Valley News – NH Senate District 2: Pandemic response focus of race for seat representing northern Upper Valley
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HAVERHILL — State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, is facing a primary challenge for Senate District 2 from Belknap County Commissioner Dave DeVoy in a race that’s focused on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
DeVoy, 59, argues that Gov. Chris Sununu’s March decision to shut down non-essential businesses unfairly picked winners and losers. The state, he added, is still too slow to reopen and provide relief to small business owners.
“I thought it was a little heavy-handed,” he said of the stay-at-home order. “I didn’t understand why the state liquor store could be open and Home Depot could be open but some of the small mom-and-pop retailers were shut down.”
Giuda, 68, sits on the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force and says the group is taking a reasoned approach in making recommendations.
“As far as reopening, nobody’s been harder-working at that than myself, not a single senator,” he said.
The 26-town Senate district stretches from the northern Upper Valley to the Lakes Region and includes the towns of Haverhill, Piermont, Orford, Orange and Dorchester.
It typically leans Republican. Giuda received more than 51% of the vote in the 2018 race against Plymouth Democrat Bill Bolton, who garnered 48%.
Bolton, a former state registrar and director of the Division of Vital Records Administration, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
DeVoy, a retired Army officer from Sanbornton who owns three gas stations and convenience stores in the Lakes Region, said he decided to run after watching the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn hurt local businesses. Rules devised by the governor and state agencies were not “consistent,” he said.
“As somebody that put my whole life and soul into my business for 30-plus years, I couldn’t imagine somebody telling me I had to shut my business down because they thought that I was less safe,” he said.
Giuda, a retired airline and Marine fighter pilot, called DeVoy “utterly incorrect,” saying he and other task force members have worked hard to quickly craft reopening plans. Giuda led the group of religious leaders and officials who drafted the reopening recommendations for churches and houses of worship.
“No one wanted to touch it. It took 10 days. We got the job done,” he said.
Giuda also has advocated for greater transparency, calling on the state to release information on cases at colleges and universities as well as the metrics it’s using for reopening.
DeVoy said his campaign is focused on the economy. He wants to eliminate the state’s Business Enterprise Tax — a 0.6% levy on compensation, interest and dividends for businesses making more than $217,000 — and is looking into ways to reduce state aid to underemployed residents.
He said some forms of assistance are discouraging residents from seeking full-time employment because of fear they could lose out on benefits.
“I just feel like the state needs to reward people for working,” DeVoy said.
The enterprise tax, he said, is too much for many struggling businesses to manage, especially during the 2008 recession and current economic landscape. However, DeVoy acknowledged he doesn’t know how to make up for lost revenue if the tax were to disappear.
“I know what my priorities are. The question is what’s going to drop out at the back end. I don’t know,” he said.
At the same time, DeVoy said, the state isn’t putting enough money into education and mental health. He touted that during his tenure Belknap County completed a $7 million project to build a community corrections center and implemented drug and mental health courts.
“I think the purpose of government is to take care of the most needy people,” he said. “I think the government needs to do a better job taking care of people with mental health issues. Nobody should ever have to wait to get to the state hospital.”
Meanwhile, Giuda worries that DeVoy’s platform, particularly the elimination of the Business Enterprise Tax, could prove disastrous.
“If you were to eliminate the BET, you would take a third of a billion dollars out of state revenues, and that would immediately invoke an income tax,” he said.
Giuda said he’s worked hard to reduce needless regulations and taxes on small businesses, having backed past reductions of the BET and Business Profits Tax included in the current state budget.
During his tenure, Giuda has backed legislation to better fund juvenile diversion programs and worked to establish a housing appeals board to hear disputes that could hamper the construction of affordable housing.
He’s also stood with Republicans on several big issues, including the elimination of New Hampshire’s concealed carry permitting system, a law allowing school districts to send students to private schools if there’s no public option and a controversial voting law that requires additional documentation from voters who move to the state within 30 days of an election.
Giuda, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said his experience with state budgets will be useful during the coming session. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to result in a $350 million to $550 million shortfall for state coffers, he said.
“You need someone in office with a detailed knowledge of how the budget works, how the tax structure works,” Giuda said.
“This isn’t the time for the uninitiated or those who are ignorant of state policies, laws and finances,” he added. “In a crisis, you generally want to keep the folks in there that have a working knowledge of the system to bring us out of the crisis and back into prosperity.”
The state primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 8.
Tim Camerato can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.