CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat representing the 2nd District, and Republican challenger Steve Negron sparred on priorities for federal coronavirus relief, police training and racial bias in a debate Tuesday held by New Hampshire Public Radio.
The candidates are in a rematch of the 2018 race, with Kuster seeking her fifth term.
The sprawling, mostly rural district stretches from New Hampshire’s border with Canada to the Massachusetts line. It includes the cities of Nashua and Concord. Kuster leads in the polls in the district, which hasn’t been in GOP hands since 2013.
During the debate on “The Exchange," they touched on pending pandemic relief. Democrats controlling the U.S. House narrowly passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill earlier this month, but negotiations have stalled since then.
Negron agreed that a relief bill should help small businesses, but he said he was concerned about what he sees as out-of-control spending by Democrats in the package including $25 million “for some performance center” or “mandatory training at corporate-board levels."
Kuster said that performance art centers are examples of organizations that are critical to the tourism economy, which is No. 2 to manufacturing in the New Hampshire job market, and “took the biggest hit" during the pandemic.
“That’s funny, though, we can have these monies for these entities,” Negron said, “but in the beginning, we weren’t even allowed to go to them.”
“That’s the entire point,” Kuster said, adding the money is to keep employees on, “just like your business.” Negron, who received a loan to help his defense consulting business in Nashua through the original federal relief package passed by Congress, said the idea was to “get my company back on its feet and get me off of the loan program.”
On the topic of policing and racial bias, Negron, who is Hispanic, said he “wholeheartedly” refutes that there is systemic racism in law enforcement. He said that while things are not perfect, they are better today than in the 1950s and beyond. A retired U.S. Air Force officer, Negron said he supports a “training, technique and procedures” approach in the military allowing law enforcement to revise and change their own policies.
“The issue is that law enforcement has to have the ability to do their job,” he said, adding that he is against the removal of qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officers from being sued for some of their actions. At least two bills have been proposed in Congress that would end the legal doctrine.
When asked about the concern police have over the loss of qualified immunity, Kuster brought up Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s Commission on Law Enforcement, Accountability, Community and Transparency that he created earlier this year in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. The group issued 48 recommendations on a range of officer training and conduct issues. Sununu recently issued an executive order that among other things, mandates officer training on implicit bias and cultural responsiveness.
“It’s not really a question about immunity,” she said. “The focus is on having accountability ... A good cop does not want a bad cop to ruin their reputation, and if you saw the death of George Floyd as millions of Americans did, you know that there’s a problem.”
Negron, who has received the endorsement of the New Hampshire Police Association, responded, “What happened to George Floyd, certainly, as bad it was, does not make it an indictment against law enforcement. All of a sudden, we have this knee-jerk reaction to try to say that every cop is like that, and that nobody wants to join the police force because of bad cops, that’s not something that I share.”
Kuster, who she has the support of firefighters and EMTs, said there are people nationwide who don’t feel safe in their community and don’t feel that they can reach out to the police to resolve conflict.
One area where both candidates had common ground was term limits. Negron said he supports three terms for a House member and two terms for a senator in Congress.
Kuster said she is open to the discussion about term limits. She favors “something in the range” of three terms for Senate. She mentioned a 12-to-20-year-range for the House.
“I don’t intend to stay for life,” she said.