Longtime New Hampshire House fiscal hawk Neal Kurk not seeking re-election

  • Rep. Neal Kurk speaks during a press conference in Concord on June 4, 2013. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 6/18/2018 1:56:29 PM

Longtime fiscal hawk Neal Kurk, who wielded considerable power at the helm of the fiscal and finance committees, will not run for re-election in the New Hampshire House this year, according to a close friend.

The 16-term Weare Republican decided not to run over “personal issues,” according to Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, who counts Kurk as a personal friend.

“He said he had personal issues but that he may well run in the future,” said Moore, who said he talked with Kurk on Friday about the move. “Hopefully the issues resolve themselves.”

Kurk was not available to comment Monday on the decision.

The departure represents a major disruption both for Kurk’s constituents, who have elected him for 32 years, and for the Legislature, long accustomed to Kurk’s strong-handed oversight of the state’s finances.

As chairman of the Finance Committee, Kurk was responsible for vetting the monetary impact of all major bills, earning criticism and praise for slashing down policy proposals that he and the committee deemed too costly. As chairman of the Fiscal Committee, Kurk oversaw significant transfers of money within the state’s departments – some numbering in the millions of dollars – and held commissioners to account over questions of efficiency.

Through it all, Kurk played the part of the “no” man, Moore recalled – one who tied accountability measures to funding initiatives every chance he got. And when it came to the proposals he wanted, he was a seasoned tactician who knew how to see them through, Moore said.

“He was playing chess when a lot of people were playing checkers,” Moore said. “Nothing was done with Neal until it was finally done.”

In 2011, Kurk put his stamp on what was already one of the more notable sessions in the last decade: The year of the budget by then-Speaker Bill O’Brien, which took a hatchet to many of the state’s programs in a bid to reduce waste. In a separate bill, Kurk took aim at the state retirement system, hiking contribution rates, raising retirement ages for teachers and reducing final compensations. He stood by it despite a horde of protestors amassing on the Finance Committee floor.

Last month, Kurk followed through on a long-standing goal of his: House Bill 1816, which would stop a Department of Health and Human Services plan to move nursing home patients into a managed-care system for health care. That bill was signed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

And in a less well-received move this year, Kurk delivered a death blow to a school choice bill championed by his party, leading the Finance Committee to push the bill to interim study, as House leadership and aides to the governor quietly seethed. Kurk said he was worried that the proposal, which would allow some public school dollars to be used by some parents for private institutions, would downshift school costs to schools.

It was a move that rankled many on the right, including Moore. But it was done with heart, he said.

“The thing about Neal is, Neal is definitely the type of person who is a gentleman, and when he disagrees with you he does it respectfully,” Moore said. “Is he the most conservative with making sure the government is limited and expenditures are as low as possible? No. But he was always trying to figure out how to get the best value for the taxpayer.”

The announcement leaves the seat in Hillsborough District 2 a free-for-all, and the race is chock full. By the end of filing Friday, five Republicans, two Republicans and a Libertarian candidate were in the mix, according to records from the secretary of state’s office.

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

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