Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic challenger Molly Kelly don’t see eye to eye when it comes to the state of New Hampshire’s economy.
“We’re booming. I mean we really are,” Sununu touted near the top of an address Thursday morning to a crowd of business leaders.
He rattled off his bullet points: the state’s 2.6 percent unemployment rate, the fastest growing economy in the northeast, and the lowest poverty rate in the nation.
“Our per capita income by household has now surpassed Massachusetts,” the governor said at a breakfast organized by the New England Council, which calls itself the nation’s oldest regional business organization.
Kelly, a former five-term state senator who easily won September’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, painted a very different picture.
“The economy is not working for everyone and we need to change that. People are working two, three, jobs just to get by and still cannot always manage to take care of the needs of their family,” she said in an interview with the Monitor.
“We have over 40,000 children in our state who are food insecure. They worry where their next meal is going to come from. That is not a good economy,” Kelly emphasized, repeating a line that she repeats quite often on the campaign trail.
With a month to go until Election Day, Sununu continues to highlight his achievements since taking office nearly two years ago.
“One of the problems we have right now at the state is we have more money than we know what to do with. We literally have a $150 million surplus,” the governor said.
The state’s first GOP governor in a dozen years said he has an idea of how to spend it.
“A lot of the Democrats come around and say ‘we’ve got to spend it here, spend it here, spend it here,’ all on these big government ideas,” he said. “I said ‘no’. That’s one-time revenue. Now’s the time to invest in infrastructure.”
Repeating a line he’s used recently, Sununu said, “we’re investing in infrastructure, so when we have one-time money, we send it back to cities and towns.”
He said his administration continued to court out-of-state businesses to relocate here. He spotlighted growing investments in the state since he took over in the Corner Office by such companies as defense technology giant BAE Systems, pharmaceutical company Lonza Biologics, weapons manufacturer Sig Sauer, and Hitchiner Manufacturing.
Sununu also cited his workforce development efforts, including investments in career schools at the high school level. The governor said his moves will give teenagers an “experience in high school so at 18 they just don’t have a diploma, they have workforce-ready skills.”
He highlighted his $5 million governor’s scholarship, which he implemented, and announced up to $35 million in funding for the University of New Hampshire to invest in biological sciences.
But Kelly took issue with Sununu’s characterizations of his efforts and how well the economy is working for young people.
“I hear from our young people often that they’re leaving New Hampshire because they don’t see economic opportunity here,” she said.
“We are 50th in the nation for funding college education and second in the nation for the amount of debt our students have. That’s not an economy that’s working for everyone,” Kelly added.
Lack of an available workforce is hurting business, she said.
“As governor, I will invest in job training and education because that’s what employers are looking for. They are looking for an educated and prepared workforce,” she said. “This economy is not working for them either.”
As he has in the past, Sununu held New Hampshire up as a contrast to “the massive dysfunction of Washington DC.”
“The circus that that place is,” the governor said. “It’s embarrassing.”
He targeted both Democrats and Republicans in the nation’s capital.
“They’re all to blame. Fire them all. I’ve said that,” he said. “Fire everyone. Because it’s embarrassing what they’re doing.”
Bust just minutes later, he thanked federal lawmakers and President Donald Trump’s administration for allocating $45 million over the next two years for New Hampshire to battle the opioid epidemic.
“Congress, I give them a lot of credit. They passed the bill, but it was the Trump Administration that stood up and said New Hampshire is going to get a bigger increase than anybody else,” Sununu said.
Compared to the 2016 gubernatorial showdown between then-executive councilors Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern, the start of this year’s general election campaign has been relatively quiet. But that’s expected to change in the next two weeks, as both candidates pick up the pace on the campaign trail and begin to face off at the scheduled forums and debates leading up to November’s election.