Democrat to challenge St. Hilaire

Last modified: Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Colin Van Ostern, a Stonyfield Farm manager who directed Ann McLane Kuster's campaign for Congress, announced yesterday he will run for the Executive Council seat held by Dan St. Hilaire.

Van Ostern, a Democrat, said he decided to run after the all-Republican council voted in June against awarding a family planning grant to Planned Parenthood. He described the decision, which prevented the state's six Planned Parenthood clinics from distributing birth control as well as cutting off their public funding, as the most prominent example of the five-person Executive Council 'pushing radical social policy.'

'I think that we need a check on what has been an increasingly radical and hard-right agenda coming out of the Executive Council,' he said. 'I think we need a council that's focused on the economy and jobs, which is what most voters care about.'

Van Ostern also cited the council's rejection of a proposed contract to plan a health insurance exchange, as required by the new federal health care law, and the stalling of appointments, like that of former councilor Bernie Streeter, for what he described as political reasons.

St. Hilaire, a first-term councilor who also lives in Concord, said he considers himself a 'moderating voice' and agrees with Van Ostern about the insurance planning money and the appointment. St. Hilaire said he continues to oppose the Planned Parenthood contract, in part because he believes the organization spends too much on executive salaries and political activity. St. Hilaire also has said he is not satisfied by the safeguards Planned Parenthood uses to assure no public money supports its abortion practice.

'All he's focusing on is one vote, which to me is having an extreme agenda,' St. Hilaire said.

In April, St. Hilaire voted with the majority to authorize spending $666,000 in federal money, which had already been accepted by the Legislative Fiscal Committee, for the health exchange planning. When the council then voted against awarding the job to a Massachusetts firm, St. Hilaire said, members believed they would be asked to vote on a new contract in the future. They expressed interest in retaining New Hampshire members of the original team and learning how the state of Utah had planned for a health insurance market.

But Republican state lawmakers went on to pass legislation ordering the state insurance commissioner to return the planning grant to the federal government, with instructions to use it to reduce the federal budget deficit. The bill became law without the signature of Gov. John Lynch.

'We were actually providing a check and balance, because it takes some guts to go against the party to make that vote,' St. Hilaire said.

St. Hilaire said he supports the nomination of Streeter, a past mayor of Nashua, for a spot on the state Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission.

Van Ostern, 32, works in Manchester for Stonyfield Farm, the organic yogurt company, where he manages the Brown Cow line of natural yogurt as well as Stonyfield's food service and discount club operations. He has extensive experience working on Democratic campaigns, most recently managing the effort of Kuster, who narrowly lost the 2nd District race to U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass in 2010.

He moved to New Hampshire in 2002 to serve as communications director for the U.S. Senate bid of then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, and went on to serve as state press secretary for the 2004 presidential campaign of John Edwards. In 2008, he worked for the state Democratic Party as coordinated campaign director.

After the Edwards campaign, Van Ostern started a business consulting firm called Washington Street Consulting. He said he advised several nonprofits and small businesses, including the Concord communications firm Louis Karno and Co., the Canterbury Shaker Village and the state Land and Community Heritage Investment Program. In 2007, he worked as associate director of public relations for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. He also earned a master's in business administration from the school.

(Karen Langley can be reached at 369-3316 or klangley@cmonitor.com.)