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Editorial: In District 1 race, Cryans is best

The long list of Republicans, including some of the late Executive Councilor Ray Burton’s siblings, who want Littleton native Mike Cryans to take Burton’s seat speaks volumes. Cryans, after all, is a Democrat. If elected, he would become the first member of his party in memory to represent District 1. Cryans, a Grafton County commissioner for 16 years and close friend of Burton, is also the right person for the job.

Each of the state’s five executive councilors represents 264,000 people. To assemble that many in the sparsely populated northern half of the state requires lumping together 108 towns and four cities. The district is huge, and the interests of the communities in it differ dramatically. Burton, who served District 1 for 35 years, was deservedly famous for his service to constituents. He was also notably and genially bipartisan. Both Cryans and his opponent, former Republican state senator Joe Kenney, have a long history of public service. Both would win plaudits for their constituent service. The exception to that might be Kenney’s inflexible opposition to abortion – as a senator he voted to defund Planned Parenthood as long as it offered abortion services no matter who paid for them – could make it difficult for him to advocate on behalf of women’s health services.

But District 1 needs more from an executive councilor than help winning an agency’s ear or chasing down a Social Security check. It needs a councilor adept at convincing the Legislature to invest in North Country development. In that role, Cryans would be far more effective than Kenney, whose fiscal conservatism is more ideological and reflexive than practical.

Both candidates, in their meeting with the Monitor editorial board, named the sorry state of the roads as the district’s most pressing problem. They are truly horrible. There’s a limit to what an executive councilor, whose job involves voting on contracts and approving appointments to state jobs, can do to direct resources to their district. Nor do councilors vote on tax policy, including proposals to raise the state’s gas tax. But when asked about the issue, Kenney, despite his long service on the Senate Transportation Committee, responded with what amounts to magical thinking. He wants the already emaciated Transportation Department to become leaner and more efficient. He wants no money diverted from the highway fund to pay state troopers, but can’t say where money to patrol the highways would come from. His approach to dealing with the state’s infrastructure is why the roads and bridges have been allowed to rust and crumble.

Cryans hasn’t advocated for an increase in the gasoline tax, but unlike Kenney he hasn’t opposed one either. He understands that repairing the district’s roads will be expensive, but unless it happens, tourism will suffer and manufacturers will flee or write off locating in a beautiful area with high unemployment and a skilled workforce. The North Country, and much of the rest of District 1, is hurting. The per capita income in Coos County is 27 percent below the state average; Carroll and Grafton counties, 10 percent below average. Median household income compares even more poorly. Good-paying manufacturing jobs have been replaced with low-wage service sector employment. Cryans knows that improving high speed internet service in the district is crucial for its economy to recover.

What District 1 needs in an executive councilor is an advocate, someone with a bipartisan track record and the ability to convince lawmakers to invest in his district, not a former state senator famous for saying no to spending. Cryans, whose career includes serving as the senior vice president of Dartmouth Bank, understands that wise investment, not penny-pinching, is the key to growth and prosperity. He’s who District 1 needs to carry on Burton’s legacy.

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