Attorney Becky Whitley seeks Senate nomination to succeed Dan Feltes

  • Hopkinton attorney and advocate Becky Whitley. Whitley is running for the state senate seat in the hopes of succeeding Sen. Dan Feltes. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/12/2019 2:00:36 PM

Hopkinton children’s behavioral health advocate and lawyer Becky Whitley has launched a campaign to represent the Capital area, the first Democrat to jump into the race to succeed Sen. Dan Feltes.

Announcing the move Tuesday, Whitley, currently a consultant for the Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative, said she would bring “progressive values to the State House,” after devoting her “entire career to public service.”

“I am running because I am committed to re-imagining how we make a healthy New Hampshire for everyone, and I am committed to championing legislation to achieve that vision,” Whitley said in her announcement.

Senate District 15 comprises Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton and Warner. The traditionally blue seat will be vacated by Feltes, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor in September.

In vying to be succeed Feltes, a former legal aid attorney, Whitley is pointing to her own bona fides in legal advocacy. She served as a staff attorney at the state’s Disability Rights Center, focusing on helping clients secure health care services. She later worked as an organizer for a climate change advocacy group, Moms Clean Air Force.

And in her role at the Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative, where she was formally policy director, Whitley pressed for reforms to the state’s mental health delivery system and to improve the children’s placement system, she said in her announcement. That included pressing for Senate Bill 14, which increased creating mobile crisis units for children, and was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu in June.

“In every single role I’ve served, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges Granite Staters face in addressing the ongoing mental health, substance misuse, child protection, and climate crises,” Whitley said.

In an interview Tuesday, the Hopkinton resident said her recent policy role, which she’s held the last two years, has given her a front row seat in policy-making. The job took her into the halls of the State House to lobby for changes such as SB 14, and demonstrated the work that goes into crafting laws and then winning over lawmakers with particular concerns.

But despite across the board investments this year in Medicaid provider rates and mental health and substance abuse treatment, Whitley said improvements to New Hampshire’s health care systems are far from complete.  The state continues to face mental health, substance abuse, child protection and climate crises, she said. 

“What’s really important to me is just moving the state to a place where we’re not moving from crisis to crisis,” she said in the interview. “We can’t afford to do that anymore.”

Spending appropriations this year, a year with a particularly high budget surplus, were necessary “upfront investments” to improve the Division for Children, Youth and Families, boost the community mental health centers, and connect low-income people with services. 

But continuing to tackle those crises can be solved without necessarily adding more money into the system, she said. Amid a string of downgraded revenue projections from the state’s Department of Administrative Services, Whitley said some of the changes could be carried out through structural reforms to how New Hampshire organizes its systems.

In areas beyond health care, Whitley says some of her stances are still developing. She supports a Democratic effort this year to raise the state minimum wage to $12, and she backs a long-held Democratic goal for paid family and medical leave, both of which she said would help attract young residents to the state. 

In other areas – like the specific direction of New Hampshire’s school funding formula – Whitley said she would listen in to what constituents in the district, but declined to detail specific stances.

And Whitley says she isn’t yet taking “the pledge” – the vow not to introduce broad-based taxes like income taxes. 

“At this point I’m not taking any pledges. Not before I’ve had the opportunity to talk with voters all across the district. I’m just starting all these conversations,” she said. “But again, there are many ways to do this and I think all those have to be on the table as we’re discussing this.”

“We made an incredible investment this session, but there’s more work to be done; we have to continue those conversations.”

But Whitley said her experience on all sides of advocacy would be a boon to the state Senate.

“I’ve always approached policy from an issue-based lens. And I’ve done that through individual representation,   through systemic litigation, through grassroots organizing, and through policy development at the State House,” she said. “And so I think that’s what I bring to the table, that spectrum of approaches to system change.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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