HANOVER, N.H.—A New Hampshire lawmaker seeking to become the first gay state senator who ran as an out candidate said education, the economy and health care remain the top issues going into Election Day.
“I talk about the hypothetical student who works like hell to do the best she can: straight As, extracurricular activities, really good SAT scores or whatever, but then [colleges] see that she’s from a place that doesn’t have accreditation [from the] College Admissions Council and they can’t give her full consideration,” state Rep. David Pierce told the Washington Blade during an interview earlier this month as he referenced the possibility that Claremont’s struggling Stevens High School could lose its accreditation. “That’s just criminal. And so that’s got to change.”
Pierce, who has represented House District 9 that includes Dartmouth College since 2006, would represent the newly redistricted 5th Senate District that includes the cities of Lebanon and Claremont and Hanover and six other towns along the Connecticut River and in the state’s Upper Valley region if elected on Nov. 6.
He criticized the state’s Republican-controlled legislature for cutting the University of New Hampshire’s budget by nearly 50 percent last year.
“UNH students graduate with the highest debt load of in-state students of any students in the country,” he said. “UNH students pay the highest in-state tuition rate of any students in the country. And you’re destabilizing the family — middle class families — if they can’t send their kids to schools. If they can get them to school, it’s a huge chunk of their monthly income towards education. If they can’t send them to [get an] education, I talk about how we’re dooming our kids to be the ones to sell cigarettes and alcohol to Massachusetts because that’s how we’re going to raise revenue. And you can’t attract businesses to New Hampshire unless you have an educated and skilled workforce.”
Pierce further criticized GOP lawmakers for cutting the state’s budget by 11 percent in 201.
“Whether you agree or disagree that government should be spending money in a state’s economy is a philosophical argument that we can have, but the point is that it does happen and the state does contribute X percent to the state’s [Gross Domestic Product] GDP,” he said. “When you cut 11 percent of that contribution, you’re not expanding the economy. You’re shrinking it. This legislature came in with the promise to focus like a laser on rebuilding the economy and creating jobs. And the major policy they’ve passed in the budget shrinks the economy. That’s why you’ve seen the unemployment rate ticking up in New Hampshire.”
Pierce also accused New Hampshire Republicans of falling “right in line with the national Republican party about declaring a war on women’s health.” He criticized House Speaker Bill O’Brien and other GOP leaders for attaching an anti-choice bill that previously failed to a measure that would have given tax credits to high tech companies. Pierce also criticized GOP lawmakers for spearheading the passage of a bill in May that repealed a law mandating insurance coverage of contraceptives.
“What that means of course is fewer women, fewer families have access to contraception,” he said.
Pierce spoke to the Blade on the same day he and his partner of 20 years, Dr. Robert Duff, celebrated their 20th anniversary. The couple who live in Etna with their two young daughters Emma and Grace had their first date at the now closed Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Georgetown on Oct. 5, 1992.
Pierce highlighted the couple’s children during in his 2009 speech in support of New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage bill just before the House narrowly approved it. He also spoke about his own struggle to come to terms with his sexual orientation as a child growing up in a religious family in Texas.
“I remember being that scared 12-year-old little boy coming to grips with the fact that I’m different than everybody else,” said Pierce, pointing out that he had even thought about potentially taking his own life. “Fortunately I didn’t do that, but I grew up very scared of who I was and what it meant for my life. And then to see myself giving the floor speech — the anchor floor speech — for marriage equality and seeing it pass was one of the most significant moments of my life. I would love for me to be able to go back and talk to that 12-year-old scared little kid and say ‘It’s going to be okay. You’re going to come through this in fact you’re going to do great things with this.’”
Pierce conceded he was nervous as he drove to Concord, the state capital, in March for the debate on the bill that sought to repeal the same-sex marriage law that took effect in 2010. The House rejected the proposal by a 211-119 margin with more than 100 Republicans opposing it.
“I had such an overbearing headache because everything was so clinched because I thought I knew what was coming,” he said, recalling how he felt as he entered the chamber. “I thought that the floor speeches were going to be disgusting and immoral and acidic and so I was prepared for it, but scared to death as to what was going to happen. And then it slowly — we were taking one procedural vote after another — and it just became clear. There was one vote in particular that was the tipping point. It was a vote on the prime sponsor’s amendment to his own bill. If that had passed then the entire measure would have passed. If it failed, then the whole measure would have failed and the interim measure failed by 22 votes. They continued trying to resurrect it and all this other stuff, but every vote was getting further and further and further and further away from the repeal.”
Pierce’s opponent, state Rep. Joe Osgood, has pointed out the fact the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has endorsed his campaign in e-mails to supporters and during interviews with local media outlets.
“I want to talk about the economy and jobs, how we get the economy going again, how we can guarantee the fundamental right to an education and recognize that health care is a right and ensure access to preventative services, non-discrimination for women, equal pay for equal work,” said Pierce as he pointed to his response to a reporter’s question about Osgood highlighting the Victory Fund’s endorsement and his sexual orientation. “The things that the voters care about are the same things that I care about.”
Beyond politics, however, Pierce stressed his state Senate candidacy remains personal.
“It’s just an incredible journey; I feel incredibly blessed to have had these opportunities,” he said. “Another part of that that really impacts me spiritually is that that scared little 12-year-old kid who is today living in Durham, N.H., or Windham, N.H., can see that it’s okay. And that’s a big part of why I do it because I don’t want kids today going through what I had to go through.”
He added his election to the state Senate as an openly gay man would say “a lot about New Hampshire.”
“It says a lot about the live free or die attitude of New Hampshire,” said Pierce. “It’s nobody business. And where is it written that we should be able to control how people live their lives and make the most personal choices in their lives? And so to the extent that my candidacy and my service in the Senate will represent that, I think that’s wonderful.”