Cryans, Kenney tout service in fifth faceoff for Executive Council seat

  • Michael Cryans

  • Joseph Kenney ELODIE REED

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2020 10:11:14 PM
Modified: 10/15/2020 3:17:06 PM

WEST LEBANON — When members of New Hampshire’s Executive Council are asked about their aspirations for serving in state government, two words typically come to mind: constituent service.

Every two years, candidates vying for seats on the five-member body pledge to drive thousands of miles, help residents cut through bureaucracy, and assist local officials obtain aid for building and road projects.

But this year, the two candidates running to represent District 1 say those tasks are even more important as New Hampshire works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As far as my job, I think it changed dramatically,” Executive Councilor Mike Cryans, D-Hanover, said Tuesday morning.

“The calls became much more important, the emails became much more important because people were dealing with individuals’ struggles, whether it be trying to keep their business afloat or unemployment issues,” he added.

His challenger, Wakefield Republican Joe Kenney, also places a high priority on serving the district, which runs from the Canadian border down to Claremont and New London.

“Constituent service is paramount. That’s the top of the list of things you need to do as an executive councilor,” said Kenney, who represented District 1 for five years before losing his seat to Cryans in 2018.

The Executive Council is charged with approving state contracts of at least $10,000 and gubernatorial appointees, such as commissioners and judges, and some pay raises, so “when you ask your commissioner to help out a constituent, they’re going to jump on it,” Kenney said.

Both candidates say that drive to assist residents dates back to Executive Councilor Ray Burton, the Bath Republican who represented the North Country seat for 34 years before his death in 2014.

But aside from valuing constituent services — and Burton’s legacy — the two contenders agree on little. From appointments to the state’s high court to funding for Planned Parenthood, they offer markedly different approaches to politics in Concord.

Those differences are most pronounced in the selection of justices for the state Supreme Court.

Last year, the Executive Council voted along party lines to reject Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s nomination of Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to the position of chief justice.

During confirmation proceedings, Democrats painted MacDonald, who had the broad support of the legal community and three previous chief justices, as a threat to abortion rights because he once served as an aide to then-U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H., an abortion-rights opponent.

Cryans, 69, said MacDonald’s experience, or lack thereof, largely played into his opposition of the nomination.

“He had absolutely no judicial experience,” said Cryans, a former Grafton County commissioner who previously ran the Upper Valley nonprofit Headrest.

“It certainly wasn’t personal. I find him very likable. He’s a very nice person. I just didn’t think that he was the appropriate person to be appointed to the chief justice of the Supreme Court,” Cryans said.

However, Kenney described the decision as unprecedented, especially considering that both of Sununu’s past picks to the high court — Justices Barbara Hantz Marconi and Patrick Donovan — hadn’t previously served on lower courts.

Both of those appointments were approved while Kenney, not Cryans, was in office.

“I felt that it’s Washington-style politics coming to New Hampshire,” said Kenney, a former state senator and longtime Marine Corps reservist.

Kenney, 60, promised to support MacDonald if Sununu again decides to put forward his nomination, saying the attorney general is “one of the best in the legal community.”

The two also clashed over the nomination of Ryan Terrell, a Republican from Nashua, to the State Board of Education.

Democrats blocked Terrell’s appointment earlier this year, saying his lack of experience in education policy or on local school boards disqualified him from the job.

However, some Republicans characterized the decision as racist (Terrell is Black), while the Seacoast NAACP and New Hampshire Black Lives Matter groups took issue with Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky’s description of the nomination as “tokenism.”

Volinsky, a Democrat from Concord who was then running for governor, later apologized.

“He had no experience, absolutely none, and I think the advice that was given to him about serving on a school board is important,” Cryans said of Terrell.

“I don’t think you go from having no experience to being on the highest school board in the state,” he said. “this is not a board that you want to start learning on.”

Meanwhile, Kenney said Terrell “is exactly who we need in state government.”

“He’s a businessman, he represents his generation, (is) full of youth and energy, and has a large following around the state of New Hampshire,” he said. “He would have been great on the State Board of Education.”

A lot of people of color shy away from state government because they don’t feel it’s inclusive, and Terrell’s nomination was a missed opportunity to dispel that notion, Kenney said.

Cryans and Kenney also differ on funding for Planned Parenthood. Cryans supports state contracts for the nonprofit, which provides reproductive health services, while Kenney has consistently opposed them. The contracts do not pay for abortions performed at the Planned Parenthood clinics.

This year marks the fifth time that the two are vying against one another for the District 1 seat.

Cryans lost three of those matchups, beginning with a special election to replace Burton in 2014, before riding a “blue wave” to victory in the 2018 election.

Cryans garnered just over 50% of the vote that year, which saw Democrats win control of the Legislature and Executive Council, while Kenney received about 47%.

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

Clarification

State contracts funding Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire do not pay for the nonprofit's abortion services. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.




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