Two seek GOP nomination for Belknap County District 7

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

BARNSTEAD — Two women are seeking the Republican nomination for a seat from this community in the state legislature in Belknap County District 7.
The contest pits Barbara Comtois, the wife of current District 7 Rep. Guy Comtois, against Elaine Swinford, welfare director for Barnstead, who has served two terms in the legislature and is the former chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Both women favor so-called Constitutional Carry legislation, which would repeal the requirement for gun owners to obtain a permit for carrying a concealed handgun. The bill passed in the current legislative session, but was vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Barbara Comtois
Comtois, who grew up in Pelham, moved to Barnstead in 1998, and with her husband started Sticks and Stones Farm, which practices the hydroponic growing of fruits and vegetables and offers pasture-raised meats as well as a community supported agriculture program.
She graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in accounting, having worked her way through college, and admits that she had never farmed or planted a garden until the move to Barnstead.
"I learned it all through research," said Comtois, who home-schooled her two sons, both of whom work with their parents at the farm.
Comtois said she was able to find a lot of resources available to her sons during their home schooling, including the SEE Science Center, the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, and the Civil Air Patrol program in the Seacoast area. She said she favors school choices for parents and state funding for charter schools but doesn't want to financial aid for home schoolers, maintaining that government aid would bring government controls.
She said the state's opioid crisis is not really a new problem and that there is a tendency "to throw money at it because it is a crisis. What we have to do is look at what's causing this crisis."
Comtois cites the example of Portugal, where drugs were legalized in 2001 and deaths from drug overdoses have plummeted to the lowest level in Europe, noting that research shows that their research shows only certain people become addicted and that there is a direct link to drug addiction and the state of the economy.
She said the county needs to look to attracting new businesses and needs more skilled workers and that there needs to be an emphasis on making more vocational programs available at the high school level.

Elaine Swinford
Swinford, who holds a master's degree in mental health from Springfield College, agrees that education system changes are needed and said she would like to see trade schools at the junior and high school levels.
"I would like to see more home ec and shop classes for anyone who wants it," she said, adding that she is opposed to Common Core and would like to see more basic education in math and writing skills. "Third-graders should know how to count without using a calculator and they should know how to write."
She said she would also like to see welfare reforms that would require those receiving benefits to work at projects like sweeping the sidewalks. "I don't think we should be giving handouts. But I'm all in on helping somebody with a hand up."
Swinford, who formerly lived in Laconia, moved to Barnstead 15 years ago and said that what she saw as welfare director led to her decision to open the thrift shop and community pantry in Barnstead because she saw the need for them.
She said she teaches cooking skills to families using the community pantry so that they know how to cook good meals using basic ingredients.
Swinford, who is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, said she would like to serve again on Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which she chaired for two years.
She says that the committee is the third most powerful in the House and she enjoyed being a part of it.

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Alleged hit-and-run driver held on $50,000 bail

LACONIA — A Merrimac Street man who alleged struck a bicyclist with his car Sunday afternoon and fled from the scene is being held on $50,000 cash or corporate surety bail.

Juan Padua, 54, of 47 Merrimac St. is charged with one felony count of driving after being deemed a habitual offender and one felony count of conduct after an accident for leaving the scene of a personal injury accident.

According to police affidavits, officers responded to the corner of Fair and Court Streets just before 4 p.m. and found the victim with facial injuries. Police said he had blood on his face and hands and was taken by ambulance to Lakes Region General Hospital.

Three witnesses, two of whom knew Padua, told police they saw Padau's Nissan strike the bicyclist and then saw his passenger get out of the car and look at the victim get back in the car after which Padua drove away.

Padua was found Tuesday in Franklin Police who turned him over to Laconia Police.

– Gail Ober

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Cirque du Laconia – Artsfest to bring circus arts to Laconia Multicultural Festival

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Erin Lovett Sherman on Lyra.  (Courtesy photo)

LACONIA —  Erin Lovett Sherman grew up in Laconia, then left to study and travel the globe, along the way becoming engrossed in the world of circus arts. She now resides in her native city, and will be among the dozens of performers on stage during Saturday's Multicultural Festival, a day-long exhibition of food and performance which revels in the diverse cultures and histories that come together to create the contemporary American community.

Lovett Sherman's world tour includes The University of the Arts, in Philadelphia, where she studied dance. She has spent time in Peru, Russia, Lithuania, Bermuda, India, Jamaica and Ecuador, sometimes as a teacher and sometimes as a student. She has also taught, and learned, in Montreal, where Canada's Ecole nationale de Cirque is located, and where the internationally-known Cirque du Soleil is headquartered. For the past ten years, Lovett Sherman's company Artsfest has been based in the Laconia Community Center, where she teaches performing arts classes for all ages of students. She also is the director of youth programming and outreach at the New England Center for Circus Arts, in Vermont.

On Saturday, Lovett Sherman will lead a troupe of performers as part of the Parade of Flags that marks the beginning of the 15th Multicultural Day in Laconia, and will be one of the first performances on the main stage at Rotary Park.

Lovett Sherman said that the modern circus mirrors contemporary society in that it has evolved through the combination of techniques sourced from myriad cultures. Circus performers will display skills that can be traced back to eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. These skills were first brought together in England in the 18th Century, and were brought to North America in the mid-19th Century, where touring big-top circuses took advantage of the developing railroad network, and where a distinctly American circus culture developed. The circus arts are currently enjoying a renaissance, Lovett Sherman said, thanks to Cirque du Soleil, which redefined the circus experience.

"This is a whole revolution in circus. It's probably grown ten times in the last 20 years, and it's continuing to grow," she said.

Through her teaching of circus arts to young people, Lovett Sherman has become convinced that these centuries-old skills still hold their value in today's world.

"I have seen really amazing things working with youth," she said. Circus arts are athletic and promote teamwork, yet provide an experience unlike sports.

"It's non-competitive. Everyone has their chance to shine in a circus, so I feel that it's incredibly relevant," she said. "I've seen it both for boys and girls, it's very empowering."

She would love to share her skills with more people in Laconia, especially young people, so she eagerly accepted the invitation to participate in this year's Multicultural Festival.

"It's my favorite day in Laconia. I'm really excited to be part of it," she said, adding that the festival highlights, "people that are hidden in our city and we can find them and show things about their culture that we didn't know."

Becky Guyer, executive director of the festival, said that Lovett Sherman, and her Cirque du Soleil-inspired performers, was asked to participate to help alleviate an under-representation of French-Canadian heritage at the festival, and that their unicyclists and stilt-walkers will add a new dimension to the opening parade, which begins at 10 a.m.

In fact, those who come to the Multicultural Festival will see lots of new things, including an all-new schedule of entertainment, with non-stop performances from on three different stages, beginning immediately after the parade and continuing until 4 p.m. Rotary Park will host the main stage, while other performances will also take place at stages at City Hall and in the Healthlink parking lot.

"I love our entertainment schedule this year, I'm so excited about it," said Guyer. The Belknap Mill is participating for the first time this year, with an open house featuring historic displays and demonstrations, an art exhibit and a display of all the flags carried in the parade.

Even more diverse than the entertainment schedule will be the many food an craft vendors. By Guyer's count, 36 distinct cultures will be represented among the vendors. Every year, she said, she has experience of finding a new favorite food at the festival, something that she probably wouldn't have the courage to order on a menu or try to make at home. But, when she sees and smells the food on display, she dives right in.

"You walk up and it looks good," she said. "This is celebrating America – all the different cultures and diversity that is in America. It's like sharing."

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Erin Lovett Sherman on Spanish Web. (Courtesy photo)

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