Town, local Democratic chairman disagree on whether to replace outgoing state rep

  • FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2012, file photo, ballot inspector Connie Bell, right, holds open a curtain on a voting booth during voting in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary at Memorial High School in Manchester, N.H. It’s been 100 years since New Hampshire held its first presidential primary, and it seems like some of the current candidates have been hanging around for nearly that long.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Monitor staff
Sunday, January 08, 2017

After Wolfeboro state Rep. Harold Parker took a job in Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration, town officials decided it would be too expensive to hold a special election to replace him.

Parker was one of two state representatives, and town officials say they’re satisfied with representation from one representative and one state senator. But John White, chairman of the town’s Democratic Committee, says that’s not good enough.

“Suddenly, Wolfeboro now has one representative instead of two,” White said. “The select-people have gone and altered the competition of the general court. By what right? I don’t see it.”

The town’s board of selectmen voted Dec. 21 not to hold a special election to replace Parker, citing the high cost. Wolfeboro Town Manager Dave Owen estimated it would be about $4,000 to hold the election. 

At that meeting, the town officials said they missed the deadline to hold the election during March town meeting, which means the seat would be vacant for the next two years.

“The town still has representation in Concord,” Owen said. “We feel we’re very represented in Concord.”

Whether the town is within their rights is subject to debate. New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said it is up to the governor and Executive Council to call for a special election to fill a legislative vacancy, according to state law.

“I think the statute is pretty clear that it’s up to the governor and council to set a date,” Scanlan said. “It sounds like the towns do have a little discretion over whether they make that request or not.”

Scanlan said vacancies are common, and towns often don’t hold special elections if there are just a few months or weeks left in the legislative session. Parker’s leaving right at the start of a new session could complicate things.

“In most instances, there would be a special election so there would be representation,” Scanlan said.

White is adamant he wants it to happen, and has been writing letters to the editor for various newspapers across the state to say so.

“I’m operating on the basis that they have usurped their authority on preventing this,” he said. “I could be dead wrong on that, but the laws have been ambiguous.”

Chris Meier, the attorney representing the Wolfeboro Democratic committee, recently sent a letter to Gov. Sununu and the Executive Council asking them to declare that a special election be held within the next 21 days.

“I don’t think that the town has any authority to block it,” Meier said. “There’s no right they have to prohibit a special election.”

If an election is held, White said, he’s hopeful Democrats can pick up another seat in the House. But he’s not holding his breath in the Republican-leaning town.

“We’d like to win; it would be a first,” he said. “Courage is a Wolfeboro Democrat.”

Still, he said he thinks it’s wrong to put a price on elections.

“Whether we win or not, there’s a principle involved here,” he said. “If you can cancel this election to save money, how many other elections can you cancel to save money?”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)