Coos County Democrats stand by Sen. Jeff Woodburn after domestic violence charges

  • This photo provided by the Concord Police Department shows New Hampshire state Sen. Jeff Woodburn. Woodburn, the Senate's minority leader, faces charges including simple assault, domestic violence and criminal mischief stemming from the encounters that took place both last year and this year. Woodburn is accused of hitting and biting a woman and kicking in the door of her house. (Concord Police Department via AP)

  • Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, walks to the Secretary of State's office to file for re-election, June 14, 2018. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt

Monitor staff
Published: 8/13/2018 11:18:10 AM

Despite a string of domestic violence charges against the North Country’s sole senator, the Coos County Democratic Committee will not be asking Sen. Jeff Woodburn to resign, the group announced Sunday.

After a closed-to-press meeting in Gorham on Friday evening, the county party decided not to call for Woodburn to step down and not recommend a write-in candidate to challenge him in the primary.

“No one present supported calling for the Senator’s resignation,” acting county party Chairman Theodore Bosen said in a news release Sunday evening.

On Aug. 2, Woodburn, 53, was arrested by Concord police and charged by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office with nine domestic-violence-related charges – including four counts of simple assault – against an “intimate partner.” The state Department of Justice said the behavior spanned back a year and Woodburn said he plans to contest the charges in court.

Woodburn has stepped down as Senate minority leader but has not relinquished his seat and has made no indication that he is dropping out of his race for re-election.

Bosen called Friday’s county party executive committee meeting to propose a resolution calling for Woodburn’s resignation and “to support a replacement candidate” ahead of the Sept. 11 state primary. Only two of the committee’s seven members attended, though several area Democrats also attended and spoke their minds, the release said.

Among those attending, none agreed with Bosen that Woodburn should step aside, and none saw his charges as a liability.

“No one present believed he would fail to be re-elected or that his pending charges would hurt the party’s prospects this fall,” the news release said.

The decision by the county committee marks a significant departure from other Democrats. Moments ahead of the attorney general’s announcement of his arrest Aug. 2, the state Democratic Party called on Woodburn to resign immediately. Other elected officials – from the Democratic congressional delegation to Woodburn’s Senate colleagues – soon followed suit.

A spokesperson for the state Democratic Party was not immediately available to comment Monday on the committee’s decision.

But speaking Monday morning, Bosen voiced frustration. Among those committee members who failed to show up, many declined to answer emails and calls about Woodburn’s resignation ahead of the meeting, he said. Bosen also invited the county’s four Democratic state representatives; only Reps. Edith Tucker of Randolph and Larry LaFlamme of Berlin showed up, with neither of them appearing to support the proposal, Bosen said.

“I call it the ‘ostrich syndrome,’ ” he said in an interview. “They don’t want to deal with it. They do not want to deal with it.”

Bosen, who introduced the resolution, said he’s a personal supporter of Woodburn and is not jumping to conclusions regarding Woodburn’s guilt or innocence. However, for the good of the party, Bosen said, the senator should step down while his charges continue.

“My feeling is that it hurts the party not to stand strong on the issue of domestic violence,” Bosen said. “I think that this is the wrong move for Jeff personally, and for the party,” he added, speaking on the senator’s decision not to resign.

Others in the room Friday disagreed, Bosen said. Many reasoned that Woodburn should be allowed to campaign and fight the charges in court; if he were re-elected and later convicted, he could resign and allow a special election at that time, they argued.

Bosen pointed to statements from state Democrats across the board, from state party Chairman Ray Buckley to both U.S. senators and gubernatorial candidates. But many in the room, he said, appeared to have showed up specifically to defend Woodburn.

The committee’s lack of action complicates a quiet effort in Coos to field a write-in candidate against Woodburn. There is a candidate ready and willing to challenge Woodburn, Bosen said, but she is waiting for either Woodburn to resign or the party to demonstrate more support. He declined to name the candidate.

In the meantime, Bosen said, North Country Democrats appear to be hunkering down. But he worried that hesitating in calling for Woodburn’s resignation could open the party to charges of hypocrisy.

“How does one campaign for someone who is accused of violence against women and then stand for women’s rights?” he said in an interview last week. “That’s impossible. That’s impossible.”

Bosen, a transplant from Massachusetts, admitted that his roots in the area run thinner than others, and might cloud his understanding. In the Bay State, Bosen once won a state Senate primary in a conservative county.

“Had I been charged with domestic abuse during that campaign, I would have lost miserably – there’s no question in my mind,” he said.

“But,” he added, “maybe this is a different planet. We’ll see.”

To Bosen, the tight-knit-nature of the region means that few are eager to toss relationships aside. In the end, he added, that mentality could save Woodburn’s campaign in September and November.

“It’s like there was a split in our family,” he said. “This is what it’s like here. Everybody knows the two people involved. And they don’t want to take sides. I sense that’s more about what’s going on. The political damage is secondary to the fact that they can’t stand against a friend.”

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