Volinsky, sounding like a gubernatorial candidate, repeatedly takes aim at Sununu

  • Andru Volinsky

For the Monitor
Friday, September 15, 2017

Less than a year into state politics, Andru Volinsky says he hasn’t decided yet on whether he’ll run for governor next year.

But the Democratic Executive Councilor who represents District 2 is sounding more and more like a gubernatorial candidate.

In two speeches on Labor Day and in an interview with the Monitor, Volinsky criticized Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

At the annual New Hampshire AFL-CIO Labor Day breakfast, held at Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester, Volinsky charged that Sununu “is really good being the state’s greeter in chief but he doesn’t spend any time on the details of government.”

He also faulted the governor and the Republicans who control the State House for cutting taxes at the expense of needed programs and services.

“Almost 80 percent of that tax cut will go to the state’s largest businesses,” he said. “In the next two years the latest round of corporate tax cuts will cost the state $100 million.”

He also targeted the governor and state lawmakers for agreeing to legalize keno in New Hampshire to pay for the expansion of full-day kindergarten.

“Instead of the state paying its fair share, we’ve pushed it off on keno. You all know that keno is the worst form of public gambling,” Volinsky argued. “It’s the worst way to pay for public responsibilities.”

Later, at a rally by the progressive group Rights and Democracy N.H. held in Concord’s Rollins Park, Volinsky sounded even more like a candidate for the corner office, saying “it’s time to make a change.”

But in an interview with the Monitor following the rally, Volinsky said there’s “no decision yet.”

Reminded that then-Executive Councilor Sununu announced his 2016 campaign for governor on Labor Day 2015, Volinsky chuckled.

“I really don’t consider Chris to be my role model,” he shot back. “Just because he did it on Labor Day doesn’t mean that I will. There’s a little more time that needs to be taken and a little more care. It’s a big decision so I’m trying to be as careful as I can.”

But he hinted that a decision would come in the next few months, saying, “I think it needs to be made by year’s end.”

Taking on Sununu won’t be easy

Only one governor in the last 90 years has failed to win re-election to a second two-year term. Those honors go to Republican Gov. Craig Benson, who lost his 2004 re-election to Democratic challenger John Lynch.

And after a legislative session that saw the State House pass much of his agenda, public opinion surveys suggest Sununu is very popular. The most recent University of New Hampshire poll, conducted last month, indicated that 62 percent of Granite Staters approved of the job Sununu was doing as governor, with just 16 percent saying they disapproved.

Starting in the spring, Volinsky said he’d heard “a fair amount” of encouragement from Democratic activists urging him to run for the party’s gubernatorial nomination next year. He spent part of the summer on a listening tour.

“I’ve been listening to people from across the state, and it’s been helpful. There are some people who have been very, very supportive. There are others who think that it’s too much of a risk and that I should stay on the council. So I’m continuing to weigh that and I’m continuing to talk about issues and I’ll continue to do that,” he explained.

In his speech in Concord, Volinsky spelled out what he calls the “Volinsky agenda,” which includes battling income inequality and protecting Medicaid.

“Health care is a basic right, and every one of our friends and neighbors deserve it,” he added.

“I know what I stand for,” Volinsky said afterward. “This isn’t something that I created for a governor’s race, unlike some others. I’ve felt that these issues are important for a long time.”

That may be a veiled jab at former Portsmouth mayor and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand, who announced back in March that he was launching another campaign for governor.

In his 2016 bid and again this year, Marchand has touted his progressive credentials.

Asked who’s more progressive, Volinsky responded that he and Marchand will both continue to talk about what they think is important, “and people will decide.”

“I have no quarrels about my credentials as a progressive,” he said. “I’ve been working on school funding for decades. I’ve been working against the death penalty for decades. I’m making inroads on the Executive Council on progressive issues. People will look at my record. They’ll make a good decision. I’m confident of that.”

Besides Marchand and Volinsky, there’s also speculation that Stonyfield Farm chairman Gary Hirshberg, a longtime national Democratic party donor and activist, may run for the gubernatorial nomination.

Volinsky powwows with Sanders

Volinsky’s speeches at both the Manchester and Concord events preceded those by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Volinsky was a strong supporter of Sanders’s 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. He served as legal counsel for the Sanders campaign in New Hampshire and was a pledged Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

Volinsky met with Sanders after the Labor Day breakfast in Manchester.

“I had a few minutes to chat with him. It was a private conversation,” Volinsky said. “It was a good conversation, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Volinsky, who as a 30-year-old successfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, was for years best known in the Granite State as the lead attorney for the victorious plaintiff school districts in the historic Claremont school district funding lawsuit two decades ago. Last year, he represented Dover in that city’s lawsuit against New Hampshire over the state’s cap on adequacy money to school districts.

And last year the Concord resident and general counsel at the Bernstein Shur law firm in Manchester won election to the Executive Council’s second district seat, succeeding fellow Democrat Colin Van Ostern, who lost to Sununu in the gubernatorial contest. While Volinsky had long been a Democratic Party activist, the run for the council was his first campaign for elective office.

Volinsky quickly grabbed the spotlight on the council, with his fierce challenge of Frank Edelblut, during the former GOP gubernatorial candidate’s January confirmation hearing for state education commissioner. Volinsky also opposed Sununu’s nomination of interim budget director Charlie Arlinghaus as commissioner of Administrative Services.