NASHUA, NH – Seven Hillsborough County State Representatives met with constituents from the Nashua area on March 10 at Nashua Community College to discuss community issues in an open forum setting.
About 40 residents attended, and asked a variety of questions about how the panel would vote on issues ranging from “right to work” legislation, charter schools, public transportation, and raising the minimum wage.
“No contract can include an agency fee or fair-share agreement that was not agreed to by both the employer and the union collectively,” said Deb Howes, Chair of the Nashua Labor Coalition. “Right To Work would allow people to benefit from a collective bargaining agreement without paying for it, and that is just wrong.”
“We are voting on this Right To Work legislation later in week, and you need to reach out to your legislators and ask them to vote it down,” stated Representative Dan Hansberry.
Everyone in the crowd was looking forward to hearing about where their representatives stood on raising the minimum wage. Throughout New Hampshire more than 70 percent of people polled supported raising the minimum wage, a truly bi-partisan issue. All of the representatives who attended said they supported raising the minimum wage.
Last year, the House passed a minimum wage increase, and the Senate killed it in a 12-12 tie vote.
“I am a Republican and a small business owner, and I support raising the minimum wage,” said Rep. David Murotake. He said that while he believed that the bill could get through the House, it would most likely be killed by the Senate again. “I suggest you talk to your Republican senators and urge them to support a minimum wage increase.”
One of the other questions that generated lots of discussion came from David Lamb, a Nashua resident, who asked about increasing public transportation throughout New Hampshire. The Concord Rail Study laid out a number of different options that New Hampshire could choose to expand rail services in New Hampshire.
“If you want to attract people, if you want to attract companies, and brings jobs we need to expand the rail system throughout New Hampshire,” said Rep. Kenneth Gidge.
The panel generally supported expanding rail service throughout New Hampshire as a community issue rather than a partisan issue, including Murotake, the lone Republican on the panel.
“I have supported rail for a long time and I don’t think support for rail is a partisan issue,” Murotake said. “Maybe not this year, or next year, or four years from now, but I believe it is going to happen.”
Paul Belanger a letter carrier for 42 years, proposed the idea of “no-excuse absentee” balloting and voting by mail. He asked the representatives if they would support a move to vote by mail, citing the state of Oregon as an example.
“In Oregon, over 80 percent of registered voters voted in the last election,” said Belanger.
Murotake voiced his support for the idea, referring back to his days in the military where he always voted by mail.
“People are busy, we work hard, and getting to the polls can be difficult. We should be looking into ways to expanding access to the ballot box,” said Matt Murray, a member of the Nashua Labor Coalition. “Voting by mail and early voting are two very good and viable options for New Hampshire.”
Rep. Gidge said there is currently a bill in the House to expand absentee voting, but currently it would only allow family members to drop off absentee ballots.
The issue of charter school funding sparked some debate from some of the teachers in the audience. The majority of legislators said they supported public charters and some thought we should be increasing funding to these charter schools. The overwhelming response from the crowd was that the money spent on charter schools is eroding the rest of the public school system.
Nashua schools have seen programs like the “Gifted and Talented (GATE)” eliminated due to budgetary cuts at the state and local levels. One teacher suggested moving the charter schools back into the public schools, giving more access to more students and eliminating the costs of a separate school.
Deb Howes closed the night by saying, “On behalf of the Nashua Labor Coalition and Granite State Organizing Project, I would like to thank all of the Representatives for attending tonight and taking time out of your busy schedules to meet with us. We hope that this has been as informative for you as it has been for us.”