3 Vie for N.H. Council Seat

  • Mike Cryans

  • Joe Kenney

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2018 11:51:33 PM
Modified: 10/22/2018 11:51:35 PM

Lebanon — Voters in New Hampshire’s geographically largest Executive Council district will decide next month another contest between Republican incumbent Joe Kenney and Hanover Democrat Mike Cryans in a race that could determine the five-member body’s direction over the next two years.

Kenney, a Wakefield resident and former state senator, is hoping to fend off a fourth challenge from Cryans, a retired Grafton County commissioner who previously ran the Upper Valley nonprofit Headrest.

Newport Libertarian Tobin Menard, an Air Force veteran and member of the Newport Historical Society, also is running for the seat.

Kenney has held the District 1 seat since 2014, when he bested Cryans to succeed the late Bath Republican Ray Burton, who represented the North Country for 34 years.

The district stretches from the Canadian border to Claremont and New London, and includes all of Grafton County.

The Executive Council is charged with approving all state contracts worth more than $25,000. It also vets and appoints judges, commissioners and other top-level state officials to their posts.

The job pays $16,999.84 a year, but that number is expected to increase to $17,514.12 in 2019.

The outcome of the District 1 race could determine whether Republicans hold onto their 3-2 majority on the Executive Council. While the district historically has trended toward Republicans, Cryans came within about 1,200 votes of Kenney in the 2014 special election.

More recent matchups have seen Cryans trail by 1,500 votes in the 2014 general election and nearly 7,300 votes in 2016.

But Cryans appears to be outraising and outspending his opponent in this year’s race. He totaled $42,845 in donations as of Oct. 17, and spent $31,039, according to filings with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Meanwhile, Kenney received $25,200 and spent $3,318 by Sept. 27, when he last filed a report to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Both Kenney and Cryans said they were running to help ease the state’s opioid epidemic and encourage economic growth.

Kenney, 58, touted the Council’s recent acceptance of $45.8 million, which will be used over two years for the state’s new “hub and spoke” system of care.

Under the system, hospitals will take in anyone seeking treatment and direct people to services in the area. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon will serve as the Upper Valley’s hub.

“We’re trying to build out drug treatment infrastructure so that people can access services, whether they’re a veteran, whether they’re an adolescent or anyone in need of service,” Kenney said.

The longtime Marine Corps reservist also pointed to his work expanding the community college system in Littleton as an example of his commitment to job creation.

Cryans, 67, said he too is committed to addressing addiction issues, and is focused on stemming the “exodus of young people” from the North Country.

“You see more obituaries in some of the northern papers, you see fewer wedding announcements and even fewer births,” he said. “That’s not a prescription for a healthy economy going forward or a healthy area.”

Menard, 40, said he’s been hearing similar worries from residents, and is concerned that the state’s future workforce could be hampered as fewer young people are available to replace those who are retiring.

Constituent services are a focus of the campaigns, which attempt to emulate the travels and care that Burton brought to the district.

Kenney said he’s been hard at work advocating for road and infrastructure projects, such as efforts to reroute River Road in Lyme and repair bridges in Lebanon.

“I want to continue to work with city and town leadership on important projects to their communities,” he said.

And Cryans said he’ll continue to travel the district, if elected, adding that the campaign has brought him all over northern New Hampshire.

“A lot of stuff happens at (the Executive Council) table, and that goes on. But the lion’s share of your time should be working in the community that we represent,” Cryans said.

Cryans, Kenney and Menard took opposing views on several issues, including a proposed toll hike that was killed by Gov. Chris Sununu last winter. The increase would have provided about $36 million for New Hampshire’s 10-Year Transportation Plan, but Sununu took it off the Executive Council’s agenda, saying he was sent to Concord to fight for “working men and women.”

The proposal would have increased rates at the Hooksett, Bedford, Hampton, Dover and Rochester tolls. It appeared to have the support of three councilors, just enough to pass.

Kenney said he intended to vote against the measure, largely because it would harm middle class and low-income Granite Staters attempting to commute to work. Not everyone could afford to pay for the hike, which could cost some families an additional $1 a day, he said.

Menard agreed, saying he’s glad that the governor chose to table the issue.

“While I have no issue paying for the maintenance of a road with tolls, my toll is for that road or turnpike not to fund every other pet project that the State House doesn’t want the taxpayer to know the cost of,” he said in an email on Monday.

Cryans countered that the money could have been used to pay for needed infrastructure projects in the North Country.

“We have more roads and more bridges that are in trouble but a lot of times, the money seems to get focused in the bottom part of the state,” he said.

The three also are split over the state’s funding of Planned Parenthood, which the Executive Council reviews every two years.

Councilors voted, 3-2, last year to award Planned Parenthood of Northern New England $548,000 to provide reproductive and community health services at its centers in Claremont, Keene, Derry and Exeter during the state’s 2018-19 fiscal years.

The public money would not be used to pay for the nonprofit’s abortion services, officials said, but providers would be allowed to offer emergency contraception.

Kenney opposed the funds, saying he couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t go to provide abortions. To remedy that uncertainty, he said, the state should pass its own version of the federal Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal dollars to fund abortions except when the life of a woman is in danger, or when the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

“I think New Hampshire should replicate that,” Kenney said. “I think we’ve created a divisive environment for and against Planned Parenthood.”

Menard said he also would have opposed the funding, citing similar concerns.

“While I do believe there are circumstances that abortion is the best of a woman’s bad options; I do not believe taxpayers should be funding all abortions even indirectly,” he said.

But Cryans, who was endorsed by Planned Parenthood’s political arm, said he would have voted in favor of the funds.

“I think this is essential health care services that are offered to many women and some men,” he said. “To deny those services and to deny the contract would be wrong.”

While three candidates expressed the need to closely monitor the proposed takeover of Mount Sunapee ski area by Vail Resorts Inc., only Kenney fully endorsed the plans.

“They have a very strong background in running ski resorts,” he said. “I think that’s a good thing for New Hampshire that the new owners of the lease will be a reputable company.”

Kenney said he wants to see Vail given the opportunity to develop the “West Bowl,” a tract of land that some local residents want conserved. The state previously OK’d an expansion onto the site and it would be unfair to withdraw that decision, he said.

Menard said he supports Vail Resorts’ efforts to run Mount Sunapee, but wishes the state would focus on more pressing issues.

“I do believe the state should be focused on developing real estate for lower income housing and not using state parks to promote high-end condos,” he said. “I would leave any future expansion decisions to the local municipalities as they are the ones who will have to deal with any consequences that may arise.”

Cryans said he is undecided, though, and would want to talk to area residents and fellow Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, whose district includes the town of Newbury, before making a decision.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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