Three vie for Republican nomination for Executive Council District 1 race
Republican voters from Tilton to Pittsburg will choose their candidate tomorrow in the race to succeed the late Ray Burton as the District 1 executive councilor.
Burton, who held the seat for 35 years, died in November, leading Gov. Maggie Hassan to call for a special election to fill his seat. There are three candidates vying for the Republican nomination: former state senator Joe Kenney of Wakefield, Christopher Boothby of Meredith and Mark Aldrich of Lebanon. The winner of tomorrow’s primary will face Democrat Mike Cryans, Grafton County commissioner, in the general election March 11. District 1 is the largest of all five Executive Council districts, encompassing 108 towns and four cities, spanning from the Lakes Region to the Canadian border.
Financially, Boothby and Kenney have a major edge over Aldrich, according to filings with the secretary of state’s office. As of Wednesday, Boothby had raised $33,805 from more than 100 individuals, businesses and political committees and used $20,000 of his own money. Kenney brought it $10,910 from 24 donors, adding $30,000 from he and his wife. Aldrich, on the other end, got $50 from a single donor and loaned himself $500.
All three candidates said if elected they’d emulate Burton’s advocacy for the economically distressed North Country. The five-member Executive Council must approve all state contracts greater than $10,000, the governor’s appointments of judges and agency heads, and oversee the state’s 10-year highway plan. The balance of the council is in favor of Democrats, who hold three seats. Burton was a Republican.
Among them, the three candidates share an opposition to the Northern Pass project and wind turbines as a source of energy. All three said they would make being a councilor a full-time job. But the three also have unique professional qualifications that each said would make him the best man for the job.
Kenney, 53, is the only candidate to have held elected office, serving for 14 years as a state representative then senator. He gave up his Senate seat to run for governor in 2008, losing to John Lynch. As a senator, he worked with Burton directly through his role as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, he said. He was also chairman of the Senate’s Executive Departments and Administrative Committee.
“I know state government extremely well, and I can hit the ground in solving people’s problems,” he said.
After losing his bid for governor, Kenney did a one-year tour in Afghanistan with the Marines and is now off active duty. During the campaign, he has operated a “Cup of Joe Kenney” tour to meet with constituents over coffee and plans to continue it if he wins the seat.
On approving judge nominations, Kenney said he’d first look at the person’s legal track record and professional background, then look at how strictly they adhere to the state Constitution. Kenney has asked the council not to approve any new judges for seats in District 1 until a new councilor is elected.
New Hampshire Right to Life’s political committee endorsed Kenney last week for his pro-life stance. In 2011, the council rejected a routine $1.8 million contract with Planned Parenthood along partisan lines. Kenney declined to comment on the Planned Parenthood decision but said he is a conservative who will follow his core beliefs.
“I think you use your life experiences when you review state contracts, absolutely,” he said.
State Sen. Sam Cataldo of Farmington, who represents some towns in District 1, also endorses Kenney.
Boothby, 48, interned with Burton as a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, an experience that he said taught him what public service was all about. In his view, being an executive councilor is about advocating for people and helping constituents find solutions to their problems when possible. The District 1 councilor has the responsibility of advocating for a large swath of communities with different economic needs from the rest of the state.
He has received endorsements from the other three state senators who represent District 1: Jeanie Forrester of Meredith, Bob Odell of Lempster and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro.
For 12 years, Boothby served as Belknap County commissioner, and he spent two years as president of the New Hampshire Association of Counties. He and his wife now run Boothby Therapy Services, which provides schools with speech and occupational therapists.
During the campaign, he has traveled to dozens of towns because he said he believes getting to know people and communities is the key to being an effective councilor.
“It’s relationship driven,” he said. “If the Executive Council candidates from District 1 can’t commit to that, they ought to get out of the kitchen.”
Boothby said he has no litmus test for judicial nominees but would look at the judge’s credentials and ask his constituents for input. He also did not comment on the Planned Parenthood contract but said he would deal with that type of contract as he would any other contract, by gathering as much information as possible to come to an informed decision.
Aldrich, 64, previously served as chief of staff and state director for U.S. Sens. Gordon Humphrey and Bob Smith, respectively. As state director, he spent a lot of time on constituent services, traveling across the state to hear about the needs of New Hampshire residents. Now retired, he was also the economic development director for the city of Claremont and a business consultant for high-tech defense contractors.
He sees the Executive Council’s main role as a “watchdog budgetary function.” When he worked for Smith, the senator chaired the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which presides over the national highway plan. Aldrich said this would allow him to approach the state’s highway plan with a high level of understanding. Working as a professional staffer was more about constituent services than politics, which is similar to how Burton approached his role as a councilor, he said.
“If you become an executive councilor like Ray Burton, I think you should kind of de-politicize that role and become an advocate for your region,” he said.
On nominations, Aldrich said he also has no litmus test for nominees and would instead look at legal credentials. He would prefer judges with a strict interpretation of the Constitution to those who legislate from the bench, he said.
For contracts such as the one with Planned Parenthood, he said he’d look at whether an organization was well-run and using state money appropriately rather than thinking about ideology.
“I think most of us Republicans are more pro-life than pro-choice, but being an advocate I don’t think is the role for an executive councilor,” he said.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)