Candidates for Burton’s Executive Council Seat Reach the Home Stretch
Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate Jr., left, and Mike Cryans, of Hanover, N.H., get together to talk at Mickey's Roadside Cafe in Enfield, N.H., on Feb. 24, 2014, while Cryans campaigns in the area for the Executive Council. Cryans, a Democrat, faces Republican Joe Kenney, of Wakefield, N.H., in a special election to be held on March 11. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
At one of Joe Kenney's "Cup of Joe" events Tim Bowen of, Lebanon, N.H., talks with Kenney at the Salt Hill Pub in Lebanon on Feb. 20, 2014. Kenney is a Republican running for Executive Council.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
Photographed on Feb. 24, 2014, in Enfield, N.H., Mike Cryans, of Hanover, N.H., is a Democrat running for the seat on the Executive Council left vacant by Ray Burton's recent death. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
West Lebanon — The last time Ray Burton ran for re-election to the District 1 seat on New Hampshire’s Executive Council, more than 70 percent of voters went to the polls in November 2012, and 57 percent of them marked ballots for the dean of the panel.
A little more than 16 months later, Hanover’s Michael Cryans and Wakefield, N.H.’s Joe Kenney are drumming up votes from the Canadian border to the Upper Valley and over to the Lakes Region, en route to Tuesday’s special election for the right to replace Burton, who died in November with nearly a year left in his term.
It’s been a long slog, and not just because of the geography Kenney and Cryans are covering. For the party primaries in January, fewer than 5 percent of the electorate turned out to vote — less than 3 percent in Lebanon and barely 2 percent in Hanover.
“We’re really going to have to work on get-out-the-vote,” the 63-year-old Cryans, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, said recently. “That primary turnout was abysmal. … I called one potential contributor who told me, ‘In a couple of months, call me back.’
“It’s just not on their radar screen.”
Cryans and Kenney also are running in both the shadow and the sunshine of the man who held the seat for more than 35 years.
“Ray made politics fun, engaging,” said the 53-year-old Kenney, who won a three-way primary for the Republican nomination in January. “He made himself approachable. … Ray Burton was unique. He represented the district from a non-partisan perspective.”
Cryans watched Burton work from a front-row seat as a fellow member of the Grafton County Commission for more than a decade.
“Ray redefined how that job is held,” said Cryans, who was close to Burton (the late Bath Republican’s siblings have endorsed Cryans). “He was a master of constituent service.
“Following Ray Burton is like being basketball coach at UCLA after John Wooden.”
During separate, hour-long visits with the Valley News editorial board in the weeks leading to the special election — which includes Grafton and Sullivan Counties — each candidate claimed that his experience, both in government and in the private sector, qualifies him for the job. The five executive councilors oversee the governor’s appointments of judges, commissioners, notaries public and members of the governor’s cabinet, and vote on state contracts of more than $10,000.
“What Ray Burton defined it as is a position that helps people solve their problems with state government, to navigate state government,” said Kenney, a Marine Corps veteran who served terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and later the state Senate. “After 14 years in the Legislature, I know all the (Executive) councilors. I know all the department heads.”
He said that the Legislature and a county commission amount to “two different worlds.”
“I don’t think my opponent is going to know who to go to in state government to help people,” Kenney continued, adding that with the general election coming in November, “you’re going to have to hit the ground running to make an impact.”
Cryans, a veteran marathoner who almost daily runs at least 10 miles, doesn’t sound worried.
“I think county government is in some ways a good training ground,” Cryans said. “You deal with appointments. You deal with contracts. And obviously, you do a lot of constituent service.
“I’m not willing to say he’s got a leg up on that one.”
Cryans, who previously worked as a teacher at his Littleton High School alma mater and as a senior vice president at Dartmouth Banking Company, recently stepped aside as executive director of Headrest, the Lebanon-based social-service agency that helps area residents with addictions and other personal crises.
He said that his experience there, and with overseeing the Grafton County House of Corrections as a county commissioner, brought home for him that “substance abuse and mental health are a huge issue in our society,” with which the Executive Council can help in a variety of ways. In particular, he said he would support the appointment of judges who use innovative approaches such as drug courts and job training in the sentencing of non-violent drug offenders.
“I’m a strong believer in problem-solvers,” said Cryans.
Kenney said that he would base his votes on judicial nominees on each person’s standing in the legal community, the level of respect from the nominee’s peers, civic activity in his or her community, and respect for legal precedent.
He described the state Supreme Court’s Claremont decision — declaring the state’s method of funding public education as unconstitutional — as “judicial activism” that he considers unacceptable.
“I feel that (the decision) was based on personal opinion rather than working on a local-control basis,” Kenney said. “(The long-term impact of the decision) is still out there. We’re still dealing with it today.”
The candidates differed markedly on funding for Planned Parenthood. Kenney said he would have voted against a state contract for the nonprofit had he been on the Executive Council for a recent vote, saying such women’s health services are covered under the Affordable Care Act. Cryans said he would have voted for the contract, which would have included preventive screening for women.
Both candidates are pledging to advocate for filling vacancies on district courts with jurists from those districts — including recent openings in Lebanon. As for filling potholes and fixing roads and bridges in the district, both are promising to steer more dollars from the state Department of Transporation beyond the southern reaches of Interstate 93 — albeit by different means.
While describing the state’s Highway Trust Fund as less than “the best business model for New Hampshire,” Kenney said he would push for a comprehensive transportation forum.
“This Executive Council candidate does not support a gas tax (increase),” Kenney said.
Cryans took no position on the gas tax, describing it as “a legislative issue,” but said road repairs are needed, as did Kenney. This week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee voted 4-1 to endorse a 4.2-cent increase in the tax from 18 cents a gallon, starting July 1.
Whoever wins the special election will be hitting those roads again soon: The filing deadline is three months away for the 2014 general election campaign for a full term of two years on the Executive Council.
David Corriveau can be reached at email@example.com and at 603-727-3304