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Ray Burton Won’t Seek Re-election

Executive Councilor Cites Health Reasons for Decision

  • Executive Councilor Raymond Burton on August 16, 2004. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Executive Councilor Raymond Burton on August 16, 2004. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Surrounded by community members, New Hampshire Executive Councilor Raymond Burton is the first to drive across the new Shaker Bridge accompanied by Donald and Evelyn Crate on Sept. 15, 2012. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Surrounded by community members, New Hampshire Executive Councilor Raymond Burton is the first to drive across the new Shaker Bridge accompanied by Donald and Evelyn Crate on Sept. 15, 2012. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Executive Councilor Raymond Burton on August 16, 2004. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Surrounded by community members, New Hampshire Executive Councilor Raymond Burton is the first to drive across the new Shaker Bridge accompanied by Donald and Evelyn Crate on Sept. 15, 2012. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

Bath, n.h. — Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who for four decades has been a tireless voice for the North Country, said yesterday he will not seek re-election in 2014 as he continues to struggle with cancer.

“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that my cancer has returned,” the 74-year-old Bath Republican said in a statement. “After several days in and out of the hospital I will be heading home to rest. Due to this recent health development I wish to inform my intention not to seek re-election to the posts of Executive Councilor and Grafton County Commission.”

Burton has served 18 two-year terms on the council and is also a longstanding county commissioner.

Early this year he announced he had been diagnosed with kidney cancer but that it was curable, and he returned to a full schedule of duties.

But the cancer returned recently and he participated in at least one council meeting by phone as he sought more treatment. Phone messages left for Burton at the River Road farmhouse where he grew up were not returned yesterday.

A moderate Republican known for his nonstop campaigning and frequent travels throughout his sprawling district, which stretches from the Canadian border to Claremont and east to the Maine border, Burton said in his statement that he would continue “to fulfill my duties entrusted in me” as councilor and county commissioner.

“I wish to thank my fellow residents of New Hampshire for giving me the privilege to serve them. In addition I thank my fellow councilors and the governors I proudly served with,” Burton said in his statement. “All decisions and matters addressed were always in the best intention to see our state succeed and I am honored to have been allowed to serve and work to make a difference for the Granite State.”

Politicians from both sides of the aisle yesterday applauded him for always putting his constituents’ needs above partisan politics.

“Ray Burton’s steadfast dedication to the people and communities of the North Country and his unmatched public service have for decades strengthened the entire state of New Hampshire,” Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I will work with the Executive Council to provide any support Councilor Burton requires as he continues to fulfill his duties on behalf of his constituents. My thoughts and prayers are with Ray and his loved ones in this difficult time.”

And former Gov. John Sununu, a Republican who served in the corner office early in Burton’s career, said “I am deeply saddened to hear that Councilor Ray Burton will not seek reelection after over 30 years in public service. ... No one has done more to stand up for the North Country than Ray, and his institutional knowledge and bipartisan leadership will be missed on the Executive Council.”

Grafton County Republican Chairman Paul Simard, a Bristol Republican, said Burton was a moderate who had helped hundreds of people navigate their way through the government bureaucracy when they needed assistance.

“That’s a tremendous loss for the North Country,” Simard said, also noting that Burton has relished the job. “For Ray not to run, it’s quite a shock.”

Burton was first elected to the Executive Council, which approves all state contracts over $10,000, along with gubernatorial appointees, in 1976, lost his seat two years later, then regained it in 1980.

Numerous prominent Republicans called for him to resign in 2005 after it became known that he had hired a convicted sex offender as a campaign aide, but Burton handily won re-election in 2006 and his political standing also returned. In the 2012 presidential campaign, for example, Republican Mitt Romney sought and highlighted Burton’s endorsement in New Hampshire.

First-term Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, whose District 2 seat includes Concord, Keene and Charlestown, said Burton had served on the council longer than Van Ostern has been alive.

“It’s humbling to serve with someone who has that longevity and knows the institutions better than anyone else who is alive,” said Van Ostern, 34. “What I admire about Ray is his true north has always been the people he represents.”

And former state Sen. Peter Burling, a Cornish Democrat who now serves as a member of the Democratic National Committee, said Burton had helped appoint dozens of people from the Upper Valley and North Country to key jobs in state government and also been a voice of moderation.

“Ray is the kind of Republican I remember in my family. Fiscally conservative, always careful, always determined to read the fine print, but never biased, never bigoted, and, I always thought, socially tolerant,” Burling said.

Though political observers were reluctant yesterday to discuss who might seek to succeed Burton, two possible names that surfaced were state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican who represents several Upper Valley towns, and state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton.

John Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.

CORRECTION

New Hampshire's Executive Council must approve all state contracts with a value of at least $10,000. An earlier version of this story used an outdated figure.