Medicaid expansion and the state budget emerged as key issues Wednesday in Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and Republican businessman Walt Havenstein’s first televised debate.
Hassan, who is seeking her second term, has centered her campaign on bipartisan accomplishments during her first term, while Havenstein says his background leading large defense companies such as BAE Systems makes him better qualified to manage the state budget.
In the debate, broadcast on WBIN-TV, the two also sparred over casino gambling and a recent increase in the gas tax and disagreed on almost every issue. The election is Nov. 4.
Hassan signed a Medicaid expansion bill earlier this year that aims to bring 50,000 low-income people onto private insurance plans using federal dollars through the Affordable Care Act. Three Republican and three Democratic senators crafted the plan.
Havenstein signed an Americans for Prosperity pledge vowing to oppose all aspects of the Affordable Care Act, which Hassan brought up several times.
Havenstein said he would not have signed the bill into law because it doesn’t solve the root problem.
“We shouldn’t be taking a victory lap with the idea that we’re bringing 50,000 more people onto a government program,” he said.
The bill requires legislative reauthorization in 2017, which he said is only kicking the can down the road. He said he’s never proposed repealing the law, despite signing the pledge.
Havenstein said Hassan has shown she can’t properly manage the budget, while she said his proposed jobs plan would cut $90 million from the nearly $11 billion budget through tax cuts for big businesses. Those cuts could mean less money for the university system, mental health treatment or public safety, she said.
Throughout the debate, she linked Havenstein’s ideas to the “slash-and-burn” policies of the last Legislature, led by former Republican House Speaker Bill O’Brien.
Those $90 million in cuts would come from a reduction in the business enterprise tax. Havenstein said cutting those taxes would help spur job growth, something he knows about from his time leading BAE Systems, which employs about 4,000 people in New Hampshire.
But Hassan attempted to discredit Havenstein’s business record, calling him a “failed CEO” at Science Applications International Corporation, another defense contracting company he led. Under his leadership, the company lost jobs and went through two fraud scandals. These attacks have been key moves in Hassan’s offense.
“That doesn’t speak to good management,” she said.
Havenstein defended his record, saying that he helped uncover one of the fraud scandals and held people accountable. He noted that at BAE Systems, he managed a budget three times the size of the state’s budget. After the debate, Havenstein said attacks on his business record unfairly discredit not only him, but the people he worked with at both companies.
On casinos, Hassan said one high-end casino is the right way to bring in new revenue for important programs, while Havenstein said casinos have caused problems in other states. The state would not need new revenue if it got spending under control, he said.

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