic development—not those who will push out-of-the-mainstream crusades against birth control as Mr. Tierney has done consistently in recent years, right up to and including his current attempts to strip Planned Parenthood of their pharmacy license.
Is it accurate to say, as Mr. Tierney has claimed, Mr. Van Ostern was “funded by Planned Parenthood, and if so, what sort of effect does that have on the campaign?
Tierney: Yes. Mr. Van Ostern has not hidden the fact that he supports the funding of Planned Parenthood and that proponents of the funding of Planned Parenthood have made significant contributions to his campaign. I suspect that Mr. Van Ostern will continue to have a substantial fundraising advantage throughout the rest of this campaign.
Van Ostern: For more than three decades, Republican and Democratic lawmakers and governors alike have relied on Planned Parenthood as one of many valuable community health organizations which provide preventive care for tens of thousands of New Hampshire women, men and families every year. I do not believe our state government should be pushing a political agenda against them for partisan reasons when the result is that real women and families can be left without access to the care they need.
Van Ostern said that this election will be about economic matters, not reproductive health. Do you both see your potential role on the council the same way?
Tierney: There are two primary roles of the Executive Council: (1) to approve spending (2) to approve gubernatorial appointments. In exercising these powers, I agree with Mr. Van Ostern that there are many important economic matters that will come before the Council. One of the most important economic matters is whether the state is getting the most effective and efficient services. This is important regardless of whether the services at issue are health, education, transportation, or any other area. One way that this can be achieved is by increased competitive bidding for state contracts. Former Councilor Deborah Pignatelli has championed increased competitive bidding as a way to ensure that our limited tax dollars are not wasted. I would hope that Mr. Van Ostern would join Councilor Pignatelli and me in calling for increased competitive bidding for contracts.
Van Ostern: I do not believe our state government should be rolling back access to health care—in an ideal world, this is not an issue one way or the other for the Executive Council, because we need a Council relentlessly focused on supporting job-creation and economic development, not this divisive agenda.
Some would consider access to birth control and contraception an economic savings, as it would cut down on the costs of maternity care and resources that would then need to be paid for by the state. Do you disagree?
Tierney: The Executive Council has not restricted access to birth control but only sought to have the funding go to the most efficient and effective provider. In the aforementioned FOIA lawsuit, HHS officials stated that birth control is cheaper at Walmart than what the government pays Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has stated that full service health clinics such as Manchester Community Health Clinic would be able to provide equivalent Title X services at lesser cost to the government if the medical manual which Planned Parenthood was required to provide to the government was in turn shared with potential bidders. If two different entities are able to provide equivalent services, the contract should go to the entity that is able to do so at less cost to the tax payer.
The government should not, however, be looking at children as a burden on society. We need to embrace children and properly care for children and their mothers and fathers. While looking for efficiencies in how we provide services, we cannot as a society look at children or any other subset of our society as an economic cost but rather must look at them as human beings worthy of dignity. While it would be best for a child’s parents to provide for their own child, in cases in which this is not possible, we as a society must reach out and assist these parents in the caring of their children.
Van Ostern: For over 30 years, every Republican and Democratic Governor in New Hampshire has agreed that it is in our best interest as a state for low-income women and families to have access to birth control when they need it. It’s fiscally smart and morally sound. And the truth is that the politicians trying to de-fund preventive care at Planned Parenthood under short-sighted cries of fiscal responsibility are the same ones suing to strip Planned Parenthood of their pharmacy license, which clearly has nothing to do with dollars and sense. It’s an ideological agenda against birth control, plain and simple, and it is a massive distraction to the important work the Executive Council should be doing to support job creation and economic development in our state.
The seat is open because St. Hilaire no longer felt he could win in that district. How do you see yourself as a better fit than St. Hilaire?
Tierney: The district has become more Democratic with the 2012 redistricting but it can still be won. I believe my message of limited government and serving as a check on the bureaucracy to ensure efficient and effective spending resonates wells with the voters. As I have been campaigning across the state, from Durham to Keene and from Franklin to Henniker, people have almost uniformly agreed with me that we need to decrease regulatory climate which is stifling job creation. We need to ensure that the department heads, which are approved by the Executive Council, are qualified and competent leaders and not partisans with an agenda of increasing regulations and expanding the size of their agencies. We need to make sure that our Executive Council says no to wasteful and excessive spending. In yesterday’s primary, the Democrats chose the extreme liberal Van Ostern over the moderate elder statesman John Shea. While Mr. Van Ostern has a history of support for a income and sales tax, I will make sure that we keep state spending within current revenues.
Van Ostern: I am running to bring balance back to Concord and support the creation
of good jobs and strong communities. New Hampshire is an amazing place to raise a family and grow a business. Our state government should be supporting what makes this state great, but too often Concord has been obsessed with ideological crusades that distract from key priorities. Over the past year our Executive Council has rolled back consumer protection, restricted access to birth control, and halted plans for passenger rail. Instead, it’s time to support innovation, education, research and development, and to ensure our state government is efficient and well-managed.