Craig Thompson enters Executive Council race to succeed Volinsky as first non-Concord candidate

  • Rep. Craig Thompson and his wife have owned Mayfair Farm in Harrisville for the past 11 years. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/26/2020 6:00:42 PM
Modified: 1/26/2020 6:00:27 PM

From the beginning, the race to succeed Andru Volinsky on New Hampshire’s executive council has been defined by two characteristics: candidates who work as lawyers and candidates who live in Concord.

The three Democrats who first launched their campaigns for the seat fit neatly into those boxes, as does Volinsky, a Concord attorney himself.

Then came Craig Thompson.

The House representative became the fourth Democrat aiming to succeed Volinsky, who is leaving the Council to pursue a bid for governor. And as a farmer in Harrisville, an hour’s drive from the capital, he proudly hails from a different background.

To Thompson, the calculus is simple. “Right now there are four of us in the race,” he said in an interview. “Three of them are attorneys from Concord.”

“So I feel like as a farmer, and a small business owner and a legislator, I bring a certain perspective and experience that the other candidates don’t.”

If the five-member Executive Council has seen a fair share of attorneys in recent years, it’s understandable: The group is tasked with sifting through the dozens of contracts proposed by state agencies every two weeks – as well as vetting gubernatorial appointments. A tolerance for dry material is a prerequesite.

But he says his personal backstory creates a stark difference.

Thompson and his wife own Mayfair Farm in Harrisville. For 11 years, they’ve split their duties between producing and entertaining – pork, lamb, hay, fruit and maple syrup production by day, and wedding and events catering by night.

One key client: Whole Foods groceries. “When they moved into New England, they were looking for local and regional producers and we work pretty closely with them,” Thompson said.

For Thompson, a life in farming was always in the cards. He worked in the horse industry as a teenager, venturing into horse training through college.

That pursuit led him to his first business, a company in which he trained and competed horses in Aiken, S.C. and Middleburg, Va. Later, he would transition from horses to farming, operating Shadow Lane Farm in Wagener, S.C., and producing pork and lambs.

He moved to Harrisville to the Mayfair Farm in 2011.

It’s the kind of perspective missing not just from the Executive Council, but the 400-member House as well, Thompson says. Farmers aren’t known for their free time, and Thompson is one of only a handful of representatives able to stay in the industry.

The problem is endemic to the volunteer Legislature, Thompson says. “Not just in agriculture, but an under-representation of teachers and mechanics, and small business owners,” he said. “...So I think that the diversity of voices is missing.”

One other thing missing, Thompson says, is a forward-thinking mentality. Farmers and small business owners alike must be nimble in the face of surprises but careful when it comes to planning.

“It’s about being willing to look over the horizon and take the steps now to have a harvest down the road,” he said.

First elected in 2018, when he toppled a Republican incumbent, Thompson is just through the front door of a potential legislative career – halfway through his first two-year term. As a freshman representative, he’s not even had the opportunity to submit legislation until this year.

But in his first year in the State House, Thompson says he’s proved his appetite for change.

He signed onto a bill providing dental benefits to Medicaid enrollees and a bill allowing towns to bond together to build communications infrastructure.

In his second year, he’s taken the lead on a bill to expand small-dollar loans by New Hampshire banks, a bill to mandate the creation of a climate action plan by the Department of Environmental Services and a controversial bill to extend the state’s meals and rooms tax to ski lift tickets.

And as a political hopeful, Thompson’s priorities are very much still based in the Legislature.

There’s New Hampshire’s steady leakage of its high school graduates to colleges in other states, and the added student debt burden for those who do stay. There’s the state’s minimum wage, currently pegged to the federal level and far lower than surrounding New England states. And there’s the prison system, which Thompson says is failing to properly educate and rehabilitate its inhabitants.

These are problems most directly fixed in the Legislature, not the Executive Council. But Thompson argues that from a perch on the Executive Council, he could wield influence over the heads of the executive branch departments themselves.

As a councilor, Thompson said he would continue Volinsky’s practice of pushing departments to choose vendors that are paying employees a living wage.

He has pledged support for Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health organization whose state contracts have been the subject of fierce debate every two years.

And he backed up fellow Democrats on the Council for a 3-2 decision in July to reject Attorney General Gordon MacDonald for a seat on the Supreme Court.

“Well the specific issue there was Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights,” he said, referencing concerns by opponents that MacDonald’s history helping defend a parental notification law indicates an opposition to abortion rights.

“And I think the Council’s right to reject that nomination.”

For Thompson, climate change would be a heavy focus on the council. He vowed as a councilor to hold commissioners of agencies and departments accountable for creating climate change response plans, something he says many departments could be doing better at.

“It is saying to every nominee that comes before the council, whether it’s for the judicial branch or head dog catcher: Do you believe in manmade climate change?” he said. “And if they don’t, they’re not going to get my support, and if they do my follow up question is going to be, ‘Then what are you going to do about it in this public role you’re about to assume?’ ”

The effects of rising temperatures are something Thompson has witnessed first hand. Extreme swings in weather patterns in recent winters – from balmy to ice-cold – have disrupted crop seasons across the state, in some cases bringing in unwanted funguses and blight.

Extreme rainfall is also a major threat to a successful season. “We see it in ways that people and other occupations and professions don’t,” Thomson said.

In fighting for the seat, Thompson is challenged – like all of his primary opponents – by a near-impossible district. Stretching from the Vermont border to the Seacoast, District 2 requires extensive traveling to connect with its inhabitants, whether as a candidate or a sitting councilor.

But Thompson said after early conversations with voters on the eastern part of the state, he has one compelling card to play: the outsider.

“While they recognize that the issues that face Cheshire County are different than the Seacoast, they also recognize the disconnect to where they live in Concord.” he said. “And that is the thread that runs through all of that.”

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




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