Hassan touts bipartisanship, talks with potential voters at Brewbakers in Keene

Oct. 31—Jennifer Lasher, a 7th-grade social studies teacher at Keene Middle School, was grading papers at Brewbakers in Keene Sunday, as she does most weekends, when Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan walked up.

Lasher told the senator, who is up for reelection on Nov. 8, that "the last few years have been the most challenging" in her career as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person teaching and exacerbated students' struggles with mental health.

"I hear it and I see it," Hassan responded, pointing to the STANDUP Act, a bill she introduced in Congress last year with a Republican colleague. That bill, aimed at preventing youth suicide and strengthening mental health resources in schools, was signed into law in March.

For just under an hour, Hassan meandered through Brewbakers, sipping a skim latte as she talked to prospective voters about the issues on their minds, her bipartisan record in Congress and the importance of turning out to vote in the upcoming election.

Talking with Jeff Murphy, the owner of Brewbakers, Hassan asked what issues he was hearing amid coffeehouse chatter from customers. Murphy said a lot of people are concerned about the increasing cost of living, especially issues like inflation and home heating costs.

"We're trying to tackle it from a bunch of different places," Hassan said. "But it's still hard for people."

In a brief interview, Hassan said she is focused on pushing for a gas tax suspension and for the Biden Administration to release a home heating fuel reserve that could drive down costs for consumers.

Thinking more long term, with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine being among the driving forces behind inflation, Hassan said she is focused on efforts to bring manufacturing and supply chains back to the United States and transition to clean energy.

In particular, the senator pointed to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that she helped negotiate through Congress and the CHIPS and Science Act, a bill she helped write aimed at bringing the manufacture of computer chips and other products back to the United States. In the past year, President Joe Biden has signed both into law.

"Inflation and high costs are on people's minds," Hassan said. "So is individual freedom and especially women's reproductive rights."

Abortion is the issue where Hassan said she is the most diametrically opposed to her Republican challenger, Don Bolduc.

"One of the big differences in this election is I support a woman's individual right to make her own healthcare decisions," Hassan said. "And my opponent would be a 'yes' vote for a national abortion ban."

According to Hassan, Bolduc has also said he would have voted against the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS and Science Act and allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs. She also went after Bolduc for his calls to eliminate Social Security and make major cuts to Medicare.

"He is somebody who has an extreme agenda, both in terms of costs and in terms of individual freedom," Hassan said. "That is some of the stakes."

Among Bolduc's most extreme views, she said, is his denial that Biden won the 2020 election. (Previously, Bolduc had called Biden's victory into question but more recently, including in a debate this month, he has changed his position and said he accepted the results, while still clinging to some election-related conspiracy theories.)

"That matters because if people think they can reject election results, they think they don't have to listen to you," Hassan said. "In a democracy, the way we hold people accountable is through elections."

When the senator stopped to chat with Liz and Juliana Haynes, who were seated on a blue plush sofa, Juliania — who said she has been working since graduating high school to save to afford college — asked, "What are you doing about student loans?"

Hassan said that she is working several avenues to reduce the burden of student loans, including subsidizing opportunities for high school students to earn college credits before graduating, creating more opportunities for those with loans to refinance their debt and find flexible repayment plans, and lowering the overall cost of a college education.

But, unlike some Democrats, Hassan said she is not a huge fan of student debt cancellation. That, she said, could drive the cost of college even higher and leaves behind people who decided not to pursue higher education for financial reasons.

"It's a huge issue for New Hampshire students," Hassan said of student debt. "It holds everyone back."

The senator, who after leaving Brewbakers stopped at Winchester Street to give a brief speech to a group of about 30 volunteers who would spend the afternoon canvassing door-to-door, also touted her bipartisanship. She noted The Lugar Center, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that describes itself as a platform for informed debate and analysis of global issues, has ranked her the most bipartisan senator in 2021.

Lasher, the 7th-grade teacher grading papers at Brewbakers, said when Hassan approached her she was nervous, because senators take on a bit of a celebrity status. But she said it's hard to make changes to the school system from within, so she is hopeful that expressing her needs to elected officials will help.

"I know she's just a real person like you and I," Lasher said. "Trying to help the community."

Ryan Spencer can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1412, or rspencer@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter at