This panel of 2018 file photo shows New Hampshire Democratic gubernatorial nominee Molly Kelly, left, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu. The candidates are running for the governor's seat in the November general election. Credit: Thomas Roy | AP

CONCORD, New Hampshire — New Hampshire’s candidates for governor accused each other of being disingenuous with their positions on taxes and paid family medical leave in a public radio debate less than two weeks before the election.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu suggested voters should be wary of Democrat Molly Kelly’s pledge to veto a sales or income tax, given that as a state senator she said everything should be on the table and has a history of raising taxes and fees.

“I know it sounds convenient now that she’s running for governor, ‘Oh, she’s going to take the pledge and not raise those taxes,’ but let’s be fair, I’m sure she didn’t tell her constituents she was going to raise them 50 to 60 times when she ran for the Senate but she did that,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have to be responsible. I cut business taxes, I eliminated the electricity consumption tax. This is how you drive business and create opportunities for individuals.”

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Kelly responded that Republicans always revert to such talk as a “fear tactic,” prompting Sununu to interrupt her answer with a denial. Later, she said it was Sununu who said one thing and did another when it came to paid family leave.

Though he said he supported the concept, Sununu opposed a bill that ultimately failed in the Legislature this session because he said it was financially unsustainable. He didn’t offer a plan of his own at the time, but last week outlined a proposal that involves bringing in private insurers to offer plans to state and private-sector workers.

“It’s interesting when I hear my opponent talk about his plan. He obviously was the governor when this was being vetted,” she said. “He had a majority of his own party in the House and Senate. If he wanted to put through a paid family medical leave act, that was the time to do it. He didn’t do it.”

As she has frequently emphasized in her political ads, Kelly criticized Sununu for his comments during an earlier forum in which he referred to such leave — used to care for a newborn or ill relative — as a “vacation.” Asked about his word choice Wednesday, Sununu said the comment “came as part of a bigger conversation. Of course it’s not a vacation.”

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Sununu also was asked to defend his ability to work with lawmakers given that several significant measures he championed were defeated, including a proposed constitutional bill of rights for crime victims and a bill to give parents state money for private school tuition or home schooling. He said he can’t control the Legislature, but fights for issues he cares deeply about and listed several successes, including large-scale reforms in the state’s mental health and child protection systems.

Sununu mentioned the child protection reforms again during a “lightning round” question in which the candidates were asked to name a time they went against their party, though the key amendments to the 2017 bill that addressed the mental health and child protection were crafted by a fellow Republican. Kelly, meanwhile, said she was “stuck on that one” and didn’t answer.

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