Ep. 61 Chris Pappas, NH 01 & Lucas Meyer, NH Young Democrats

NICIE PANETTA: Greetings and welcome to another edition of The MidPod: The Midterms Podcast. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. Now a quick reminder that we will be at Trib Fest next week in Austin, Texas and we're hosting a meet-up in Austin the evening of Wednesday, September 26th. RSVP to us with an email to squad@themidpod.com and we'll send you the details. Looking forward to it. Now we've got a Granite State vibe going this week. We dropped our live town hall with Tom Steyer on Tuesday and today we want to share a longer form of our conversation with Chris Pappas. He scored a decisive win over a strong and crowded field in the Democratic primary for New Hampshire's first congressional district. If elected he would be New Hampshire's first openly gay member of Congress. After you hear from Pappas, you'll hear from Lucas Meyer president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats on the strategies and tactics that he's using to recruit younger candidates and catalyze the youth vote. First, here's Chris Pappas. We interviewed him at the Elm Street Café in Manchester during the primary season.

NICIE: We like to start our conversations with a little introduction if you could introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background.

CHRIS PAPPAS: Sure so I'm Chris Pappas lifelong resident here in Manchester. Grew up, went to public schools here, came back after college to run a family restaurant business that's been around now for 101 years. It's a real neat tradition to be a part of, it's taught me everything I know about the world around me, how to lift up those in your greater community and how to have an impact on people's lives. And that got me into public service and there are really interesting ways in New Hampshire that you can get involved even at a young age. So I ran and got elected to the legislature when I was 22. I'm now serving in an office called Executive Council. We're a five-member board. We're basically a board of directors for state government and we help provide a check and a balance on the governor and help work with that individual to make the best decisions in terms of hiring individuals for key positions and spending state dollars. So I've been focused on that for a number of terms and when this seat came open as someone who is grounded in the people and places of the state I was really excited to step forward at this point in our history to try to push back on what I see as a dangerous agenda in Washington and really focus on the issues that we can move the ball forward on for the people of this state.

NICIE: So could you tell us a little bit about the district, what it looks like, who how difficult or easy it is to campaign here, who the voters are.

PAPPAS: Sure. I mean voters typically are pretty well-informed in New Hampshire and I think part of that has to do with the every four year presidential primary where we're first in the nation and we get broad exposure to those who are running for president. What's fascinating about New Hampshire is that were any other state to be first it would be a media-driven campaign and you wouldn't see the type of face-to-face contact that these candidates get with the voters of New Hampshire. So people always joke here that they won't consider voting for someone who they haven't had in their own living room because that's a pretty regular occurrence where candidates for president will have to stand up in a crowd of individuals in someone's living room and answer just about any question you could imagine.

NICIE: Do you have any ideas about how to encourage this kind of active citizenship outside of New Hampshire which has this unique attribute of being that first primary? What do you think could be done across the country to inculcate that kind of culture?

PAPPAS: Yeah I think it's part of the woodwork of New Hampshire in that we have town meeting in many communities. There's a much purer form of direct democracy here that's practiced. We have a large citizen legislature, the state reps get a hundred bucks a year to do their job. And there are 400 of them so they each represent about 3200 individuals. The only full time politician really in New Hampshire at the state level is the governor. Everyone else is part-time. Even myself and the Executive Council I probably put in about 20 hours a week doing that job and I run a restaurant business on the side which is really demanding in its own right. But I think the way the system is set up you know encourages citizen participation.

NICIE: So let's talk a little bit about the opioid crisis because or the opioid epidemic it's hit New Hampshire really hard. And I understand you have personal experience in your family and it's it's just everywhere right? It is it's touched everyone here. So do you want to talk about your experience and what you're seeing?

PAPPAS: This is a full-blown crisis and most events that I have all ask for a show of hands of who has been directly impacted by this who's lost someone they know. And most of the hands in the room will go up. So this does not just know this isn't just a problem that impacts cities. It impacts small towns, it impacts wealthy families and poorer families. It really cuts across all socioeconomic lines in our state. One of the reasons why we've been hit so hard by this crisis is because for a period of decades we did not invest in mental health services and substance use disorder treatment so that we didn't have the networks of support there when very cheap drugs started hitting the streets when overprescribing was at its height and when people were getting addicted abusing heroin and succumbing to it. So we are seeing an overdose rate that's now second or third in the country behind West Virginia and Ohio. And we still suffer for a lack of funding. And that's what we need to look to the federal government for more help on. We need a more stable stream of funding so that we can keep these recovery and treatment centers open. So that's something we've got to focus on so we need more federal help. We also need to ensure that Medicaid expansion continues to be reauthorized and that the Affordable Care Act isn't sabotaged and repealed because there are 53,000 individuals that are in the expanded Medicaid population in New Hampshire that receive coverage as part of that they receive substance use disorder treatment coverage. So that's really helped us build out the networks in a much more significant way.

NICIE: So and let's talk about your platform basically. I know or I just read that you were endorsed by Giffords so do you want to talk about gun control it sounds like something that matters to you a lot.

PAPPAS: This is an issue that is coming up all the time in part because the students here are just as motivated as the ones you see in Florida to keep this issue at the forefront of the debate. And we can't let it slip from the headlines yet again. The NRA has long had a stranglehold on Congress. It's time to break that lock. We have to ensure that special interests don't prevent us from getting a popular idea through Congress. Ninety-five percent of people support universal background checks. And yet nothing has been done. Despite tragedy after tragedy. I think we can talk about it in a way that doesn't alienate responsible gun owners who want to exercise their rights. No one wants to take away anyone's weapons or to interfere with their ability to hunt or defend their homes or collect. That's not the issue here it's about the weapons of war that can get in the hands of those who want to do violence and turn a tragedy into an act of mass slaughter. We have seen last year 38,000 individuals die as a result of gun violence. This is a uniquely American tragedy and it has to do with the lax laws that we have and we need to tighten things up.

NICIE: So you touched a little bit upon healthcare when talking about the opioids but that's one of the largest issues in this cycle, right? So do want to tell us how you feel about the Affordable Care Act and going forward what will happen you hope will happen.

PAPPAS: I think as a country we've got to own up to the fact that every man woman and child should have access to health insurance. We shouldn't be the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't guarantee that. And so I would look for ways to take additional steps forward to make sure everyone was covered and that we have a more affordable system. I think the Medicare Choice Act which has been proposed which would allow individuals and businesses to buy into the Medicare program is an exciting opportunity to add some choice to the healthcare market. You know right now we have two main insurers in New Hampshire and there's not a lot of choice and competition for individuals and businesses that are seeking to get covered. So I think we need to add a public option to the exchange and add a Medicare option for individuals and businesses that want to be a part of that system.

NICIE: So you have a family business that is 100 years old and your family has been part of the history of this city for a century. Like many New England cities there's been a transition from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy knowledge based economy. What have you seen and what do you think are the biggest challenges for jobs in the economy here?

PAPPAS: The top concern in New Hampshire right now is how are we going to attract and retain the young talent we need to be a part of the workforce here. We have a two point six percent unemployment rate. When I talk to business owners their number one concern isn't the tax burden. It's not I'm overly regulated. It's where am I going to find the workers I have all these positions open and I can't find the skilled people I need to attract to take these jobs. So I think we need to work to make New Hampshire a more hospitable place to younger workers. One of the ways we do that is by ensuring that we don't have a system of higher education that prices students out of college here. 60 percent of our high school graduates go on to an institution of higher learning in another state, we lose them and many never come back. We need to work on fixing that and creating pipelines from our own universities and community colleges into the workforce to train up workers in the industries where we might be lacking workers such as nursing, high tech, and others where there's a big hole. One of the proposals that I've been excited about championing is passenger rail service that would link Manchester to Boston. That's one way we could help break down a barrier with you know the metro Boston economy and tap into the labor pool that exists there. But I think it's no secret young people want to live in communities that are walkable and bikable they want communities with amenities. New Hampshire has a lot to offer.

NICIE: So you know we're we're going to have lunch at the Puritan Backroom. Right? And you know we're going to ask the people if they like their boss. So but I think you have a few things to say about wages and I'd like to hear that before we finish up.

PAPPAS: Yeah. We need to raise the minimum wage. We need to raise the minimum wage because it's been 10 years since we've been stuck at $7.25. New Hampshire has no state minimum wage. We default to the federal. So we are much lower than our neighbors that have adopted something higher. And I think we need to raise it to twelve dollars with the goal of getting to 15 over time and we need to index it to inflation so that we don't have to wait around for there to be a supportive Congress to do the right thing.

NICIE: OK so one more, we want to hear a story that we heard last week reporting on the district, a young boy who was brought here from Colombia at a very young age and grew up here in Manchester received tremendous support from the community. He and his brother growing up with two undocumented parents working you know whatever jobs they could find. And he and his brother are both DREAMers. They're both attending first-rate institutions for higher learning. He's in an Ivy League school and his parents have just moved away from Manchester because they're so afraid of deportation and they've moved believe it or not to Texas because they feel like the zone that they would be in is less at risk it's farther from the national border. So I just I was wondering if you could reflect I know you employ folks who have immigrated to this country reflect on this moment that we're in with respect to immigration laws and enforcement.

PAPPAS: It's a very un-American inhumane picture that we face on immigration right now because the Trump administration is seeking to pit groups of Americans against one another is seeking to divide us. It is playing to the basic instincts that exist in our country. And I think that's not consistent with the values of what built this nation and the values that are espoused on the tablet at the base of the Statue of Liberty. You know this country is so much better than what Donald Trump represents. And I think we need to push back forcefully against his dangerous immigration policies where he's separating kids from parents, where he's telling DREAMers who know no other country than the United States that they're not welcome here. And when he's jeopardized the status of thousands of people here in New Hampshire and millions across the country. And so I think we need to find a pathway to citizenship for the DREAMers who are here and we need a comprehensive immigration strategy that's going to allow people to come out from the shadows who are contributing to this country and live fully as American citizens.

NICIE: Why do you think President Trump and his policies are so popular in New Hampshire?

PAPPAS: I don't think that they are. I think Donald Trump narrowly lost New Hampshire in part because people were frustrated with politics as usual in Washington. They wanted to shake up the system. But I don't think that his policies on immigration hold much weight here. I don't think they're overwhelmingly popular here.

NICIE: That was Chris Pappas, Democratic nominee in New Hampshire's first congressional district. So in our previous episode Episode 60 you heard from Tom Steyer about the work his organization Next Gen America is doing in New Hampshire. But Lucas Meyer is also a key player in youth politics here. We met up with him during primary season at Chris Pappas' Family Restaurant, the Puritan Backroom in Manchester. And while I'm thinking of it, don't miss Heather's blog post about the Puritan Backroom on the "Eat" section of themidpod.com. Here's Lucas Meyer.

LUCAS MEYER: New Hampshire was the first state post-Trump to pass a restrictive voting law across the country targeted at students, targeted at low-income folks, targeted at migrant workers. They changed, they wanted to add additional requirements to the voter registration process through a bill called SB-3 which included you know more confusing language, which is going to result in A. students walking up to the polling location saying I don't know if I meet all these requirements I don't know what this means and that included 5,000 you know fines up to five thousand dollars. And the original bill included language that would allow the police to go to your house to check your papers. So we had that bill last session and this session at HB-1264 and HB-372 which which would have required students out-of-state students residential students once they voted to then register their car in New Hampshire and get a New Hampshire driver's license. Which we would perceive and believe to be a post-election poll tax because the act of voting would then trigger a fee to the state. No other state in New England would have a law like this. You know New Hampshire we do not attach we don't attach our voting to the DMV. You know voting should be voting and registering your car registering your car. But again all of this is just to disenfranchise young people from being part of the process which is a huge problem for us in New Hampshire and you know as New Hampshire Young Democrats you know our goal is to recruit train and elect the next generation of leaders because in New Hampshire and I grew up in Concord I went to Concord High School, alot of my friends didn't stay in New Hampshire. They left.

MEYER: So we have a flight of young people. It's a graying state. Every politician in New Hampshire says you want to attract to retain young people not because it's a nice thing to do but because our economy literally depends on it. But you know we had a budget a Republican budget last year that did not freeze or lower tuitions increase tuitions. We allocated zero dollars to workforce development. You know we it's hard to get clean energy done in the state. It's hard to get you know pro clean energy economy bills done. So it's been an interesting two years? How long has it been? It seems it's a blur now since the past election but there's a lot of optimism in New Hampshire as far as young people are concerned. You know we're in the middle of filing period right now for the House and for the state Senate or for the state House races we've had we have around 55 Young Dems who are planning to file or have already filed for the state House. No I think and I think we have about 6 percent representation right now in the state house for young people. And so I think we actually with this number of candidates we have is an over overrepresentation of young people in the state which is great and something that we haven't seen before. And then you know you guys are up you're talking about the first congressional race, five of the nine candidates are under 40 which I think is very emblematic of where progressives are at right now, where the party's at right now is trying to find young inspirational voices with really compelling stories who connect with young people but also connect with progressives at large. It's exciting and there are a lot of young people who are getting engaged in the process who understand that tweeting is nice, Facebook is nice, but what are you doing? And like a big part of what the Young Dem what the Young Democrats do in the state is give give opportunities for young people to do stuff.

MEYER: You know we have our meetings but you know we're not about sitting and talking and commiserating and complaining we're about doing. I mean what what young progressives want to do right now is just that they want to do. They don't want to talk. They want to have a very tangible opportunity to try and effect a change. So whether that's running for office, you know I would encourage anyone listening if there is an opportunity to run for office, take it. If nobody's ever asked you to run, I'm asking you to run. Like it is it is doable. What we do is try to make it as easy as possible for these young people to run for these offices and you know a lot of the Young Dems we have are running in really Republican towns. Which only makes me more excited because if we're going to win we need to run aggressive campaigns in the reddest parts of the state to find every God blessed Democrat that exists or Independent who will vote our way to pull them out. And even if you're not going to win your race you are going to help everybody up the ticket by pulling out those new voters who would have otherwise not shown up.

NICIE: You said you there was one place you're having trouble recruiting so do you want to talk about that?

MEYER: It is really hard to get young women to run for office, whether it's I don't even know what it is I mean there's a lot of reasons why but really focusing on how do we get more women in the statehouse is a huge huge priority for us.

NICIE: Well you've got a reputation to uphold with the only state ever to have an all-female federal delegation.

MEYER: We love female leadership in this state because it's effective. And I'm very thankful that we have a robust primary in the state. And now we have all this organization going. We have a really really great slate of candidates. Hey speak this is the most New Hampshire thing ever. As you say that the MacKenzie campaign walks in the room. That is the most New Hampshire thing ever and that's what's great about New Hampshire is you know it's not about the candidate you meet once it's about how you know how many times can you shake their hand. You know if you get three or four handshakes you're probably going to vote for him if not you know that other person's got to catch up.

NICIE: So Lucas I want to make sure we get a chance to just hear a little bit about the the evolution of the Young Dems you were talking about some of the growth that you've seen recently. Talk about that.

MEYER: Yeah so I took over in 2015 and what I really wanted to focus on was creating an infrastructure, whether you know whether that's a good list, whether that's having an active network, but most importantly for me that was having staff. So now we have two full-time paid staffers which is pretty unprecedented for Young Dems chapter which I'm very proud of, I'm proud of our organization. You know we've been able to double our fundraising every year since 2015 and we've already doubled what we raised in '17 this year. And you know I'm a progressive I don't like big money in politics but the reality is you know we have to pay our staff living salaries and we have to pay for mail and we have to pay for digital and if we're going to put our money where our mouth is and we're going to help young progressives run for office where it's hard to raise money because you don't have that network to raise money off of we need to be that resource for young candidates where we can say hey here's a 500-dollar check. Here's a thousand-dollar check. Here's a hundred dollars. Or here's how to fundraise. And being that resource so we've seen a growth in our candidates our candidate program 603 Forward which is our program which we train, recruit, and elect Young Democrats.

MEYER: You know I think in 2006 we had about 22 candidates run for the House. In the city elections in 2017 I think we had about 35 running for city office including what I'm particularly proud of the Nashua which is the second-largest city in New Hampshire. We had three Young Dem first-time candidates run for citywide it's called Alderman at Large, again City Council. All three times first-time candidates running against three more or less incumbent Republicans and we beat all three of them. These are first-time candidates. I mean we we spent a couple I think 10,000 dollars in the city on digital stuff, on texting campaigns, on lit, on mail, and 10,000 dollars we were able to flip three citywide seats and put three first-time candidates in office for the next four years. There is a lot of energy for young people to run. They're sick of sitting. They don't want to be what's the saying, if you're not at the table you're on the menu? We're we want to sit at the table and we don't want to just, we want to dictate the menu. We want to start to push our agenda and make sure that you know you can start to do something to stop the flow of young people out of our state.

NICIE: Our thanks to Lucas Meyer and Chris Pappas for sharing their thoughts. So what happened in that New Hampshire primary? Well as we shared with you on Tuesday, voter turnout soared for Democrats across the board and among youth. And you know Chris Pappas won but there's one other primary win we have to tell you about. Safiya Wazir is 27 years old. She came to this country as a refugee from Afghanistan at the age of six. She has two kids and a third on the way and she's worked her way through community college with a job at Wal-Mart. She decided to run for state rep in a working-class neighborhood in Concord where she grew up. Her primary opponent was a longtime incumbent running on an anti-immigrant platform. On September 11th, Safiya Wazir won the Democratic nomination decisively, with 329 votes to 143. In an interview with The New York Times, she credited the support of the New Hampshire Young Dems for her win as well as that of her mother. Wazir said, "That was her endorsement, she said, 'I'll watch the kids. Go for it.'" So that's it for this week. Thanks for listening and thanks for being active citizens.

Eunice Panetta