Executive Council Seat Contested

  • Joe Kenney at a campaign appearance in Lebanon, N.H., on February 20, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mike Cryans campaigns at the polls in Lebanon, N.H., on January 21, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2016 11:50:49 PM
Modified: 6/22/2016 11:26:30 AM

North Haverhill — Grafton County Commissioner Mike Cryans filed his candidacy for the District 1 Executive Council seat, setting him up for a potential third race against Republican Executive Councilor Joe Kenney.

“In the past, I have run and I continue having that passion and desire to serve at the Executive Council level,” said Cryans, a Hanover Democrat. “Every day when I get up, I want to be thinking of constituent service.”

But Kenney is now facing a primary challenge.

Orford Republican Paul Carreiro filed for the seat earlier this month. He is a former Selectboard member and served on the town’s Budget Advisory Committee.

Carreiro did not respond to several requests for comment on his candidacy last week.

Kenney, a Wakefield Republican, spent time discussing the notion of another race with family before filing his candidacy. The decision to run shouldn’t be taken lightly, he said, considering the district’s size.

“Every day is a campaign day in District 1,” he said.

Between helping constituents, Council meetings and working with town and regional boards, a single term quickly turns into a full-time job, Kenney said.

The Executive Council is made up of five members who approve state contracts, confirm judges and oversee the 10-year transportation plan, among other duties.

Cryans, 65, is a Littleton, N.H., native, former banker and executive director of Headrest. Kenney, 55, served in the Marines for 34 years, and is a former state senator.

​The district’s 108 towns encompass most of the Upper Valley and North Country, sweeping down to the White Mountains and Lakes Region. The seat was long held by the late Councilor Ray Burton, a Bath Republican and Grafton County commissioner who was often allied with Cryans.

“I know Mike (Cryans) has run a number of times,” Kenney said. “I wish him luck.”

The two have competed for the seat twice since Burton’s death in 2013. Kenney won a special election to replace Burton in early 2014, and beat out Cryans again that fall, winning by about 2,000 votes out of more than 96,000 cast.

Cryans said his campaign will focus on combating the state’s heroin epidemic, drawing young people back to northern New Hampshire and fixing roads and bridges.

“I don’t think you could start running for this office without putting the heroin crisis as a number one issue,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

Cryans said far too many people are dying of overdoses, and called for a multi-pronged approach to prevent and treat addiction. Those leaving treatment also need long-term counseling and services available to them, he said.

“This is not an epidemic that’s going to go away with just treatment,” Cryans said.

He’s also concerned about the state’s aging demographics. New Hampshire has a median age of 42, according to census statistics, not far behind Maine and Vermont, the oldest states in the nation.

“Far too many people are not staying either because of a lack of opportunities or because when they get their education (elsewhere), they don’t return,” Cryans said.

Kenney is also concerned about the economy. Through his work in the council, he said, the state has been able to draw in new businesses and even prevent others from leaving.

He’s also worked on issues to develop the North Country’s workforce, looking into retaining young people and bring back jobs.

“My focus has really been on job creation,” Kenney said. “That’s definitely an issue I’ll continue to work on.”

During his two years on the Council, Kenney has also been in the center of controversial votes.

He was among the body’s three Republicans who voted in August 2015 to kill state funding for Planned Parenthood health care services. At the time, he said holding the national organization accountable factored into the decision.

“I’ve always believed that (women’s health) should be competitive,” Kenney said on Sunday.

The contract for Planned Parenthood didn’t give other groups enough power to compete, he said. And with a cloud of controversy over the organization, he couldn’t support the proposal.

“I don’t think we’ll be taking it up the rest of the year,” Kenney said, when asked if he would reconsider his vote in the future. “I wouldn’t speculate until I actually saw this contract.”

Cryans said the vote was detrimental to women’s health.

“To many women, roughly 12,000, that’s their source of health care,” he said. “I think it’s a shame that (the contract) was turned down.”

In November, Kenney also voted to deny the confirmation of Dorothy Graham as a Superior Court judge. Republican councilors said that Graham, the former managing attorney for the Manchester office of the New Hampshire Public Defender, represented sex offenders and had little experience outside of her more than two decades as a public defender.

Condemnation came quickly from the legal community. In a letter to the Concord Monitor, 27 past presidents of the New Hampshire Bar Association stood behind Graham’s nomination. Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard, whose department is often in opposition to Graham’s, also defended her.

Kenney said the Council has confirmed more than 10 judges during his time serving. When he looks at each nomination, he said, a person’s understanding of New Hampshire and professional experience play heavily into a vote.

“In (Graham’s) case, they were trying to, in my determination, take a public defender and take her to the Superior Court,” Kenney said. “I didn’t feel that she has the diversified experience to do that.”

Cryans said he would have supported Graham, however.

“I think she was well vetted. I think it was a good appointment,” he said.

The two candidates agree on at least one thing; the Mount Sunapee expansion.

Kenney voted with the majority of councilors in April to approve the ski resort’s plans to add four new runs and a chairlift. As part of the approval, the resort will transfer ownership back to the state, ensure year-round hiking and pay for research of the habitat.

Environmentalists argued that the project will negatively impact public land and open the possibility of slope-side development.

Kenney said the expansion is an opportunity to both create jobs and balance environmental concerns. He understands opposition concern, but found the proposal was balanced after visiting the mountain.

“I found it to be a win-win for the state,” he said.

Cryans said he probably would have voted the same way. Just by speaking up, he said, opponents shaped the deal and made it better, comparing it to Northern Pass agreeing under pressure to bury transmission lines.

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


Orford Republican Paul Carreiro has served on the town's Budget Advisory Committee. An earlier version of this story misidentified the town board.

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