Concord lawyer Jay Surdukowski floats run for Executive Council seat

Monitor staff
Published: 9/4/2019 5:41:59 PM

Concord lawyer Jay Surdukowski is exploring a potential run for Executive Council in District 2, the first to put his name in as Councilor Andru Volinski mulls a bid for governor.

In an email to supporters Wednesday, Surdukowski, an attorney at Sulloway and Hollis and a prominent backer of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, said he was considering a run should Volinsky leave his post.

“I am thinking of making my first run for public office – a seat on New Hampshire’s Executive Council – a ‘Board of Directors’ that keeps the governor in check and has constitutional oversight over state contracts and important appointments,” Surdukowski wrote.

Designed as a counterweight to the governor, the executive council approves major spending contracts of taxpayer money, judicial posts, commissioner candidates and others.

In a draft platform accompanying his email, Surdukowski said he would work to hold departments and contract vendors accountable, choose diverse judges and state officials, and “fight to make state contracting more open, transparent and inclusive.”

The announcement comes three months after Volinsky, a fellow attorney from Concord, announced an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial campaign.

Concord Sen. Dan Feltes announced his formal bid for the corner office on Tuesday, but Volinsky said Wednesday he did not have any updates on his decision.

To Surdukowski, the Executive Council – narrowly controlled by Democrats since last year’s election – has become increasingly partisan in recent years, dominated by 3-2 decisions.

And for his part, Surdukowski said he wouldn’t shy away from standing strong on at least one hot button topic: funding for reproductive health facilities. Amid partisan ping-ponging centered around funding of Planned Parenthood and other clinics, the potential candidate said he would “ensure the long tradition of bipartisan Council support for women’s health care funding.”

In an interview Wednesday, he said he would push to depoliticize the post.

“I think that we can come back from this brink,” he said. “But it’ll take people running who are less partisan. I’m a very proud Democrat and I have my progressive credentials but I’m a believer in good government, and I’m a believer that we’re a small state and we can find common ground.”

On one area, Surdukowski and Volinsky disagree: the nomination of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to the Supreme Court. Surdukowski led a petition letter of New Hampshire lawyers supporting MacDonald’s bid; Volinsky, a lawyer himself, was one of three Democrats who shot it down.

Surdukowski said he stood by his support of MacDonald as a private citizen. But as a councilor, he said, he might have voted to strike the nomination. It would all depend on what he heard from constituents, he said.

To take on Executive Council District 2 is no small feat. The district sprawls across the state, connecting Cheshire county along the Vermont and Massachusetts borders to Maine, and snaking through Concord and several other traditional Democratic strongholds.

But the post has been recently held by Concord politicians, two of whom have used it as a potential launch point for governor.

In 2016, then-councilor Colin Van Ostern left his seat in an unsuccessful challenge for governor against Gov. Chris Sununu, a councilor at the time himself. Volinsky, Van Ostern’s successor, is considering a gubernatorial run after two terms on the body.

Amid that jostling, Surdukowski argued his role would be different.

“Unfortunately I think the Executive Council has become a stepping stone” he said. “The Council should be an end in and of itself. You really are sort of a fiduciary for the state. I’d like to see it become a little less political than it’s gotten.”

In his email Surdukowski said he’s carried out a “listening tour” across the district in recent months, and amassed more than 260 supporters should he decide to run. He asked recipients of the email to indicate how they might support him, whether by donating to his campaign, putting up signs, or hosting a fundraiser.

But he made clear that his candidacy would be contingent upon Volinsky leaving the post to run for governor.

On Wednesday, reacting to the fellow Concord lawyers potential bid, Volinsky cautioned that nothing about his political future is certain.

“I think he’s awfully ahead of his skis on this,” Volinsky said of the bid, adding that he had a “time table” for announcing his decision.

Still, Surdukowski said he was happy to get ready.

“Any good lawyer – and any good Boy Scout for that matter – is going to be prepared,” he said. “This is an important job. If the councillor is going to make a leap to higher office, I’m going to have my ducks in a row. And I have no apologies for that.”

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

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