Kenney, Cryans Will Battle Once Again for Executive Council Seat

  • Mike Cryans

  • Joe Kenney

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2016 12:10:06 AM
Modified: 10/13/2016 1:01:40 AM

West Lebanon — Voters in New Hampshire’s largest Executive Council district will see two familiar names on the ballot this November.

Democrat Mike Cryans is once again challenging Republican Joe Kenney for the District 1 seat. The race marks the third time the two have faced off for the seat, which represents the majority of northern New Hampshire.

Kenney, a Wakefield resident, has served on the council since winning a special election in 2014 after the death of longtime Councilor Ray Burton. A Marine Corps reservist for 37 years, Kenney also has served as a state senator.

Cryans will soon be retiring from the Grafton County Commission, where he once served alongside Burton. A Littleton native who now lives in Hanover, he is retired from a career in banking and as the executive director of Headrest in Lebanon.

Both said they intend to focus on the economy, combat drug addiction and support local infrastructure initiatives on the Council. The two are split on social issues, however, particularly on funding Planned Parenthood and the state’s Medicaid expansion.

The Executive Council is a five-member body responsible for reviewing state contracts, approving judges and overseeing the 10-year transportation plan, among other duties. District 1 is the largest, encompassing the North Country, White Mountains and much of the Upper Valley and Lakes Region.

Kenney said the district’s economy is a major concern and many employers are having trouble finding skilled workers to fill positions, which is why he supports the state’s community colleges and efforts to increase workforce training.

Coming from a “small-business family” that owns a restaurant and auction barn, Kenney said he’s in tune with local businesses and continually seeks their input.

“I’ve traveled over 120,000 miles in my car the last two years,” he said. “I’ve created very strong outreach programs with communities, civic leaders and (through) constituent services.”

Cryans said he’s also concerned about the economy and migration of young people from the North Country. But he most frequently fields concerns on the opioid crisis.

“Way too many people are dying and definitely not enough is being done,” he said.

With a decade of experience running Headrest under his belt, Cryans said he is worried people aren’t getting proper access to treatment. Long waiting lists can often be dangerous for addicts, he said, and there’s a need for more counseling and beds.

“We have to do more with people when they need counseling,” Cryans said.

As in their past Executive Council races, both candidates are split on the funding of Planned Parenthood.

In June, a 3-2 vote restored $638,000 of state funding to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and the Joan G. Lovering Center in Greenland, according to the Concord Monitor. Kenney voted against the measure, and argued at the time that the money would be better used on the opioid crisis and mental health.

“I have never believed in the funding of abortions,” Kenney said on Wednesday.

The organization says no taxpayer money goes toward abortion services, but Kenney disagreed.

“It does indirectly go toward supporting abortions when you look at the administrative oversight of Planned Parenthood,” he said, adding the money should instead go to other health facilities that provide services for women’s health.

Cryans bristled at the idea of withholding funding, and said the nonprofit has a track record of providing needed services for women’s health care. Supporting Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be a partisan issue, he said.

“I think recently it has become too much of a political football,” Cryans said.

The two also think differently about continuing New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion, which has extended coverage to about 48,000 people in the Granite State.

The expansion came up for a vote before the Executive Council in 2014, when counselors were tasked with approving a $292 million contract to implement the program. Kenney was one of two Republicans to vote against the contract.

But Kenney did vote a year later for a $1.6 billion contract that allowed the Medicaid-managed care program to continue.

He said on Wednesday the Legislature is primarily responsible for making decisions on the future of the expansion.

Although he conceded that there recently have been fewer emergency room visits as a result of the expansion, Kenney said it will still be years until the program’s full effects are felt in local hospitals.

“You have to hook up with the resources that match with the needs,” Kenney said.

If the expansion drives costs down, he will be in favor of future expansion, but if the data show differently, he’ll be against it, he said.

Cryans was upfront with his support.

“I would vote for it,” he said.

By using their insurance, more people are avoiding emergency room visits, Cryans said. Dropping the thousands of people using the program also would be tricky, he added, because many would be left abruptly without an alternative.

Both Cryans and Kenney agree with a recent decision to award Dartmouth-Hitchcock with a contract to provide services at the 168-bed New Hampshire Hospital, which provides inpatient psychiatric services to children and adults.

The decision was criticized by many when the hospital announced hundreds of layoffs days after the contract approval.

“I support Dartmouth-Hitchcock and awarding them the psychiatric staffing contract through the state hospital,” Kenney said.

He said Dartmouth-Hitchcock has so far lived up to commitments to properly staff the hospital, along with the Glencliff Home for the elderly and the state juvenile detention center in Manchester.

“They were the only bidder on the contract and they have strengths that many of the area hospitals don’t because of their size,” said Cryans, who also would support the contract.

Not all Upper Valley communities are in District 1, however. The towns of Charlestown and Unity currently are represented by District 2 Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat who is leaving the seat to run for governor.

Democrat Andru Volinsky, a Concord attorney known for his work on the landmark Claremont school funding cases, is running against state Sen. Sam Cataldo, a Farmington Republican and retired nuclear engineer, for the District 2 seat.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.
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