Primary Source: Issues Emerge in Sullivan County House Race

  • Valley News political columnist and news editor John Gregg in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 20, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Voters in Plainfield, Cornish, Grantham and Springfield have the next month to ponder who they want to represent them in the New Hampshire House.

Do they want to elect a Grantham Democrat with strong backing from the education establishment to chip away at the Republican majority in Concord?

Or will they support a well-regarded, community-minded Plainfield Republican?

That’s the choice voters face in the Nov. 7 special election for a Sullivan 1 House seat to replace former state Rep. Andy Schmidt, a Grantham Democrat who moved to New London.

Grantham Democrat Brian Sullivan handily won the Sept. 19 primary over fellow Grantham resident Cody Dziegelewski, 512-22. Plainfield Republican Margaret Drye, meanwhile, was unopposed in her primary, where 134 voters turned out.

Drye has signed a voluntary spending cap of about $3,171 for the election, and thus far reported spending $450 on yard signs and related expenses. She also has been deeply involved in Plainfield and Cornish civic affairs for decades, including serving as a volunteer EMT with the Cornish Rescue Squad; Sullivan County 4-H leader; and as a former president and board member of the Hanover Consumer Co-operative Society. (Drye also has been an occasional contributor to the Valley News op ed page).

Drye, who has also home-schooled her 9 children, carries naloxone as part of her EMT duties and says she is particularly concerned about the opioid epidemic.

“This is a big deal. It’s not just a criminal problem with drugs, it’s a social problem and it’s a medical problem, and it has a great domino effect,” she said. “This is hitting the state in a bigger way than people think.”

She also would like to see regulations loosened in public education, especially for smaller schools. She noted that Grantham, Plainfield and Cornish each are “SAUs unto themselves, requiring two layers of administration for single elementary schools, even as their populations are declining.”

Sullivan has lived in Grantham for 15 years and retired a year ago after serving as a labor negotiator for the National Education Association — New Hampshire for 25 years. Before that, he taught high school science in Berlin, N.H., for 10 years.

Sullivan, who opted not to cap his spending, has raised about $5,800 from a mix of teachers union employees and Upper Valley Democrats.

“I am a strong supporter of public education and have worked with the school districts in all four of the district towns. Public education is the foundation that supports economic development in New Hampshire. I spent a 25-year career supporting worker rights in public schools,” said Sullivan, noting that he has the backing of both former Grantham Superintendent Jacqui Guillette and of Frank Perotti, the current superintendent in Plainfield and Cornish.

“I believe this provides clear evidence that I conducted my work in a manner that kept the best interest of children in mind,” Sullivan said.

He also asserted that his stands on issues would contrast with Drye’s “extreme social conservatism,” a label that might surprise many who know her. Asked for specifics, Sullivan cited her position on women’s reproductive rights, public education and worker rights.

Drye has testified in favor of a parental notification law and said she backs a bill known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that passed the U.S. House earlier this week that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

As the mother of 9, Drye said, “I have seen enough early-pregnancy ultrasounds to know that every abortion involves a small, living human being. I also know that not every woman conceives under ideal circumstances, which is why my husband and I helped found the region’s first crisis pregnancy center in 1982 to give women the support and resources they need to enable them to choose life.”

As for worker rights, Drye said she is against compelling workers to join a union in order to work, but is “not anti-union,” and notes that workers at the Lebanon Co-op Food Store overwhelmingly rejected a union drive when she was Co-op president in 2015.

“I’m all in favor of workers making their own decisions, and we proved it,” Drye said.

There currently are 220 Republicans, 170 Democrats, 3 Libertarians and 7 vacancies in the House.

Briefly Noted

Hopkinton Republican Stewart Levenson, a physician and the former chief of medicine who raised concerns about problems at the Manchester VA Medical Center, said on Wednesday he would run for the U.S. House seat held by U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H.

Saturday marked the last airing of Car Talk on Vermont Public Radio. The show was always more about life than auto repair, and it should be noted that Ray Magliozzi and his late brother, Tom, were warning about the dangers of cellphone use in cars 15 years ago, with a “Drive Now, Talk Later” bumper sticker campaign. Thanks for the great times on the road, guys.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.