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My Turn: Feltes has been fighting for community for years

Like many, I was surprised by Sen. Sylvia Larsen’s retirement and immediately curious to learn more about the two Democrats running to succeed her.

I did not know Dan Feltes at all but was impressed by his enthusiasm and forward-looking ideas for our state.

I also could not help but notice the broad and rapidly growing grassroots support for his candidacy. He made time to talk and listen to me about the issues I care about deeply. But it wasn’t until the Demoulas dispute boiled over and nearly 8,000 part-time Market Basket workers were without work that the reason to support Dan Feltes crystalized in my mind.

You see, thousands of these workers – our neighbors, friends relatives and community members – will be eligible for unemployment aid thanks in large part to a 2008 law Dan Feltes helped champion. And therein lies the core of the choice of this primary: Don’t Democrats deserve a standard bearer who has been fighting for members of our community for years, especially those who aren’t well-off or well-connected? After all, isn’t that what our party stands for? Shouldn’t societies be judged by how they treat the least advantaged?

The story here is instructive: When the recession of 2008 hit, New Hampshire part-time workers generally were not eligible for unemployment assistance.

But Feltes went to the State House on behalf of his clients at the nonprofit New Hampshire Legal Assistance, as he has so many times. He teamed up with then-Sen. Maggie Hassan, the prime sponsor of the bill, and helped successfully advocate to pass a law to extend unemployment to part-time workers.

Like all political victories, passing the law was a true team effort, with many contributors – an environment where Dan’s energy and friendly, outgoing nature as well as his extensive State House experience paid off.

As a result, thousands of New Hampshire Market Basket workers will be eligible to apply for a lifeline thanks to the work of Dan and many in the Legislature. The son of a furniture factory worker, Dan has been to the Market Basket stores, talked with the workers and spoken out repeatedly in support of the ousted CEO and staff so shoppers and employees alike can get back to business.

As an employment lawyer myself, I know how important advocates like Dan are – and how much we need a voice like his in the room when our laws are being written. Dan understands the legislative process, and he has made it work repeatedly. It’s not enough for a candidate to just give the right answers on the issues; we need leaders who will prioritize substantive, progressive policies like family leave and expanding access to full-day kindergarten the way Dan is in his campaign.

When I served as executive director of our state’s National Education Association, I saw the positive difference it made for New Hampshire families when Democratic governors such as Jeanne Shaheen and John Lynch made the expansion of kindergarten a key part of their state agenda.

But in 2014, our state’s capital city still lacks full-day kindergarten, leaving working-class families struggling to give their children the education opportunities that their better-off neighbors can afford. Dan knows we need to do better – and he knows that strengthening early childhood education is the single best investment we can make as a society.

When he was campaigning for president in New Hampshire, then-Gov. Bill Clinton made it clear every day that he cared about whether regular people could pay the rent and medical bills. From very modest means himself, Clinton understood what it was like to grow up poor without a father and for families to have to choose between food and medicine.

I am proud of the small part I played in helping him get to the White House, and even prouder that President Clinton continued to “feel the pain” of regular folks even after he got there. The first law he signed as president was the Family and Medical Leave Act.

From what I have seen, I believe Feltes would be the same kind of leader and would use his skills to turn solid policy ideas into practical solutions that make a positive differences in the lives of many.

The Senate district of Concord, Hopkinton, Warner and Henniker is special. We are home to the state’s capitol, and have been ably represented by a stellar Democratic senator, Sylvia Larsen, for two decades.

We are blessed with two exceptional candidates in the primary, but we must choose one.

It’s our responsibility to send another legislator into the Senate chamber who knows who they are standing up for, why they are doing it and how to get it done. As the unemployed Market Basket part-timers can attest as they get their first unemployment checks, that person is Dan Feltes.

(Terry Shumaker is an employment attorney and lives in Concord. He also served as co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s New Hampshire presidential campaigns.)

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