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John Gregg: Politics and Parties

The two candidates vying to fill the sprawling District 1 Executive Council seat held by the late Ray Burton are targeting voters in the Upper Valley.

Former state Sen. Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, has scheduled a public forum in Claremont on Feb. 27 to discuss why several hospitals — including Valley Regional Hospital, Alice Peck Day, and Cottage Hospital — were excluded from Anthem’s exchange network under the Affordable Care Act.

“Our people do not have a single hospital in Sullivan County that is in the exchange,” Kenney, a conservative Republican, said in a news release announcing the forum, to be held at The Common Man Inn.

“It is expensive to travel back and forth to appointment after appointment. Having now been forced into the exchange ... citizens are now left without a hospital that they can reach without it costing them gas, time away from work and resources they don’t have. No one should have to drive by their local hospital, and hospital employees should not have to wonder about their jobs,” Kenney added.

His Democratic opponent, Grafton County Commissioner Mike Cryans, of Hanover, is touting an endorsement he received from Burton’s three siblings, and noting that the Bath Republican had endorsed Cryans in his county re-election campaign in 2012.

“There is little doubt that my brother Ray left big shoes to fill,” wrote Mary (Burton) Grimes, who lives in the North Country town of Columbia. “But I am confident that Mike Cryans is the man to succeed him. He has a deep understanding of District One and the issues facing its residents.”

Executive councilors oversee gubernatorial appointments, including judges, and must approve state contracts over $10,000. Cryans and Kenney met in a forum in Meredith earlier this week, and the Kenney campaign on Wednesday slammed Cryans for sidestepping a question about “judicial activism,” asserting doing so was a “gaffe.”

“I knew where he was headed,” Cryans said of Kenney. “I would be more concerned (about) ... being involved in drug court and the mental health court. If I had a litmus test, those are the things I’d be interested in, (not) just locking people up in jail.”

Stepping Out

Several Vermonters attended Tuesday’s state dinner at the White House for President Francois Hollande of France, including U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and his wife, Marcelle, and Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Also in attendance were Jane and Bill Stetson , of Norwich, major Obama backers from early in the 2008 campaign.

Jane Stetson became national finance chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee and her father was the U.S. ambassador to France, where she studied at the Sorbonne.

“The Mary J. Blige concert really kicked the night to another level, including her version of a Nina Simone song — sung in French,” Bill Stetson said by email.

“The President and first lady are the perfect host and hostess. They greeted us warmly, asked about Vermont, and gave big hugs,” he added.

Shumlin, who is recently divorced, was accompanied by Sarah Schmidt, who in 2012 helped launch LPAC, a political action committee intended to give lesbians a voice in politics.

LPAC backed Shumlin in his 2012 campaign with a $3,500 contribution, and Schmidt, who lives in Illinois, gave Shumlin’s campaign $2,000 last spring.

Shumlin spokeswoman Susan Allen said the governor and Schmidt are friends.

Among other attendees were writer and comedian Mindy Kaling, a 2001 Dartmouth graduate, and comedian Stephen Colbert, who pretends he went to Dartmouth as part of his conservative shtick.

Briefly Noted

∎ A ballot for the election of National Rifle Association board of directors includes 31 names — members vote for up to 25 candidates — and the incumbents include actor Tom Selleck, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, and Newtown, Conn., resident Patricia Clark.

∎ Today’s predicted snowstorm may be a factor, but supporters of marijuana legalization are slated to hold a news conference today at the Statehouse in Concord prior to a public hearing on a bill to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot.

∎ The anticipated snow has forced one postponement already. A forum in Grantham featuring former New Hampshire Medicaid director Steve Norton on the Affordable Care Act and New Hampshire has been canceled. Organizers hope to hold it in early March.