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Executive Council shift: Next District 1 councilor won’t be North County resident

Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Friday afternoon, November 1, 2013 with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Friday afternoon, November 1, 2013 with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

The next Executive Council member for the North Country won’t be from the North Country.

Following the Nov. 12 death of longtime councilor Ray Burton of Bath, Gov. Maggie Hassan called a special election for his District 1 seat, which represents a huge swath of northern New Hampshire. It will be held March 11, with a primary Jan. 21.

The filing period closed yesterday, and none of the four candidates who registered is a North Country resident. Democrat Michael Cryans of Hanover and Republican Mark Aldrich of Lebanon both live in the Upper Valley, while Republicans Christopher Boothby of Meredith and Joe Kenney of Wakefield live in the Lakes Region.

That means the North Country didn’t just lose a personal champion in Burton, but also is set to lose its traditional seat on the five-member Executive Council, which confirms gubernatorial appointments and approves state contracts.

“There’s no question, with the passing of Ray Burton, it was a monumental shift of power,” said state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Dalton Democrat and former Burton intern.

For 35 years, Burton, a Republican, roamed his spacious district and made constituent service a hallmark of his tenure. But more than anything else, he was a vocal advocate for the economically distressed North Country.

“As long as I’m around down in Concord, there’s not going to be any forgetting the North Country,” Burton told the Monitor in 1985.

His predecessor, Lyle Hersom of Northumberland, also came from the region, as did Paul Mayette of Haverhill, who blocked Burton’s bid for a second term in 1978 but lost the seat back to him in 1980. Previous councilors came from Plymouth, Conway and Northumberland; the last non-North Country councilor was John Bowler of Hanover, who served from 1963 to 1965.

But Burton’s district – the current map was drawn by the Legislature in 2012 – now encompasses much more than just the North Country.

The North Country Council, the Bethlehem-based regional planning commission, covers 51 communities as far south as Plymouth. By comparison, District 1 comprises 108 towns and four cities, stretching from Coos County south to Alton, Andover, Tilton and Newport.

“This district, since Burton was elected, has nearly doubled in size,” Woodburn said. “And, obviously, it’s always called the North Country seat, but it’s hardly the North Country when it comes to political balance.”

Indeed, all four candidates who filed for the race live in the more populous Lakes Region or Upper Valley, not the North Country – though Cryans is a Littleton native.

With the field of candidates set, “it’s a realization that that voice is going to be somewhat different. . . . None of them are going to start their day in the North Country,” Woodburn said yesterday.

Regardless of residence, though, the next District 1 councilor will be responsible for representing the North Country on the Executive Council.

“I’m rooted in New Hampshire. I grew up in New Hampshire. I went to school in New Hampshire. I work here in New Hampshire. I have been an elected official for 14 years in New Hampshire state government,” said Kenney, the Republican nominee for governor in 2008. “So I’m as rooted as any candidate you’re going to find in New Hampshire, in the Ray Burton tradition.”

Burton’s successor, Kenney said, “just has to be deep-rooted in New Hampshire. I’m not sure the geographics matter that much.”

Other candidates couldn’t be reached yesterday.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Before he died, Ray Burton said to Mike Cryans "You've sat next to me in more meetings than any other person." Ray was telling the truth; Mike was by his side for almost eighteen years. And while no one will ever truly fill Ray Burton's shoes, Mike Cryans surely knows how to tie them on. For those of us from the North Country, or the lakes district, or the west country, the man who will serve us on the Executive Council the way Ray always did is Mike Cryans.

What about Mark Hounsell!?!? Mark is a former State Senator and Conway Selectmen. He currently serves on the Conway School Board and Budget Committee. He is also a Conway Public Library Trustee. One could debate whether or not Conway is part of the North Country but it feels pretty far north to me. To not even mention him is a big mistake on your part and you owe him an apology and correction!

Hi David, I didn't mention Mark Hounsell because he didn't file as a candidate for the special election. Thanks for reading. -Ben

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