My Turn: Restore civility and respect to the Executive Council

For the Monitor
Published: 7/1/2020 6:00:18 AM

When I was in college, I took a plain, wood-framed mirror from my dorm and put it in an art show with the title “Portrait of a Racist.” My campus had been struck with a spat of racist incidents – messages left on public bulletin boards. The community had a deep period of reflection. My piece was a tool for introspection, perhaps naively provocative. Yet in the wake of recent events involving our Executive Council, I am reminded of the utility of that exercise of looking within – as difficult as that is.

First, a young Black Republican was voted down for the State Board of Education. The councilor (and candidate for governor) who led the charge in opposition called the nomination “demeaning” and accused the governor of “tokenism” – a stance that was swiftly condemned by a local NAACP chapter.

Then, a Black Republican from Dover, a veteran and former police chief, withdrew his nomination to lead the Office of Public Licensure after not being given the courtesy of a hearing in a staggering 105 days – despite other council public hearings proceeding telephonically.

That nominee, in a four-page letter, memorialized his credentials and alleged structural racism in our government, a bombshell that made the nightly news contain a story about yet another Black man being stalled and effectively blocked by the council, a curious headline in the long shadow of a national debate about state brutality toward people of color and the rallying cry of “Black Lives Matter.” The discordant pattern of Black nominees being opposed or stalled in an overwhelmingly white state even made Politico – the ESPN of political news.

The Democratic Party chair in late-night tweets sought to dismiss the episode as “theater.” It wasn’t theater to the Black Lives Matter Manchester chapter, which spared no words for the councilor who again used a controversial term in his attendant remarks – decrying a nominee’s “inexperience” even though it was ample and deserving of at least a hearing as the other Democratic contender for governor concluded.

I don’t know if I would have confirmed either man – I have an open mind. But can we agree they should be treated fairly and with respect?

Whatever is happening – whether structural racism or naked political prejudice or simple negligence in failing to treat nominees with respect regardless of their color or political beliefs – change is needed.

The governor and the council must hire the best and brightest, and they should do their due diligence cooperatively and respectfully with those who seek to serve us. Could you imagine being an applicant and then being maligned on TV before the entire state after you didn’t get the job? The council should take a page from good employment law practice and not demean and degrade those who are, in essence, job applicants for positions of public trust.

I pledge to work to avoid toxic confirmation battles and to strike a diplomatic channel between fellow councilors and the governor – channels that appear lacking now. I have deep roots and friendships in both parties having grown up here and can be a uniter. As part of that commitment, I would not use the council as a stepping-stone to higher office as four ambitious men have done recently.

Before our governor, no one went from the council to higher office since 1978. The council was seen as an almost apolitical body, and folks like Ruth Griffin, Peter Spaulding, Bernie Streeter, and Ray Burton prided themselves on being a constitutional check on the governor and saw the post for its inherent importance.

Good, collegial things would happen in such a climate, like a Democratic Party leader being made a Supreme Court justice, the nominee of a Republican governor and confirmed by a Republican council. Or Planned Parenthood contracts would be approved on a bipartisan basis, routinely, for years, as they should be.

The toxic tension of having contenders for the state’s highest office sitting at the same table have turned the council into a sparring ring where reputations and livelihoods of private citizens are the collateral damage. We can end that and bring civility back and restore faith in how we “hire” our administrative leaders whether Black or white, conservative or liberal.

We owe it to New Hampshire’s people in a time of economic and health uncertainty to have only the best and the brightest looking out for us in appointed positions of trust. We won’t get there if being nominated is a game of Russian roulette with your reputation.

(Jay Surdukowski of Concord is a Democratic candidate for Executive Council in District 2.)


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